My parents have become Zoom remote meeting experts. Sometimes their video screen is upside down, but by golly, most of the time we have great conversations.
If you had predicted this techno-skill last February, I would not have believed you, but they wanted to see their grandkids during the COVID-19 shutdown. Suddenly, grounded in love, learning a new way to communicate was worth the effort.
Now we find ourselves in another historical movement of life and death, and it’s time we learn to talk about race differently, too. Maybe this time, during a pandemic, everyone is feeling more vulnerable, honest and open to change.
Perhaps witnessing COVID-19-related hardships has built up our compassion muscles. It’s hard to say why this time the empathy spark burst into a flame, but faced with horrifying images of racial violence across our screens, a greater number of white Americans experienced an awakening and joined the protests. We’ve seen the videos now of Terence Crutcher (again), Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. We cannot and should not un-see those images. Most of us faced a personal truth that we have not done enough to fight systemic racism.
Ninety-nine years ago, this community experienced one of the most destructive massacres in our country’s history right here in Tulsa. Some people only learned about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre because they saw it on HBO’s “Watchmen.”
The question now — given the current reality and knowledge of historical bloodshed — is what each and every one of us will do to change the future. How will we respond right here, right now in recognition that truly we are better than this? For our children and grandchildren. For a grieving community. The pervasive truth of inequality comes at an incredibly high cost to educational systems, economic stability, and our very humanity. How does 2020 become a year of transformation and reconciliation for Tulsa?
I’ve heard many people express frustration because they don’t know what to do beyond the protests. Black Americans are understandably exhausted, angry and deeply sad. Author Clint Smith describes a level of profound fatigue in having to — once again — try to convince people that “this is not our fault.” For those who aren’t black, it’s time to step up as allies and speak up against racial injustice.
Baseball lore describes a road series game during Jackie Robinson’s inaugural season, which saw him break the color barrier to become the first African American major leaguer. The moment occurred in 1947 as Cincinnati fans threw trash on the field and yelled racial slurs at Robinson when the Dodgers took the field in the bottom of the first.
In a show of support, legend has it that Pee Wee Reese, a popular All-Star player from Kentucky, temporarily left his position at shortstop and moved over to Robinson at first base and put his arm around the rookie, silencing the crowd. I don’t know if that really happened or not, but I know that Jackie Robinson was incredibly brave, and if it’s true, then Pee Wee Reese simply did the right thing. And now we’ve had more than 70 years to demand better from those on the sidelines and in the stands.
Each one of us has the power to take risks on behalf of others if we are to have a better future. At the Tulsa Area United Way each fall, I see why Tulsa has been named the nation’s most generous city. Year after year, 31,000 people donate a portion of their hard-earned paychecks to help us support those in need. Most of these donors are not the region’s richest philanthropists. They are school teachers, firefighters, bank tellers, pipeline workers, and manufacturing employees; people of all races and backgrounds. They recognize that we all need help sometimes and envision a community working together to ensure that all of its members flourish and thrive. Seeing our community join together to care for one another each fall gives me hope for this moment, too.
Necessity over the past few months has brought about new approaches that didn’t seem possible just a short time ago. My nearly 80-year-old parents have had conversations about racism now on Zoom. Let this time of transformation be different as we lean into empathy and humility. Look into your neighbor’s eyes and say, “Good Morning.” It’s a new day.