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By Nehemiah D. Frank, founder & editor-in-chief
On the second day of 2021, I awoke to a plethora of positive Facebook posts; it’s a typical recurring trend I’ve become accustomed to seeing annually. People publish their resolutions, including plans to be more gracious toward one another.
While scrolling, I came across a particular post that instantly triggered me. To add context, I’m a Black person who survived 2020.
The post’s central premise was that we should support and protect our leaders and stand up for them because they are people, too. Here’s an excerpt from the post.
“The people that represent us are our neighbors. It is time to start standing up for them so they can continue to work for us. If we want sustainable change, it starts by building people up. Are you with me? Let’s show our leaders our support. Then let’s have a discussion about what this community needs to move forward. I mean it.”
How can you ask people of color to support leaders who don’t support their Black, Brown and marginalized communities?
And with redlining having already carved out who gets to live where, how is a wealthy White Republican mayor on the south side of town, who doesn’t believe in restorative justice in the form of reparations, my neighbor?
The history of redlining, Jim Crow and de jure segregation taught most Americans and me that a neighbor is defined as someone living next door or across the street, someone who lives in the same geographic and social space as you, who has mutual accountability to you. Basically, someone who is most likely to show up to your barbecue.
Bynum IS NOT any of those things!
Yes, he’s committed to having a diverse workforce. But we must remember, some people may choose to diversify their teams for various reasons, and it’s not authentic without systemic change to sustain it and those diverse team members having genuine voice and power in decision making. In the past, he’s failed at this. And it’s why his Black and Brown staff have a high turnover in his administration.
Going into this Centennial Year of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, I can attest that Mayor G.T. Bynum and Sen. James Lankford have their own agenda that doesn’t involve plans to uplift Black Tulsans nor get the city to repair the financial harm done to generations of Blacks due to the massacre and the destruction of Greenwood. There is no real economic recovery plan for the destruction, nor the decades of redlining and anti-Black policies past from the city, county and state to heal our Black wounds. The evidence is how G.T. Bynum has gone from moderate Republican to the far right in these past 4-years, and how Lankford questions the integrity of Black voters in the 2020 Election.
Over the next 6-months, we will watch Bynum and Lankford center themselves like White saviors among the numerous media companies who converge on Tulsa to cover this Centennial Year.
Bynum will address police oversight and investment in mental health resources. He’ll address disparities amplified by COVID. Lankford will address the U.S. Senate floor and talk about how the massacre was horrible while neglecting to have congress come up with an economic recovery plan for our community.
They’ll both never utter the words “Black Lives Matter” for fear of jeopardizing their future political aspirations.
They’ll attend various dinners and speak on multiple panels as if qualified to hold a discourse on race relations. They’ll smile then hurl Tulsa’s 2021 buzzword of the year, “reconciliation”, like Black and White Tulsans and Oklahomans have been friendly neighbors since statehood.
Bynum will repeat the story of why he ran, wanting to close the racial life expectancy gap. By this time, Lankford would have already challenged the Black votes in the 2020 Presidential-election using baseless conspiracy theories that have been irrefutably thrown out by the courts — many with Republican-appointed judges.
Bynum will boast about how his grandfather, Robert James LaFortune, signed the civil rights bill to desegregate Tulsa while not acknowledging how it harmed our Black community financially. And he will neglect to tell the people that Mayor LaFortune was responsible for commissioning the freeway system that cut into the belly of Deep Greenwood, setting the second destruction of Greenwood and the urban removal process of Black control from Black Wall Street.
So here’s a statement of fact at the macro level: WE HAVE NEVER BEEN FRIENDS!
We DON’T EVEN LIVE in the SAME CITY as Bynum nor the SAME STATE as Lankford. Black people may as well be on another planet.
Reconciliation is an illusion.
At the macro level, G.T. Bynum lives in White-Tulsa, and most Black people still live in Black-Greenwood.
