A new white fragility and anti-women bill, proposed by Oklahoma lawmakers, would prohibit public schools and charter schools from teaching how systemic racism and sexism shaped Oklahoma’s past and present. The proposal would also allow districts to fire teachers who instruct lessons that may cause students to “believe certain divisive concepts.” If passed, SB803 will go into effect on July 1, 2021.
It’s my opinion that the bill will only benefit white Oklahomans and their future generations. It further insulates them from an understanding of how racism shaped the Oklahoma landscape for all non-white people.
The bill essentially defines such “divisive concepts” as teaching that the United States was founded on racism and sexism. If enacted, the law will make it possible for districts to neglect the teachings of 250 years of institutional slavery. They could neglect to teach about the 90 years of Jim Crow and 60 years of separate-but-equal laws. They could ignore 35 years of racist housing and economic policy. And They could also neglect the history of 144 years of women suffrage that schools should be teaching.
Further, the bill dismisses the concept of ‘white privilege’, championed under the previous presidential Administration. It instead cites that white Americans do not “by virtue of his or her race or sex, bear[s] responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.”
The measure ignores past Oklahoma laws that have factually shaped the social privileges enjoyed by white Oklahomans, such as: having a positive relationship with the police, being favored by school authorities, attending segregated schools of influence, and learning about the white race without acknowledging or being conscious of it. It ignores the privileges of not having white communities bombed nor having to live with the fear of mob violence and terror lynchings.
And it ignores the privilege of having a childhood full of children’s books with characters who reflect white people, having access to bank loans and quality health care, or being able to escape the negative stigma that all non-white Oklahomans face.
“Recall that race prejudice led Oklahoma to create a rigid separate school system,” attorney and historian Hannibal Johnson wrote in Apartheid in Indian Country: The Impact of Racism and Jim Crow.
Oklahoma schools were hardly equal; Black schools had more hand-me-down books than white schools. These texts often came with the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights ripped from its pages.
Black Oklahomans were forced to identify their race when registered as political candidates. Moreover, the state “passed literacy requirements that curtailed black voting. The requirements demanded that black voters could read and write any section of the state constitution” before casting their votes.
An early Oklahoma law defined the term “colored” as “all persons of African descent who possess any quantum of negro blood.” Meanwhile, “the term ‘white’ shall include all other persons,” Pauli Murray cited in States’ Laws on Race and Color. Racist white male state legislators established and set the tone for violence against women and mob violence against people of color, especially black people. Consider that it was ‘colorblind’ legislation that led to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
In Pauli Murray’s States’ Laws on Race and Color, Black Oklahomans were subject to Black Codes that included:
- Never impute dishonorable intentions to a white person.
- Never assert or even intimate that a white person is lying.
- Never suggest that a white person is from an inferior class.
- Never lay claim to, or overtly demonstrate, superior knowledge or intelligence.
- Never curse a white person.
- Never laugh derisively at a white person.
- Never comment upon the appearance of a white female.
Sen. Shane Jett and Sen. Warren Hamilton, two white Republican male legislators, introduced the racially misguided and sexist legislation.
The subjugated treatment black and women Oklahomans received at the hands of a hostile white male majority in law-making positions remains, which should be evidence enough as to why the majority of black Oklahomans and women are against such divisive and suppressive legislation.
Publisher’s Note: What happens in classrooms should be left to a teacher’s discretion. Teachers know when something needs to be shut down.