The Tulsa, Oklahoma race riots in 1921 are the only historic moments of racial tension in Oklahoma’s history, that I am familiar with. However, in the past year the Tulsa police department’s treatment of African Americans came under such extensive criticism that it made the national news. Oddly enough during this hypersensitive time for race relations in Oklahoma, the Oklahoma City police department had to issue a media statement asking people to stop sending “thank you for your service” gifts because they were overwhelmed, figuratively and literally, by the outpouring of love.
The proximity of these two very different relationships between law enforcement officers and civilians sparks a lot of questions. Are the community dynamics of Oklahoma City and Tulsa so different that people living two hours apart could have such drastically different life experiences? Does this mean that maybe racism is no longer as widespread as we had previously believed, and that it has become concentrated to specific communities? Or, is the reaction in Oklahoma City another example of Whites simply not getting the message about White privilege that African Americans are trying to convey?
Before forcing myself to think deeper about racial issues, I believed that there was no way this could be a theme throughout my home state that I consider to be so friendly. It had to be a personal conflict between a select group of people. Now, I think that Oklahoma City’s reaction could easily be attributed to White ignorance.
All too often when racial crimes are committed, the consensus includes the victim’s race as a reason they were in the situation in the first place. While this sends a clear message about the unfair way African Americans are perceived in the media, and, arguably, Western culture, I think it says more about our ability to brush off conflicts that don’t directly impact us. As a race, whites too often undermine the message of equality that marginalized populations try to spread. A good example of this is the “All lives matter” movement. Yes, all lives do indeed matter, but that is not the message that is needing attention. The message that deserves its time in the media agenda is that we cannot keep deemphasizing the mistreatment of African Americans by pointing out their race. Yes they are African American, but they deserve to not be mistreated just because someone is made uncomfortable by that singular fact.
While I don’t think all race conflicts are owed to white ignorance, I think that more attention is owed to the reasons behind these conflicts in order to best prevent them from recurring.