Opinion | By Orisabiyi Oyin Williams
Last week’s city council meeting was a reminder that we need to have more honest dialogue about race in our city. The moratorium gained the votes it needed to pass, which gives 180 days for our councilors to work with the city’s zoning and planning department to halt the proliferation of discount dollar stores. One thing stuck out to me that night was Anna America’s lecture to us before she voted.
Anna America spoke up for herself and colleagues who were called racist. A lecture began on the severity of Nazis and Klansman. Citizens were told that when things don’t go our way, that we assume the worse and call others racist. That was the most belittling thing I have ever heard them say. The citizens that spoke were intelligent, provoked thought, and explained their grievances appropriately.
This is where cognitive dissonance comes to play on our city council. Black people in this country have dealt with oppression since the trip over here to America. Of course, we can’t forget the massacre in 1921 and that no one has received justice or any compensation for the damage done. North Tulsa, and Greenwood, was the first city/neighborhood in the United States that has been bombed. North Tulsa has watched every other district flourish around them, and when the citizens of North Tulsa have came to city council in the past, they have been denied. Even with the Moratorium passing, the very next day, the bulldozers were out rolling dirt. Now that had nothing to do with the city council, but it’s the same slap in the face this community has received over and over. Why is this? Is the reason North Tulsa looks like it does due to sound business decisions? Luck?
Racism has a lot to do with what’s wrong with North Tulsa. There is a thing called white privilege and it does exist on Tulsa’s city council. To point this out doesn’t mean community members are having fits for not getting what they want. Now I will admit that city council members had to hear some tough criticism. After the first special meeting, the community saw how City Councilor Anna America was aggressively talking to City Councilor Vanessa Hall Harper. She was downright rude. That didn’t go over well with the community, and they expressed that. Of course, when one takes political positions, they have to be able to take the criticism, good and bad. North Tulsa did an excellent job throughout the council meetings regarding the Moratorium. There was no need to minimize or belittle citizens for articulating the struggles they face in their communities. Often times, when you have a disenfranchised community such as District 1, you will be faced with their frustration. African-Americans have been through slavery, Jim and Jane Crow, Vietnam, The War on Drugs, Housing Discrimination, Police brutality, Gentrification and a flawed criminal justice system that was never designed to work for us. As a matter of fact, we are still going through and suffering from these atrocities today. Black people have never been able to heal from these things, we have never been able to have full self-determination and when we speak out about it, we are belittled to having a tantrum for not having our way. When we speak out about racism, we are belittled and told that it’s not racism. Our gratefulness and loyalty is made out to be questionable.
What I learned last Wednesday night at Tulsa’s city council meeting is that Tulsa has to have some honest and courageous conversations about racism and white supremacy. If we are to heal and come together, the work has to be done. We can never have any true reconciliation until we are willing to face these issues and deal with them. I do believe that our Mayor and his administration is in a great place to do some groundbreaking work to really make an impact on Tulsa’s racial issues. Hope remains afloat.