A bill that would hinder full and accurate teaching of the Tulsa Race Massacre is awaiting Governor Stitt’s signature.
HB 1775, which passed with the support of 77 House Republicans, aims to limit teaching of racism and discrimination in schools. The bill prohibits teaching students about the dangers of a white supremacist culture and allows for teachers who violate it to face disciplinary action.
In May of 1921, a white supremacist mob from midtown and south Tulsa charged into Historic Greenwood. The terrorists burned businesses, looted homes and murdered hundreds of Black men, women and children. Almost all of Greenwood’s nearly 40 blocks were reduced to smoldering rubble when all was said and done. It was among the most destructive acts of racial terror in the history of the nation.
The attack was hidden from Oklahoma’s curriculum for nearly 95 years; a statewide set of teaching guidelines was not introduced until last February.
How HB 1775 would prevent accurate teaching of the massacre
If signed into law, HB 1775 would complicate a teacher’s ability to cover the full history of the massacre. The bill prohibits teachers from educating students that:
- “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex,” or that
- “meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist or were created by members of a particular race to oppress members of another race.”
The bill effectively prohibits teachers from engaging students in dialogue around systemic racism and white supremacy. The bill also contains an emergency clause to make its implementation automatic after the Governor’s signature. The clause states that the bill’s enactment is “immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health or safety.”
The political agenda of Oklahoma’s Republican legislators
One of the bill’s lead supporters, Republican state representative Justin Humphrey, made the political motives behind the bill clear. In a floor debate earlier this week, Humphrey claimed that he was voting in favor of the bill because he viewed Black Lives Matter as a terrorist organization. Humphrey went on to compare the peaceful movement for racial justice to the Ku Klux Klan.
Others in favor of the bill have latched onto the rhetoric of former President Trump. These proponents have worked to denounce concepts like “Critical Race Theory” and the 1619 Project. Lawmakers and conservative activists alike have balked at anti-racist education, claiming it’s being “forced upon” White teachers and students.
In reality, Critical Race Theory is simply the notion that race is a social construct and that systems of government have been created in a way that favors White Americans. The 1619 Project, a powerful accounting of the start of the US slave trade, details the history of racism in the country since America’s founding.
HB 1775 also discriminates against LGBTQ+ youth
In addition to hindering discussions about race in Oklahoma’s classrooms, the bill also prohibits sexual diversity training. These trainings would support teachers in making classrooms inclusive spaces for all LGBTQ+ students. The bill is another assault against gay and trans youth after lawmakers passed SB2. That bill barred trans students from competing in sport aligned with their gender.
Groups urge Governor Stitt to veto the bill
When HB 1775 made its way through the House this week, no Republican lawmaker from Tulsa challenged it. One hundred years after the mass murder of Black Tulsans, the state is poised to attempt to cover-up the history of Greenwood once again. Groups across the state, including the Tulsa Race Massacre Commission, are urging the governor to veto the bill.
On May 31, 1921, the epicenter of Black American wealth was destroyed when white supremacists burned Greenwood to the ground. A century later, that same system of racism and white supremacy is at work in the legislature. This time, it is attempting to hide history altogether.