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From The BWST Editorial Board
Last Thursday, Senator James Lankford (R-OK) released a letter pleading forgiveness from Tulsa’s Black community for his decision to actively disenfranchise Black voters, overturn a free and fair election and aid in inciting an insurrection by white supremacists.
The letter comes more than a week after a violent attack on our Capitol and after days of Black community leaders calling for his resignation from the 1921 Tulsa Massacre Centennial Commission. In it, he expresses regret for his “blindness to the perception” that his decision not to certify an election decided by Black voters was racist.
The Senator’s letter, which has since become a trending topic on Twitter, is addressed to his “friends in North Tulsa”.
In addition to the reality that not all Black Tulsans live in North Tulsa, the letter relies on a longstanding theme in the perpetuation of white-supremacist culture: the non-apology apology.
Senator Lankford, an undoubtedly thoughtful man who is careful with his words, chose not to directly apologize for his actions or their dire and deadly consequences. Instead, he simply apologized that Black Tulsans interpreted his actions as racist while maintaining that his intentions were pure.
Michael Steele, the first Black man to serve as the Chair of the Republican National Committee, responded to the letter in a series of Tweets, saying in part:
“What did you hear exactly when we pleaded with you and your colleagues not to pursue this course of action? And while you ignored their plea, what evidence did you present to justify your decision to overturn the election?
And now you say “after decades of fighting for voting rights, many Black friends in Oklahoma saw this as a direct attack on their right to vote.” And that reaction surprised you? Now, imagine taking the vote away from white Oklahomans, would you still be surprised?”
Steele’s condemnation strikes at the heart of why Lankford’s apology rings so hollow: he knew.
Lankford knew exactly what he was doing all along. And if he didn’t, his brazen ignorance and lack of understanding around the history of the suppression of Black votes is damning.
Either the junior Senator from Oklahoma, who (for now) enjoys a seat on the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission purposefully upheld white supremacy, or he covered his eyes and plugged his ears while all the world was screaming “don’t you see what you’re doing?”
Senator Lankford is not sorry for his actions. He is simply sorry his actions backfired.
It is difficult to imagine a moment where, had white nationalists and Nazi’s not attempted a coup of our Nation’s government, Lankford would have felt forced to issue this apology at all.
Lankford’s service on the Centennial Commission (and, for that matter, in the U.S. Senate) is a privilege, not a right nor a necessity.
If Lankford truly laments his willful indulgence of Jim Crow-era tactics, then he will heed the calls of the “North Tulsa friends” he seeks forgiveness from and resign from the Commission so that he may spend his time, power and influence enacting a legislative agenda aimed at attacking racial disparities and rebuilding Black wealth in this country.
In June of 1921, a mob of White Tulsans stormed, looted and attacked Greenwood; spurred on by incendiary rhetoric and infuriated by the notion that their Black neighbors could know prosperity.
In January of 2021, a mob of White Americans stormed, looted and attacked the US Capitol; spurred on by incendiary rhetoric of election fraud and infuriated by the notion that their Black neighbors could know political power.
James Lankford’s decision to lay the groundwork for one makes it incomprehensible that he should enjoy the privilege of being an ambassador for commemorating the other.
Actions have consequences – and Senator Lankford must face up to his.
We continue our call for him to either voluntarily resign from his seat on the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Commission.