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Republican Leader, Tulsa Midnight Basketball Executive Director Cyber Bullies Freshman Legislator
On day one of the first session of the 58th Legislature, the Oklahoma State House Republican Caucus Chair Rep. Sheila Dills (R-Tulsa) woke up and chose ignorance.
While others stood respectfully during the opening recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, Dills had her sights set on freshman legislator Rep. Mauree Turner (D-Oklahoma City).
Turner made history and headlines last year when they mounted a primary challenge to former Rep. Jason Dunnington and won. Turner became Oklahoma’s first Muslim legislator and the first non-binary legislator in the United States. Turner’s win also led to the largest membership in Oklahoma’s Black Legislative Caucus in history. Dills has been vocally bigoted against people who are transgendered and non-binary conforming. She also supported the Attorney General of Texas in his state’s attempt to subvert democracy and nullify the votes of millions of Black and Brown Americans.
As Turner stood quietly, Dills took advantage of her colleagues ceremonial preoccupation and began sneaking photos of Turner. In the narrative accompanying the photo later posted to Dills’ Facebook page, the Republican House leader went on an unprovoked tirade accusing Turner of “basically spit(ting) in the faces of the men and women who have fought and died for our freedoms”.
Dills wrote that she didn’t have “any tolerance for people who refuse to salute our American flag.” Ironically, Dills was not saluting the flag, either. She was instead acting as the on-the-floor paparazzi – playing on her cell phone rather than saluting the flag during the Pledge of Allegiance.
Based on the timestamp of Dills’ post, she was still sitting on the floor of the House when she began cyberbullying the freshman representative.
After hearing of the incident, Turner went to Dills’ office to speak with her. This also served as the ad hoc first meeting between the legislators.
Prior to their tenure in the State House, Turner was a well-known community organizer – a role it does not appear they plan to do away with any time soon. Turner drew upon this experience when considering how to handle this situation. In an effort to address the issue immediately, Turner went to Dills’ office to discuss the post and “open a line of communication” with the caucus chair who is 26 years their senior.
After being given a lesson on the “proper” way to salute the flag, Turner impressed upon Dills a path forward to communicating future disagreements in a way that is respectful, equitable and not channeled through social media. Dills’ acknowledged that Turner had given her an opportunity to communicate with them that she herself had not extended, and that she was grateful for Turner’s visit. In a following conversation, Dills apologized for the Facebook post with the added reasoning that she had made it while “going through a rough time.” (We will save the editorializing on this note, but to be clear – an apology with an excuse is not an apology.)
You may be tempted to think this was a happy ending to an unnecessary issue caused by ignorance and dog-whistling. But we view this much more as the misleading tiny peak of ice cresting the waterline while hiding a deadly hazard below.
This is indicative of a much, much larger issue. We have had the conversation countless times (and unfortunately, we will have it countless times more) about the emotional, mental and physical energy people of color are expected to expend to educate their White colleagues, neighbors, strangers, etc. The conversation opens further to include non-cis, queer, and differently-abled folks. Not only are they expected to educate people about their identity and lives, but they’re expected to do so unflinchingly and with the grace and tenderness, we would see in a pre-kindergarten classroom.
But Representative Turner is not a teacher. They are an elected official who won their race with more than 71% of the vote. Turner has policy ideas, issues to advocate for, constituents with needs who deserve a voice on the floor of the House. The people of Oklahoma House District 88 do not deserve to have their time effectively stolen by House Republicans who try to villainize their representative on the first day of session.
White privilege permeates every level of politics. We see it in policies. We see it in press coverage. We see it in heightened expectations and hypercritical judgement on elected officials who don’t fit the traditionally White mold of government. We see it in the budget cuts and funding allocations. We see it in development projects and environmental racism. It is everywhere. And in the midst of it all are our elected officials who are people of color – trying to do their damn jobs without having to hold the hands of their White colleagues while they lead them to a remedial understanding of diversity and acceptance.
Now, our take on this issue is just that – ours. But we had the opportunity to speak with Rep. Turner earlier today, and below is a closing thought they were kind enough to share with us.
“We are in need of leaders who are able to critically think, because we do not serve a monolith. We serve several different people within our constituencies. And if we can’t have leadership who is always critically thinking of how our actions affect other people, then we need to have folks who have shared lived experiences. Who have had to come into contact with the worst parts of the system. We need those folks to run for office. I would love it – love it – if there were more people like me in the legislature. I would love it if there were more people who had different lenses. But not this same monolith. Because doing politics how we’ve been doing it, since the beginning of politics, is what got us to this place. So, we need a change in thought process and ideology and how we handle things like this.”
“White Privilege in Politics” is a The Black Wall Street Times political series focused on unpacking the inequity caused by the significant deficit of diversity in our political systems.