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For the second time in a month, a prominent Oklahoma Republican is claiming racism may not be the root cause of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

In a groundbreaking reporting from The Frontier, state representative Sherrie Conley is quoted as saying she is ‘unsure’ whether those who carried out the massacre were racists.

Conley says she doesn’t know for sure if “it was actually racism that caused the thoughts of the people that started it.”

“We can try to speculate,” Conley said, “but to know for sure, I don’t think that we can.”

Conley’s comments come just weeks after State Superintendent Ryan Walters made global headlines for similar comments.

During a town hall, Walters said it was “critical race theory” to teach the massacre was connected to “skin color”.

“You be judgmental of the action, of the content of the character of the individual – absolutely,” Walters said. “But let’s not tie it to the skin color and say that the skin color determined it.”

republican racism
Oklahoma Republican State Superintendent Ryan Walters. (Associated Press)

The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre occurred when White Klan members and vigilantes stormed the Black community of Greenwood. Over the course of two days, the city-sanctioned mob shot, looted and burned nearly 40 blocks of homes and businesses. In all, more than 300 were killed, 10,000 were left without shelter and millions of dollars in generational wealth was destroyed, according to the Tulsa Historical Society.

Comments from Republican Conley and Walters part of larger, national trend of white-washing American history of racism

It is, of course, an undeniable fact that the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre was the result of racism, despite Republican denial. It is also an undeniable fact that those who carried out the massacre were racists.

But these comments from Conley, Walters and other come against the backdrop of national efforts to rewrite history.

Presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis has come under fire for a Florida curriculum teaching students that enslaved people “benefited” from slavery.

After facing backlash from both Democrats and Republicans, DeSantis and his supporters continue digging in. The Florida Governor even sent a letter to Vice President Harris asking her to debate him over the controversial education standards.

Harris responded at an event in Florida, saying she “will not be distracted” by DeSantis and other extremists.

“There is no roundtable, no lecture, no invitation we will accept to debate the undeniable fact,” Harris said. “There were no redeeming qualities to slavery.”

Oklahoma educators fearful of repercussions for accurately teaching about the 1921 Massacre

Following the passage of HB 1775 in Oklahoma, teachers have been struggling to find ways to teach about the Massacre or racism in general amid Republican efforts to control the classroom.

The bill, authored by Conley and others, threatens teachers’ licenses and district accreditation for teachings about race in ways that could make White students “uncomfortable”.

According to that same report from The Frontier, even lessons using acclaimed books on the massacre are called into question.

Lessons using Dreamland Burning were paused in Bixby after members of the extremist group Moms for Liberty filed a complaint.

District leaders encouraged teachers to carefully review the lesson before teaching it, the Frontier Reported. Officials in Bixby wanted to ensure students learned about the Massacre. However, they warned they might be “unable to protect” teachers from state action, based on how elected officials like Conley and Walters interpret a particular lesson.

These recent statements justifiably add to the fear and frustration felt by educators across the state. If they teach that the Race Massacre was perpetuated by racism, they could violate Conley’s law, and face Walters’ wrath.

Some have begun to call for Walters’ impeachment, overturning of the law and a federal investigation.

Nate Morris moved to the Tulsa area in 2012 and has committed himself to helping build a more equitable and just future for everyone who calls the city home. As a teacher, advocate, community organizer...

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