Header Ads

Why Trump’s Tulsa Rally Put the City’s Black Residents on Edge

 This weekend in Tulsa,the president held his first campaignrally since March, after the coronavirus pandemicsuspended the campaign trail. “So we begin, Oklahoma we begin. Thank you, Oklahoma!” It was also the weekendof Juneteenth. For many blackAmericans, Juneteenth is a celebration of the endof slavery in this country. This was a moment thatresulted in scenes like this.

 “You are a sellout!” ”Black people die [inaudible]” [shouting] The timing of thepresident’s rally, on the weekendof Juneteenth, also comes at a timewhere there have been weeks of nationwide protests against racism andpolice brutality. “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” It is particularly poignantin the South, and in Tulsa, because of the historyof racial oppression here. Rather than a presidentthat showed deference to the racial historyof this city or to try to further the effortsof racial reconciliation, we saw him upend them. “About the first grade, we came to Tulsa. We moved to Tulsa. So, I kind of grew upon Greenwood. When I entered collegeand took black history, and my professor, he said, ‘Do you all know aboutthe race massacre?’ And we were all like,‘No. We had a riot here?’ You know. And he was just like,‘OK, so everybody sit down and listen to this story.’” In the early 1900s, the Greenwood area of Tulsa wasa thriving black neighborhood. “African-Americans, twogenerations out of slavery, pursued and exhibitedblack excellence.” “We had our ownbanks and hospitals and theaters and restaurants.” But that successdidn’t sit well with the white community. And in 1921,after a black man was accused of disrespectinga white woman, things escalated. A white mob burned andlooted Black Wall Street. “The violence lastedroughly 16 hours.” “They shot. They looted. They bombed.” “They threw bodiesin the river. They threw themin mass graves.” “When the dust settled,some 100 to 300 people were killed. At least 1,250 homeswere destroyed in the black community. Schools, churches and businesswere destroyed as well.”

“Total devastation,like a war zone. What happened here was amomentous tragic event.” “That was the worsthorrific story that I ever heard in my life.” “This church, we werebuilding in 1921, our sanctuary —they destroyed that. And our basementmiraculously survived. The damage on this pillarcomes from when concrete burned. In this room, alsowe have soil collections from the different siteswhere people were killed.” After years of ignoringthe massacre, many in Tulsa want to make it front and centerof the community’s conversation. They set up thisbipartisan commission to do a number ofinitiatives to bring forward the issue of racialreconciliation and commemorate the centennialanniversary of the massacre. And some institutionshave apologized.

 “I’m sorry that the policedepartment did not protect its citizens duringthe tragic days of 1921.” The hard part has beenwhat to do next. “We demand reparations inhonor of all those Americans that were killed! We demand reparations now!” “Saying ‘I’m sorry’is not repentance. You know, saying‘I’m sorry’ just recognizes what you did is wrong. Repentance is turningaway from what you did that makes you sorry. Before you can evenget to atonement, we have to have a society thatadmits that white supremacy is wrong. We’ve got to have asociety that admits that black lives matter.”

 The president has triedto present himself as a unifying figure,as someone who can bringthe country together, particularly in timesof these dual crises: the coronavirus pandemicand the national unrest around race andracial inequality. But this weekend showshis challenges on that front and the inability ofthis administration to, frankly, get outof its own way. Juneteenth is, for many blackAmericans, a celebration of the emancipationof slavery. The president initiallyannounced a rally on Juneteenth. When you talk to people, they say there was amoment of disbelief that the presidentwas coming to Tulsa. “My first reaction was,‘How disrespectful.’ I felt like it wasa slap in the face.”

And after pleas, even fromRepublican senators in the state, he movedthe rally to the next day.” “Beep beep. Beep beep. It’s important to me because it’s history,it’s freedom. Girl, you’re looking good.It’s good to see you, long time. It’s education.” “You want to makeAmerica great again? You have to makeBlack Wall Street great again.” “And it’s important thisyear because people get to see that, hey, they’restill fighting for a cause, but they’re celebratingour freedom.” “To come on the weekendof Juneteenth shows that he has stillnot that much respect for our sacred day.”

Ultimately, the president’srally wasn’t as big as his campaign had hoped. But the significanceof this weekend is seen in scenes like this. “I see you back thereshaking your head. Yes, sir, black lives matter.” And one of the takeawaysaround this moment, around race in this country, has been the shiftingpublic opinion about questionsof systemic racism and persistent inequality. “No justice!” “No peace!” “No justice!” “No peace!” That lack of acknowledgement puts him at odds witheven some members of his own party. The president’s strategyon race and on other issues has just narrowed hispath to re-election. He has not shown awillingness to try to expand his base,leaving him fairly reliant on a similargroup of voters that got him elected in 2016to do so again in 2020. 

No comments