Tulsa, OK

Opinion: White Profit from Black Trauma in Tulsa, OK

K. Revs

Photo by Karolina Grabowska

Before we go any further, I want to make something abundantly clear. Black history absolutely should be recognized, acknowledged, and discussed by other races. As should the history of any race of people. This article is not about gatekeeping Black tragedy. It’s about the insensitivity of profiting from it.

I always start my day by checking my email.

Call me a millennial or addicted to technology, or whatever you feel like you must, but it’s always the first thing I do when I wake up. Sometimes before even looking at my texts and calls.

There’s something comforting to me about being the first to know about things. It puts a little pep in my step as I take on the world (and inevitably annoy my partner with the news that I found out before them).

Except for on Tuesday, June 7th.

That was the morning that I saw an email from the Turtle Creek Chorale that read “FREEDOM FIGHTERS! This coming Sunday!”

What is the Turtle Creek Chorale, you might ask?

It’s a voluntary, audition-based, all-men’s chorus that presents a full main stage season every year. They’ve been around since the 80s and I somehow ended up on their subscription list. Probably by not being able to say no to someone.

Regardless, there were three reasons that this particular email caused me to take pause, when typically I’d just delete it:

  • First, Juneteenth is coming up. And the word “freedom” in mid-June usually refers to the holiday.
  • Second, I saw this specific all-male choir back in January, during which they sang the (un)official Black national anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” so I knew they were comfortable on the topic of race relations.

But the last reason that I felt the need to open that email is also the most important…

This is what the Turtle Creek Chorale looks like:

Turtle Creek Chorale via their website

This is what was inside the email:

Following the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre in May of 2021, Turtle Creek Chorale will commemorate one of the worst acts of racial violence in U.S. history through a commissioned piece entitled Dreamland: Tulsa 1921, presented as part of its Let Us March On! concert. Developed by Black librettist and American playwright Sandra Seaton and Black composer Dr. Marques Garrett, TCC will perform beautiful, yet heartbreaking, songs with vivid imagery and descriptions of the events. The piece is named after the Williams Dreamland Theater, one of the first buildings to be destroyed during the 1921 riot. The theater was owned by two Black entrepreneurs who played a major role in the development of Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street.”
Screenshot of Turtle Creek Chorale website

So not Juneteenth then. That was my first realization. The second was that the actual subject was so much worse.

For those who don’t know the story of Black Wallstreet, you’re not alone. Most Americans have never heard of the place where Black people thrived financially before being slaughtered en masse. Those who have, probably hadn’t until a few years ago.

For the sake of this article, here is a brief summary of what occurred in Tulsa, OK back in 1921:

“The Tulsa race massacre took place on May 31 and June 1, 1921, when mobs of white residents, some of whom had been deputized and given weapons by city officials, attacked affluent black residents and destroyed homes and businesses of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma.”

It’s been estimated that upwards of 300 Black people died that day. We don’t know for sure though. Bodies are still being found.

The Tulsa Race Massacre is one of the most traumatic events to ever take place against Black Americans. Therefore, a bright 70’s theme doesn’t quite feel appropriate given the circumstances. But that’s neither here nor there.

Reading further, the email continued:

The second act of the evening will feature uplifting choral anthems by black composers, including another world premiere of the provocative Where Are the Bodies? by Dallas-based composer Reginal Wright, along with many pieces dealing with the subjects of racial equity and social justice. Ranging from powerful and dynamic to challenging and provocative, the program will educate us on the continuing experiences of our Black siblings and also explore the prospect of moving forward, of reconciliation, and of hope.

I will say one of the first standouts to me was that the “b” in the first appearance of the word “black” was not capitalized in this paragraph. But admittedly, that’s me being nit-picky.

That is, however, where the pickiness stopped and the intense discomfort slowly built up.

I sat with myself for a moment and wondered if I was justified in this reaction. If I was being overly sensitive to this email, given that we have been begging for more exposure to these moments in history that have been so diligently white-washed.

So I clicked the link. And immediately the discomfort turned to disgust.

Screenshot of Turtle Creek Chorale website

Now I will pause to give credit where credit is due. The Chorale is not charging for their performance in Tulsa, which would be grossly inappropriate. And there are “select number of pay as you wish” tickets for the Dallas showings too.

Although the website explicitly states that even though the ticket price will be $0, you are encouraged to make a donation to the Chorale.

If you can’t pick up one of the Pay As Your Wish tickets in time though, you’re looking at anywhere from $30 to $100 per ticket.

I know what you’re thinking. I was thinking it too. I looked desperately for it...

But no. The website says nothing about donating any of the proceeds.

Now begins a conversation. This Turtle Creek Chorale, a mostly white choir, has made the brave choice to sing about race relations and the impact it’s had on our country.

They’re going to make thousands of dollars doing so.

Then they’re going to take that money to go to Carnegie Hall and be brave there.

Do they get the brownie points? Is this how we want our stories told?

Difficult questions to answer from any one person. Every individual will have their own thoughts.

I think if there’s one thing we can agree upon though, it’s this…

There should never be a price tag on tragedy.

This article holds my own opinions on the reported content. To read more of my musings on the world today, follow me on Newsbreak.

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