I’d never heard of Juneteenth, or the Tulsa riots of 1921, until the flap surrounding the First Felon’s campaign rally. So, naturally, I did what I always do when I want to learn about something: I went to the Barnes & Noble Website and began browsing books. Searching on “Tulsa 1921” called-up a list of just four reportorial-style accounts, a novel, a family memoir, and two knock-off copies of a report by an Oklahoma state commission.
Of the four reportorial-style histories, three are from academic presses and one is from a mainstream publisher. The books from academic presses are probably exhaustive accounts but poorly written in the passive voice, and the one from the mainstream publisher is probably well-written but not so exhaustively researched. The best selling of the group is from the mainstream publisher, but hundreds of places down the list; I assume, but have no way to confirm, that relevant titles are spiking just now and that all these titles ordinarily inhabit the sub-basement.
Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, published in 1966 — more than 50-years ago — outsells all of them.
The bottom line here: Nobody — in white America, at least — cares a hoot about the murder of 300-blacks in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1921, or the incineration of thousands of homes.
As I remarked a few years ago when Black Lives Matter first made an appearance:
As most longtime readers know, my first freelance pieces were true crime features for the old tabloid crime rags, and one of the very first things I learned is that features about black people killing each other are not salable. I tried. If a scary-looking minority rapes and kills a white Sunday School teacher its a story; if a scary-looking minority rapes and kills a black Sunday School teacher it’s … too bad. That’s the bald commercial fact.
If you doubt that, just visit the true crime section of your local Barnes & Noble store, or scan Ann Rule’s or Joe McGinniss’ or Gregg Olsen’s output: No black people. Check the televised true-crime shows, too; No black people.
So, make no mistake: blacks do have a legitimate grievance; white America isn’t very interested in black lives or deaths.
The outright hagiography of George Floyd is certainly misplaced and perhaps even counter-productive, but our recent, heightened attention to race issues is not misguided.