Education

Tulsa Prepares to Teach 1921 Massacre 

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“A little learning, indeed, may be a dangerous thing, but the want of learning is a calamity to any people.” – Frederick Douglass, Address to Washington, D.C.

By Nehemiah D. Frank

Hmm, where to start? Do we start with the name “Race Riot Commission,” or do we start with last weeks’ comment section on KOTV’s Channel 6 Facebook page where White ignorance bleeds from post to post, repetitively arguing against educating public school students on the 1921 Tulsa Massacre? I’m going to choose the latter, for now.

No shade cast, though.  Well, maybe just a little at the name of the Commission. It was a massacre for the ten-gazillionth time!

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Perhaps city officials and state legislators are too afraid of the legal responsibilities that continue to linger some 96 years after said massacre. And I’m sure they are all aware of the differences between a massacre and a riot.

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Now, I love the fact that groups of community leaders are want to implement and teach real Oklahoma history in public schools these days. After all, the state legislators have been squeezing the life out of its school districts, teachers, and students by not adequately funding the states’ public education system.

Hence, Oklahoma still has one of the most uneducated populations in the nation, and sometimes I think that’s by design; the need for a modern-day enslaved population that’s both Black and White is real.  Perhaps that’s why our schools are ranked 49th out of 50th in the country. Abysmally shocking; well, not really.

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It seems like some Tulsans aren’t quite ready to face the fact that their grandparents and great-great-grandparents destroyed and massacred a Black township of people that were just two generations out of slavery. You can come to that determination by reading the unsympathetic comments from residents in Tulsa, who boldly defend white supremacy, which is pure ignorance.

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“It makes no sense for you to live in Tulsa, be from Tulsa, go to the Tulsa Public School system or through Tulsa schools period and not have any knowledge of these events,” said the Rev. Jamaal Dyer.

I didn’t learn about the Tulsa Massacre until I was an adult.

They (i.e., the ignorant White folks – and as a disclaimer, there is ignorance in every racial/ethnic group) would rather not embody the “OneTulsa” goal, and instead would rather live under a modern day Jim Crow, or worse, go back to a time when America was allegedly “Great,” according to our current president.

The truth is, poor White folk suffered just as much as disenfranchised Black folk in those days, and they equally still suffer worse today – in some aspects. And with that fact, still, poor Whites would rather fight against and not support their Black neighbors than stripping the wealthy White gentry who have used race as a means to divide and conquer the everyday American so that they can feel superior and maintain the status quo. Maybe that’s why certain City Councilors vote the way they do.

If, for just a second, they would stop and think: What benefit did they get from the Tulsa Massacre? A wealthier elite establishment that remains small and exclusive, made up of one-percenters who appeal to and rally a white audience while sharing little to no resources with them (“them” being their base of poor White folk); that’s the result.

In addition to that atrocity, a Black, disenfranchised people – north Tulsans – who have proven to be resilient now have to battle gentrification. Poor White folks should be leery of gentrification because they’re next!

Sadly, instead of thinking about logistics on how to solve problems in race relations, they accuse the Commission of race-baiting, stirring the pot and being a problem, which reminds me of Booker T. Washington’s work “The Negro Problem.”

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Why is educating students about the 1921 Tulsa Massacre so problematic?

I think they’re afraid to reveal to their children their own hateful ancestors. It just hits too close to home. That feeling of white guilt is just too much to bear, when in actuality, no group wants the other to feel like trash. Let’s face it, nobody likes airing their dirty laundry.

To not teach Tulsa students about the Tulsa Massacre would be a grave injustice for generations to come for the city. We would set Tulsa backward while other cities across the country continue to turn the tide from their racist, white supremacist pasts towards one of unity and inclusion.

If we’re serious about improving race relations and finally sending that elephant of ignorance and bigotry out of the room, educating our youngsters about the greatness of Tulsa’s African-American community’s legendary history of the Black Wall Street is the only path forward.  We will always lose as a city and never embody One-Tulsa, which is ultimately the goal, unless we address the past honestly.

It took looking past our racial differences to launch a man into space and land him safely on the moon. Not a White man or a Black man. Just a man. Human beings exploring a place where humankind has dreamed of discovering since 250,000 years ago. What greatness can come of us working together? Think of the possibility.

And although I very much dislike the name of the Commission, I do believe what the Commission is doing is profound beyond measure. It is a huge step in the right direction towards ending racism in our city and state. Further, it promotes cultural understanding and yields a hard reality check on what ignorance can lead to: a massacre on a town’s minority population, like the one that occurred here in 1921 in Tulsa, or like the slaughtering of nearly 6 million Jews in Europe during white supremacist Hitler’s reign in Nazi Germany.

Categories: Education, Opinion

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