I don’t want to remember.

For all of the stories I tell, there are those that I would rather not repeat. But the memories are in my body.

They move with me, packing up and travel along whether the occasion calls for it or not. They show up no matter how discreet.

These memories come up despite how deep I have buried them, boxed them after labeling and filing them away, bottled them up with no desire to open them up one day.

The taste is not bittersweet, just bitter. They are a part of me but don’t go with the way that I imagined my life would be.

It is both disappointing and frustrating. I want them to go away, wish I had never met them.

They are not reflective or indicative of me. Instead, they are the price of being human, the result of being in relationship with others.

These memories are related to me, but, like family members, I didn’t get to pick them. I had no choice because I have no control over the actions of other human beings.

And I want so much to “keep up appearances,” but I like the truth. Just tell me the truth because I cannot fix a lie.

It’s what attracted me to Jesus. He called it like he saw it: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites” (Matthew 23.13)!

Still, it is so much easier to live a lie and to see the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. “That’s right! You tell ’em, Jesus.”

Because living with the whole truth and nothing but the truth, with the reality of our shared history, is hard. We would rather focus on the good parts.

We say one thing but remember another. Hypocrites.

Some would argue that our feigned amnesia is the means to our resiliency. It is a part of the machinery that keeps us moving forward.

But where are we going? I asked this question a lot this past week.

I traveled with my Good Faith Media colleagues, Mitch and Missy Randall, to Tulsa, Oklahoma, last week to mark the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre.

Photo: Starlette Thomas

It was not a riot – that’s a misnomer – as African American Tulsans were outnumbered by European American Tulsans. It is estimated at 75 to 1,500 initially.

Thousands more European American Tulsans traveled to the Greenwood District, the wealthiest African American community in the United States at the time, on May 31 through June 1, 1921, to participate in murder, looting, arson and the violation of every human decency.

Thirty-five square blocks of homes and businesses were destroyed with armed hands and a private aircraft. Hundreds were killed and injured, thousands displaced.

Those who survived ran to nearby cities and states. Those who stayed were arrested and placed in internment camps, where they were held until a European American vouched for them.

No place to go home to, some members of the community rebuilt, and it is said to have been better than the first Greenwood, even though insurance claims were denied, and laws enacted to make it harder to recover what they had lost.

Talk of reparations days after the massacre soon stopped.

(Caption: Photo: Starlette Thomas)

Photo: Starlette Thomas

Today, the Greenwood District as the victims’ descendants remember it is no more. See Interstate 244.

City developers built the expressway right through the neighborhood and effectively leveled it. In the late 1960s, the remaining buildings rebuilt after 1921 were bulldozed for the expressway, which cut the members off from the rest of the city.

This is a process of ghettoization.

The Tulsa Race Massacre has only recently made national news.

European American Tulsans were aided and abetted by the city, given weapons to kill mutual citizens. African American Tulsans were attacked by their own government with the mayor of Tulsa issuing an apology on the anniversary.

It took 100 years to admit the city’s “failure to protect” its African American citizens.

Three remaining survivors to date have no memory of justice or reparations. There is generational trauma and there was an agreed upon silence passed down for their own safety.

Because who can you trust if not the police or elected officials? What do you do with the memories of orchestrated violence, systematic destruction and organized deceit?

Sure, legislators can keep it out of textbooks and classrooms. But the body has memory.

Poet Lucille Clifton said:

they ask me to remember
but they want me to remember
their memories
and I keep on remembering

Some want to pick the memories that America is related to.

But we must also acknowledge they are asking this community and others with a similar experience to live a lie, to deny their own memories so that others don’t have to accept their own.


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