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Aesthetic Violence in Massacre’s Wake, or Gentrification in Tulsa

Authors: Jovan Scott Lewis*, University of California, Berkeley
Topics: Economic Geography, Cultural Geography, United States
Keywords: Gentrification, aesthetics, violence, Fanon, decolonization, Black Geographies
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon describes decolonization as “quite simply the substitution of one “species” of mankind by another.” This paper extends Fanon’s claim of substitutional decolonization to provide a core logic for gentrification as rooted in dispossessive violence. The paper takes as its analytical case the 1921 racial assault on the Greenwood District of Tulsa Oklahoma, the home of Black Wall Street. The paper argues that the race massacre was an act of capitalist dispossession cloaked as white reputational preservation: Greenwood burned and Black Tulsans were murdered under the auspice of white revenge for the purported Black male assault on a white woman. The lasting impact of that dispossession is that in the century after the massacre, contemporary Black life in the Greenwood District, and the broader North Tulsa area in which it sits, is marked by structural impoverishment and limited public service. Nevertheless, under a changing regime of policy and commerce, the Greenwood District has become a newly envisioned site for a new species. Through an aesthetics of gentrification, which in Greenwood has taken the now classic forms of promotional murals, vintage record shops, and chic whiskey bars, substitution presents us with a mode of recognizing gentrification’s dependence on dispossessive violence, made quite literally visible through its aesthetic form.

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