It started in an elevator.
A Black male teenager stepped on the foot of a White female teenager. She yelped. He ran. (He knew what people assumed when a White woman and a Black man are alone together and the White woman yells.)
And in a matter of hours hundreds of Black residents of Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood were killed and 35 blocks of Black-owned businesses and homes were burned to the ground. It happened 100 years ago today, but most of us have never heard this story.
Someone asked on Twitter over the weekend how old they were when they first learned of the Tulsa Massacre, and – while Twitter is in no way a scientific tool – the responses were telling. No one mentioned learning about this in school. I learned about it in my 50s via Watchmen because our kids were reading it.
There is a division in our nation today about the efficacy of sharing difficult truths in order to bring about racial healing. Some believe that teaching stories about the Tulsa Massacre, for example, will only divide us more deeply. And others believe that teaching such stories is essential in understanding the divide. The same arguments are made for and against teaching Critical Race Theory to school children.
For the record, I believe it’s important to talk – age-appropriately – about difficult parts of our world and personal history for the sake of understanding each other and bolstering critical thinking skills.
Imagine teaching a kindergarten class and you announce that everyone wearing blue gets ice cream on the playground today. If you aren’t wearing blue, you get no ice cream. “Would that be fair?” Of course not. “How would you feel if you were getting the ice cream? How would you feel didn’t get ice cream?”
So is it fair that if you have pale colored skin you automatically get extras that people with dark skin don’t get? (Note: Everybody in that kindergarten class gets ice cream today.)
We like to think of our nation as fair, where everyone can prosper equally if we work hard. The people in the Greenwood District of Tulsa worked so hard that their neighborhood was called Black Wall Street. And it was burned to the ground because of false accusations, fear, greed, and – basically – White Supremacy. The KKK was active there and lynchings were not uncommon in 1921.
And so we can do better when we know that story. We know what has happened and why it can’t happen again. And we know that there is anger and fear between people with different skin colors. It’s essential that we know these stories for the sake of the Gospel, siblings in Christ. Keep in mind that there is a story we share every year about the arrest, betrayal, and crucifixion of Jesus. Without that part of the story, there is no resurrection.