News from the Plains: All this RED can make you BLUE
Sleeping with the enemy
by Barry Friedman
Remind me to tell you of Mike and Gloria from ALL IN THE FAMILY.
But first ...
When last we left Downtown Tulsa, there was a rather spirited debate over whether the area, known as the Brady District for about a hundred years (named after one-time KKK member Tate Brady), should be renamed after someone or something that wouldn't conjure up images of roving bands of hooded murderers in white robes burning down black-owned businesses. Many Tulsans think it is the decent and honorable thing to do; many decry the capitulation to political correctness and point to other imperfect figures who have their names on buildings and streets in Oklahoma.
(And there are those in the state who go to Chick-fil-A and insist it's for the Waffle Fries.)
The proximity of the Brady District to the Greenwood District (a few blocks away), site of the worst race riot in American history, where much of that murdering and burning took place, made this, to my mind, a no-brainer. You rename it because it's the right thing to do, you rename it to apologize to the ancestors of those killed, even if it doesn't address the inconsistencies of architectural nomenclature (and, yeah, I know about the late Senator Robert Byrd, also at one time a Klan member, having his name on half of West Virginia, and the Founding Fathers owning slaves and still being on mountains and in marble, but don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, as that virulent anti-Semite, but otherwise brilliant, Voltaire, once said). Take down the banners, repaint the facades, make the cosmetic changes and you remove some of the hurt, you exorcize some of the demons embedded in the brick and sidewalks. Many of the local business owners were asked their opinions, but their leases will run out in 2014; these ghosts will remain. It's not their call.
Two weeks ago, the Tulsa City Council voted 4-4 to change the name--one councilor was on vacation, though--so the vote was put off until the past week.
What the council decided last Thursday--and, really, sit down for this one--was to keep the name Brady, but re-name it, if you will, after Civil War Photographer Mathew Brady, who has as much to do with Tulsa as I do with the Huns conquering the Visigoths in the 4th Century.
Back, party of nine, your spine's ready.
City councilors on Thursday night voted to rename Brady Street after Civil War photographer Mathew Brady and give the street the honorary name of Reconciliation Way.It also got ugly.
Councilors approved by a 7-1 vote with Chairman David Patrick voting no and Councilor Arianna Moore absent. The honorary name "Reconciliation Way" will apply only to the portion of Brady Street within the Inner Dispersal Loop, but the entire street will be named for Mathew Brady.
As Esquire's Charles Pierce points out three, four times a week, events like these aren't about race because they're never about race.
(Ed. Note: the person talking is reading the comments of others, not advocating them herself.)
“’Get over it.’ ‘How dare you rewrite our history.’ ‘It was in the past.’ ‘Move on.’ ‘When will you niggers stop complaining? If you don’t like it here, then you sambos move back to Africa,’” said Kristi Williams, an advocate for the name change, as she read comments she had found online about the Brady debate. “These are the comments of the constituents under Arianna Moore, Jeannie Cue, David Patrick, and Karen Gilbert.”Just one more reason it would have been good to gut this past.
Patrick interrupted her, saying, “We didn’t say them words, and I’m that offended you brought them up.” “That’s who guys you represent,” Williams said. “Your constituents, not you.”
In its defense (but just briefly), the part-time members of the council were going to disappoint a good portion of the city whatever they did--that's why they're paid the big bucks--but with this decision, they came off spineless and too cute by half, induced approximately 400,000 Tulsans to simultaneously mutter "WTF" while smacking their own heads, and, in the process, made the city a national punchline.
That's some night's work.
Okay ... ALL IN THE FAMILY.
There was an episode where Mike wanted Gloria to wear a black wig to bed. At first, she agreed, but as he kept insisting, she realized it was his way of having an affair without really having one.
And that's what's being asked of us in Tulsa.
But if we know after whom the Brady District is named, how do we convince ourselves it's named after another Brady?
Denial is not just a river in Egypt. It's now a street in Tulsa.
We're no longer sleeping with the enemy; we're sleeping with a stranger.