by Paula H. Penebaker
President/CEO , YWCA Greater Milwaukee
Two white men drive to a black neighborhood in Tulsa, Okla., and randomly shoot five black people, killing three and injuring two. One of the two white men had suggested, as his possible motive before the act, that he was angry because a black man was responsible for his father’s death. Authorities were quick to suggest they could not say the shootings were racially motivated. What? Really?
In common legal parlance the term prima facie is used to describe the apparent nature of something upon initial observation. In the Tulsa case, what else can we say, but that the case was racially motivated? Why, when it is so apparent, would we need to look for another explanation? Sounds like a prima facie “case” of racism to me.
Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun once stated, “In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. There is no other way.” What would he think of how tenaciously we avoid discussing race and racism, today? Why would we look for another explanation for why white men would go hunting black men in a black neighborhood and shoot five of them?
The Tulsa incident is like backward time travel, to a time in our nation’s history that most people would like to believe was behind us. That time when midnight marauders in sheets with hoods galloped through neighborhoods looking for some poor black man who had looked at some white person the wrong way earlier in the day.
Many white people think blacks should put a sock in it, now, when it comes to discussing race. After all, we have a black President; we live in a post-racial society. Black people are often concerned to talk about it in mixed company for fear of being labeled militant or worse yet, uppity. Other people targeted by racism can’t get the proper attention to address their concerns because blacks and whites are by some accounts “obsessed” with just black/white issues. My goodness! We’re a mess.
Now, the naysayers will say, “You act like things haven’t improved and they have” and they would be right. But when things like the Tulsa case happen, should we just chock it up to one bad incident and move on, especially since the two suspects have confessed to their bad acts? That will be the temptation, but what will we learn from the easy way out? Shouldn’t we jump at a chance to discuss in communities all over the nation the racial implications of the incident to ensure that silent, budding extremists think twice before considering another such heinous act?
We HAVE to talk about race and we NEED to start NOW. What better topic than the Tulsa case to start with? The problems associated with race and racism are not going away just because we wish they would.
Paula H. Penebaker has been with the YWCA Greater Milwaukee for nearly 13 years and has served as the executive since 2005. YWCA Greater Milwaukee offers “Unlearning Racism: Tools for Action” a public training program that Penebaker co-facilitates with the association’s racial justice director. YWCA Greater Milwaukee also provides customized trainings on race/racism to local area nonprofits. Learn more about their programs and services at http://www.ywcamilw.org.
This post is part of the YWCA Stand Against Racism blog carnival on issues of race, justice and diversity. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #StandAgainstRacism.