Why do white people continue to ignore the suffering of black people?

How did white people see the suffering of black people in 1921? How do white people see suffering of black people today? What happened in 1921 and how does the event continue to impact black and white Tulsans today? As a white person, I want to increase awareness among white churches that Black Lives Matter by boldly telling a narrative white people have literally buried in Tulsa.

After protests broke out globally over the murders of Breona Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmad Arbery, and the president of the United States visited Tulsa on Juneteenth weekend not to comfort the nation but to stoke racism, awareness about the massacre and racial justice is heightened in Tulsa and globally.

In the past twenty years, people like John Hope Frankin and many other black city leaders have been excavating a important narrative that has been buried. Literally right now an archeaological search is under way for mass graves from the massacre. John Hope Franklin said the massacre not only took lives and property but also “robbed the city of its honesty” and “sentenced it to 75 years of denial.”[1]

I was born near Tulsa, Oklahoma into that era of denial. Forty-six years after the massacre and about forty-six miles up the road from Greenwood, I was born. But I was never told about the massacre in school or otherwise. How were my white eyes trained to see or avoid black suffering in my community? In what ways has my Christian tradition demonized black people?

Nearly a century later, in 2018, I told these broad strokes of the race massacre story to my community. Most, like me, had not been taught about the race massacre in school. A few were interested, but I sensed a nameless resistance from white people when discussing racism and the massacre history. Why scratch at the scab? Isn’t this revisionist? Why bring this up now?

Robin DiAngelo gave me language of “white fragility” for how white people freak out when discussing racism.[2] I now had a name for this mysterious resistance to discussions about racism. I too exhibited “white fragility” when I discussed with Dr. Regina Shands Stoltzfus dropping research on racism and picking up another less controversial doctoral project. She was kinder than I deserved, telling me the struggle to dismantle racism needs white people to learn how white supremacy is mantled in us, in order to dismantle racism.[3]

I needed to learn more about my “whiteness,” which is shorthand for white fragility, privilege, hostility, silence, rage, denial, and supremacy.[4] This project is not about white supremacists, as in KKK or White Power. My premise is that systemic white supremacy in the United States is internalized and impacts every American and that this supremacy must be “outed” individually in white people. Supremacy must also be outed collectively, systemically in homes, churches, schools, police departments, courts, businesses, and prisons. 

[1] John Hope Franklin, “Tulsa Still Hasn’t Faced the Truth About the Race Riot of 1921,” History News Network at GW (n.d.), http://hnn.us/articles/38175.html.

[2] Robin J. DiAngelo, White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism (Boston: Beacon Press, 2018), 2.

[3] James W. Perkinson, White Theology: Outing Supremacy in Modernity (Springer, 2004), 2. The four white males, says Perkinson, “didn’t stand a chance of being un-dissected, un-deconstructed, undissed, or un-devilishly put on, 16. I’ve been there in classes at PTS!

[4] In addition to Robin DiAngelo and Thandeka, dialogue partners I’ve interacted with about whiteness include, Tim J. Wise, White like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son, Rev. and updated.. (Brooklyn, NY : [Berkeley, Calif.]: Soft Skull Press ; Distributed by Publishers Group West, 2008); Jennifer Harvey, Whiteness and Morality: Pursuing Racial Justice through Reparations and Sovereignty, First Palgrave Macmillan paperback edition. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

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