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OPINION | by Angela Graham
As white folks, we have had a lot of opportunities to address racism in Tulsa, especially in the past few weeks. Unfortunately, our responsibility to People of Color in Tulsa has left much to be desired in our accountability to them. Even though we (white folks) have varying degrees of which we are comfortable or committed to fighting racism and equity, we need to do better. This includes ‘woke’ white folks. Anti-Racist/Social Justice Workers and allies are not immune from implicit bias or racist thoughts and actions. Showing up to rallies, vigils, or signing petitions is not our ‘get out of racism free’ card. Our goal should be supporting People of Color in leadership positions within our community, and our actions should reflect this and last long after the rally or vigil.
We should be asking the leaders of Color in our community if we are welcome to attend their meetings. Showing up to meetings organized by People of Color utilizes the responsibility we have. Greg Robinson Jr., the Community Organizer for Greenwood Leadership, stated at the vigil, with great power comes great responsibility. We have to help organize, vote, have difficult conversations with our friends and family, and even make comments in public or to city leaders when called to do so. Unfortunately, in the first Civil Rights movement, it took white folks fighting alongside Black folks for change to occur. White folks involved in this movement are not to be idolized over Black folks just because they were the voice that was finally heard.
It sickens me that People of Color in our own community can scream at the top of their lungs, demanding change, and it still takes a white person in-power to say the same thing before other white folks in power will understand the message and want to change their hearts and policies. We saw this demonstrated at last week’s City of Tulsa council meeting when Councilor Connie Dodson chose to rebuke the irrefutable, scientific evidence that residents of North Tulsa live 10.7 years shorter than their white counterparts in other parts of Tulsa.
Councilor Dodson also chose to address the pointed remarks of people speaking in support of the moratorium on dollar stores in North Tulsa. There were several people in favor of Councilor Hall-Harpers moratorium measure, who addressed the racial undertones present in the white city councilors’ opposition to the moratorium. Instead of choosing humility and taking the opportunity to learn, Councilor Dodson instead proceeded in a cowardly fashion to make bold problematic statements such as that because all of her children of dating age had dated outside of their race, she couldn’t possibly be a racist. It took the good sense of Councilor Anna America to ask Councilor Dodson to cut her bitter diatribe short.
It also took Councilor Blake Ewing addressing the large crowd and other city councilors for the words of the North Tulsa community and Councilor Hall-Harper to be heard and understood. Councilor Ewing stated that he needed not scientific evidence, nor hard facts, to have empathy for, believe and listen to the plight of the North Tulsa Community. Black folks, people of color, those living in food deserts, in poverty, that face the lack of equity in education, in a part of town that is often ignored by the city and state government, should be believed without a white person stepping in.
I wish People of Color were heard the first time they say something, and given the benefit of the doubt that we white folks receive, without asking or begging to be heard. White folks don’t have to submit scientific evidence of their needs for the Tulsa City Council to take them seriously. I wish Black leaders in Tulsa had their voices heard and encouraged, instead of talked over and undermined.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear so many white folks calling for the real work and organizing to be done at the rally at John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park on Sunday. While the events taking place nationwide are important, the change has to take place here, at home. Many white folks with good intentions believe that because they have ‘that one Black friend,’ or biracial children, or even date outside of their race, that their part in institutionalized racism and systematic injustice is erased. As I stated earlier, none of these things is our ‘get out of racism free’ card. It takes much dedicated and thoughtful work to begin to change our implicit bias and racist actions. Unlearning years of superiority, going against the grain of our privilege takes a concerted effort on our part.
Councilor Connie Dodson is part of institutional racism whether she wants to believe it or not. We all are. With great power comes great responsibility.