Over these next 6-months, we need to have a commission assembled by the City of Tulsa’s councilors that develops a restorative justice plan with concrete policies paired with it: One that includes media campaigns and events where White and Black neighbors from different political backgrounds on opposite ends of town have hard discussions about race. We need professional facilitators — without personal agendas — to assist. We need economic advisors to concoct plans that include financial restitution, Black focused-economic repair, and educational justice taught in every Oklahoma school.
If they want Black people to be their neighbors, they must show up at the barbecue and not just during election season.
And if Bynum really wants to demonstrate the type of virtuous leadership that’s needed for this Centennial Year, he’ll invite neighboring mayors whose cities received the influx of White inhabitants that left Tulsa during his grandfather’s desegregation signage to participate.
In all fairness, do I believe Mayor G.T. Bynum and Sen. James Lankford are racists?
No! I don’t think they are.
Do I believe they are committed to racial justice?
Hell No! I don’t believe they’re committed to racial justice for the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre victims and descendants because it doesn’t serve their political ambitions.
G.T. Bynum has repeatedly said that he is not for economic justice because he thinks it’s too racially divisive.
He has remained the polished politician who’s, again, afraid to utter the words “Black Lives Matter”, afraid to fight for a Black Lives Matter street mural on the historic Black Wall Street/ Greenwood Ave., and he wouldn’t ensure the establishment of the Office of Independent Monitoring for police oversight that he promised.
He failed to fight for and protect Black people on the eve of the Centennial Year.
Had mayoral candidate Greg Robinson II started his campaign a year earlier, I believe the race would have been much closer. I think that Robinson would have won the 2020 runoff against Bynum after raising $400,000 in less than two months.
What was most evident last year, G.T. Bynum lost the Black Vote he earned four years ago. And he lost it on the eve of the Centennial Year. 2020 would prove the perception he gave during the 2016 mayoral race was all an act to become mayor of Tulsa.
Our Black Votes were his commodity.
Consider this: If he were committed to justice, he would have already commissioned the City of Tulsa to satisfy the debt owed to the Crutcher Family and the massacre victims’ families.
I happen to be a descendant of two of those families who lost businesses and property during the massacre and destruction. Now imagine how far along I would be in wealth building had that event never happened and had I acquired the equity that would have been passed down. Perhaps I would have been Robinson’s biggest political donor. But powerful White families and confused poor White pawns ensured that wouldn’t happen.
I can assure you that my family is still mad as hell from the justice denied.
We are owed justice.
So when we, and the rest of Tulsa’s Black community, routinely see Mayor G.T. Bynum and Sen. James Lankford center themselves like White saviors amid the cameras only aggravates our souls and the bones of our ancestors buried in these grounds.
If Bynum and Lankford could grant this one descendants’ requests, it would make moving through this Centennial Year a bit more comforting:
Stop Centering Your Whiteness Amid Our Tragedy.
Stop Centering Your Whiteness Amid Our Black History.
Stop Centering Your Whiteness to Only Benefit Your Destined Political Careers.
Our Black stories shouldn’t be treated as a commodity for you to run for U.S. Senate, Governor, or President!
Start doing the real work by picking up books about race from Fulton Street Books in north Tulsa, so you can be informed and become authentic and empathetic in your 1921 Commission work.
Bynum and Lankford, start fighting for racial justice by commissioning the City of Tulsa and the U.S. government to provide monetary restitution for the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, the victims and their families.
Start fighting for racial justice in the form of seeing through an Office of Independent Monitoring for police oversight.
And start fighting for racial justice by satisfying the debt owed to the Crutcher Family for shooting and killing Terence who was a father, son, and twin, and whose hands were raised just like the dozens of Black men, women and children whose hands were also raised in 1921 only to be met by bullets 100-years ago.
Lastly, Lankford and Bynum should stepdown from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Commission. By doing so, it would be their first step towards self restorative healing and would show the community that they are willing to decenter their Whiteness from the Commission and our Centennial Year.
The world is watching and history will be the ultimate judge for the two politicians.