The recent Tulsa shootings have sparked discussion on racially-motivated crimes in America. The shootings, committed by two white men in a predominantly black neighborhood, come in the midst of nationwide outrage over Trayvon Martin’s death at the hands of a Hispanic neighborhood watchman. What does the reaction elicited by these two events tell us about race and America?
Both the Tulsa shootings and Trayvon Martin’s death are of a legally ambiguous nature, but have been condemned in the court of public opinion. In Tulsa, the media and citizens immediately questioned whether the violent crimes were racially motivated. The shootings were perpetuated by two white men exclusively against blacks and have no known motive. Distract Attorney Tim Harris has said, "If the motivation is racial in this case, then that needs to be vetted in a court of law just like any others. It's the law of the state of Oklahoma and if the facts and the evidence support that, then we're going to go forward with it."
Tulsa city councilman Jack Henderson seems convinced of the racial nature of the crimes, “Somebody that committed these crimes was (sic) very upset with black people. That person happened to be a white person. The person they killed and shot were black people. That fits the bill for me.”
In the case of Trayvon Martin, thousands have called for justice against George Zimmerman and condemned the seeming racial motivation for the shooting.
In these stories, media outlets and citizens immediately jumped to conclusions and have assumed the worst intentions, even though the racial motivations were unclear. Is this an appropriate reaction to these events?
The nature of racism makes it inherently different than other forms of discrimination and prejudice. Religion and sexual orientation are not immediately apparent. However, crimes perpetrated by a person of one race against an individual of a different race are obvious. Media outlets are drawn to stories involving these types of discrimination because they challenge the conceptual narrative that they have constructed about our nation.
After the election of Barack Obama, many commentators heralded the beginning of the post-racial era. However, in the three years since his election, racial discrimination has remained a reality. The narrative of a nation cured of wounds left by racial discrimination after the election of an African-American president has been continually challenged. Yet, the Tulsa shootings have sparked such strong reactions because many Americans want the narrative of a post-racial nation to be true.
Events, like those that have occurred in Tulsa, shock Americans out the complacency that allows us to believe that race is no longer an issue in this country. These heinous acts of violence reveal that as a nation, society, and individuals, we can never stop combatting prejudice, whether it be prejudice against a person of a different race, religious group, or sexual orientation.
We must use this moment to educate ourselves about all the forms discrimination can take, subtle and overt, because this is the only true way to put a stop to discrimination. Perhaps, most importantly the citizens of Tulsa can use this moment for self-reflection: What conditions led to the creation of an environment where racially motivated crimes took place? Were these crimes symptom of a larger problem in Tulsa?
To truly confront discrimination we must constantly examine ourselves.