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By Nehemiah D. Frank
The problem with Tulsa is the problem with every American city.
All US governmental-developed institutions within every American city unavoidably suffer from the symptoms of white supremacy’s legacy.
The social pendulum swings back-and-forth between those who are trying to eradicate white supremacy and those who are trying to save its poisonous ideology from evaporating the rapidly changing social landscape in America. Those seeking to protect it do so for their, own, security. Their goal is maintaining their status quo of white superiority that their ancestors intentionally set up just for them.
As for those seeking to eradicate it, they do so because they are merely human beings and it is natural for every living creature to find better conditions for themselves, and for those they know will soon come after them.
On the evening of September 26, 2019, the city of Tulsa held its final session of hearings on policing.
Unlike the first meeting, the Tulsa Performing Arts Center was half-packed and not as full as it was during the first meeting. Perhaps some citizens were exhausted from the six-sessions, four-hours each, dragged-out over the months. Maybe some Tulsans became annoyed with the sometimes overly dramatized and polarized arguments coming from each side.
Nevertheless, the types of conversations that were had at said meetings were 3-years by way of 100-years in the making. It truly was an act and an attempt to reconcile among the races between the majority white-controlled institutions and those who depend on, feel, or are actually oppressed by it.
Whether we choose to see it or not, at the intersection where race meets inequality and tensions lie, as a result of the hearings, Tulsans uncomfortably had their first conversation about race. And everyone survived.
Months before the sessions, the mayor pledged an office of independent monitoring for the citizens to observe its Tulsa Police Department’s practices, which has since been pulled by the mayor — meaning, the City of Tulsa does not have an independent oversight committee to monitor an institution that has the legal discretion to disrupt a human being’s life by either incarcerating them or physically ending them — which also disrupts the lives of their family and community members.
Henceforth, whether it’s subconsciously or not, the legacy of white supremacy undoubtedly affects the decisions of the one who holds the legal power of discretion.
In the first meeting that I had with Mayor GT Bynum, nearly 3 years ago, he shared with me his personal interpretation on the structure of race and his theory on how Tulsa’s social problem, in the context of race relations, is to be improved, describing it as a giant ship with a bunch of levers that need to be turned simultaneously in order to sail this ship towards one that leads to unity. The difficulty, however, is getting the ship’s levers to turn.
In my mind, the levers represent the cultural climate that each individual holds — whether they are a police officer, district judge, or teacher.
The mayor continued saying something to the extent that we would need all of the levers in the city to turn at the same time for the ship to sail smoothly towards the goal of one racially unified city. I like that idea, but some people don’t agree with that goal, despite how they identify racially. Moreover, not all levers want to turn whether that lever is black or white. And some ‘levers’ have their own personal agendas. Hence, persuading the levers to turn is a difficult task.
This is what I’ve learned about Tulsans over these past three years.
The problem that the Tulsa Police Department suffers from is the same problem that Tulsa Public Schools, the Tulsa Health Department, and every American created governmental institution is suffering from and that’s white supremacy. Thus, eradicating the cultural mindset of white supremacy from our institutions is the cure to eliminating the lingering racial tension and racial disparities in our city and country.
Nehemiah D. Frank is the founder & editor in chief of The Black Wall Street Times. Frank is also a blogger for the Education Post network. He’s a graduate of Harold Washington College and Oklahoma State University. Frank is highly involved in community activism and is also a public school educator. In 2017, Frank was a Terence Crutcher Foundation Honoree and has been featured on NBC, Blavity, and Tulsa People. Among his many accomplishments, Frank is a TED Talk Alum, and a board member at the Tulsa Press Club and Tulsa World.