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Published 06/07/2020 | Reading Time 8 min 18 sec
Editorial by Nehemiah D. Frank, founder and editor in chief
Oklahoma (R) Gov. Kevin Stitt, a White heterosexual cis-gender Christian man, who sits at the pinnacle of white American privilege, attempted to hold a conversation on race relations in the wake of national protest over the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and 400-years of institutional racism.
He failed miserably.
Many Black Oklahomans were unfamiliar with the selected panelist by the governor. The panel included no women, Latinx, or indigenous Oklahomans. Furthermore, there were no millennials, recognizable activists nor leaders from social justice organizations on stage.
Two of the four panelists were law enforcement officers. And according to a statement issued by State Rep. Jason Lowe, five of the six people on the stage were Republicans.
Rep. Lowe, an African-American, stated, yesterday in The Black Wall Street Times, “instead of a substantive meeting on racial inequity, we ended up with a superficial show of solidarity. Disappointed doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel,” adding, “They created a safe space for the governor to have an easy discussion.”
And I agree with Rep. Lowe. The panel was prerecorded last Wednesday, and Gov. Stitt and his presumably very white staff hand-selected panelists they knew wouldn’t challenge him on his unchecked racial beliefs and biases.
On stage, Gov. Kevin Sitt was like a deer caught in the headlights of a parked vehicle, afforded the luxury of controlling his environment — a powerful means and tactic the white supremacy founders of this nation were able to pass through generations.
The governor also moderated this racial conversation; therefore, he had the privilege of choosing how in-depth it would go on racial injustice. And he didn’t even scratch the surface.
That’s to say: White people should not be moderating a conversation on racial injustice unless they are well trained and racially conscious like the author of “White Fragility” Robin Diangelo is. And governor Stitt hasn’t publicly even admitted to benefiting from or having white privilege. In fact, the terminology never came up during the panel.
Moreover, State Rep. Regina Goodwin, an African-American woman whose family survived the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, was not invited to Gov. Stitt’s panel. Notably, Rep. Goodwin is also the state legislature’s Assistant Minority Floor Leader who wasn’t even made aware of the governor’s panel until after the event had occurred.
Gov. Stitt failed to recognize the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre during the panel and the state’s long history of racial violence towards its Black Oklahoma and its indigenous people.
At the top of the panel, Gov. Stitt said he was grateful for the organizers of the peaceful protests across the state and heartened by how law enforcement managed local demonstrations.
Nonetheless, he invited law enforcement officers and not a single protester or activist.
Henting again his ability to control his environment — a white privilege.
Stitt’s first question was to a Black minister in Oklahoma City, asking Pastor Herbert Cooper on his perspective of what’s been folding across the country, which like most Black men in America, is a sense of frustration, fear and uncertainty.
Frankly, I found the question downright offensive.
In response to Cooper’s heartful answer, Stitt replied, “Oh, thank you, thank you. Does anybody have a follow-up comment?”
A missed opportunity that only an amateur on race relations could make.
Because of his own passiveness, the governor missed the opportunity to empathize in a public space with the Black clergyman. And it has been White America’s passiveness or passive-aggressive behavior that has landed us in this era of continued systemic racial inequality for Black America.
In cases when White people had the ability to speak against injustice, or simply empathize for what Black Americans were enduring, the majority of White people comfortably remained silent. Thus, the injustice continued against Black lives.
The next to respond to Pastor Cooper was Todd Gibson, Chief of Moore Police Department — a White man, who said, “thank you for saying that.”
Again no empathy. No: ‘I’m sorry you’re going through this, and I’m ready to make better decisions to improve justice and the lives for Black Oklahomans.’
The origin of systemic racism in police departments and various institutions never gained traction during the panel because a White man, Gov. Kevin Stitt, was in charge of the conversation, completely ignorant and unbeknownst to race relations in America. He had no business hosting this critical conversation and moment in Oklahoma history.
And no, God didn’t put him there, only his White privilege did.
Stitt’s next question was to Clarence Hill, an African-American who’s the founder of Stronger Together: “What do you think has kept us from hearing this message (It was unclear of what message Gov. Stitt was referring to.) and what can public officials like me do to build better bridges?” A silly and amateurish question from an elected governor of an entire state whose Black population is nearly 10-percent.
Hill replied that empathy was needed, which the governor and Chief Gibson had missed in their initial responses to Cooper.
Moreover, Hill mentioned that in the wake of George Floyd’s death, it was the first time he’d seen massive amounts of empathy from White Americans.
The governor replied, “That is so good the way you described and explained that. How do we develop those relationships and friendships? Do you have any specific suggestions? Cause sometimes we get caught in a rud about hanging out with people from work. (I’m unsure what he meant by this.) How do we reach across and meet people that we wouldn’t normally meet? How do we keep developing those relationships?”
Stitt never mentioning the word race or racism, never truly getting at the root of why there was even a serious conversation to be attempted. But if I could have answered, I would have told him to hire Black people to his cabinet, and to do it immediately.
And it was a second missed opportunity to empathize with a Black man publicly.
The entire conversation was a lost cause and probably did more to appease and ease the minds of white supremacists. Moreover, it eased the fears of moderate white Oklahomans that there would be no push towards equality and equity for Black Oklahomans and that they, therefore, have nothing to lose upon the outset of the conversation.
I’m sure Gov. Stitt, Gibson and White Oklahomans learned absolutely nothing. Gov. Stitt wasted everybody’s time, including the Black panelists that I’m sure he didn’t even compensate.
Nehemiah D. Frank is the founder, executive editor, and director of The Black Wall Street Times, digital news media company that believes access is the new civil right. He’s also a freelance writer, appearing in TIME Magazine, Tulsa People, and Tulsa World. Frank graduated with a general studies degree from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL, and a political science degree from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and was a member and chapter president of the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society. Today, he is a blogger for Education Post, based in Chicago, IL, and a board member for the Tulsa World, Tulsa Press Club, and Tulsa’s Table. He is also a public school educator at a local community-led charter school and is a member of Superintendent Joy Hofmeister’s Education Task Force for Equity and Inclusion. In 2017, Frank became a Terence Crutcher Foundation honoree, a recipient of the 2017 METCares Foundation Community Impact Award, a 2018 Black Educators Fellow and gave a TED Talk at the University of Tulsa.