Approach To Racism: Engage Each Other
By Senator James Lankford
Last weekend’s events in Virginia continue to reverberate across the nation and Oklahoma. In 2017, it’s hard for many Americans to believe there could be a rally involving white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux Klansmen. As a nation, we have made so much progress on race since the days of “separate but equal” and “three-fifths of a man,” but clearly our journey is not complete.
The supremacy of any race over another is not only immoral, it’s contradictory to the fundamental idea of America and our Declaration of Independence, which affirms that all men are created equal. America and the Allied forces fought and soundly defeated Nazism in World War II at a high cost to our country and the world. Over the past few weeks, I have read an excellent book on the rise of the Nazi’s in pre-war Germany.History proved the madness of Hitler and his Aryan ideology. No one should be so foolish to celebrate Hitler’s morally depraved philosophy.
Yet, America’s foundation is rooted in free speech, freedom of association, and the right to peacefully protest, even if a belief is wrong and foolish. But, a civilized and peaceful society should be unequivocal in our denunciation and rebuke of the ideology of race supremacy, without hesitation. For those of us who believe that every person is created in the image of God and each person has inherent value, racial intolerance is especially offensive.
I was disheartened to see people of all ages participating in Charlottesville’s white supremacist rally and to see the “Oklahoma 46” flag flying in the middle of the crowd. The multi-generational hatred expressed for Jews, African-Americans and a multiracial national culture was another painful reminder that race is still an issue in America. It is imperative that we keep talking about race and act on solutions that will eradicate this evil.
Thankfully, the vast majority of Americans are rightly repulsed by racial hatred. Like Heather Heyer, who was murdered in Charlottesville, many young people are quick to point out injustice and act against it. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. challenged the nation to overcome hate with love.
Breaking the chain of racism and isolation involves love and action, not just concern.
After the police shootings last summer in Dallas, Minnesota and Louisiana, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and I challenged our constituents and people all across America to address racial tensions by engaging people of another race over meals in their home. We call it “Solution Sundays.” A “national conversation on race” will not occur at a rally or a big event, since in a crowd we can talk about each other, but not really to each other. I believe that “national conversations” are really millions of individual family and friend conversations, typically over a meal, in our home.
If it seems too simple and obvious, let me ask you this question: When is the last time you or your family had dinner in your home with a person or family of another race? Friendships and understanding happens when we engage and learn from each other’s cultures and experiences. To say it simply, we will never get all our issues on the table, until we get our feet under the same table. Changing the status quo starts by changing the conversations and examples of race in our own homes.
Before serving in Congress, I served families in full-time youth ministry for more than two decades. I can say without question, that parents have the greatest influence on their child’s view of the world. But, with the expansion of the internet and social media, there are unfortunately vast ways for people to be exposed to radicalization and hate-filled views. Parents should be engaged in what their kids see and participate in. You are their role model.
As a side note, there is also another cultural trend that has led many in our nation to self-segregate, not based on race, but based on ideology. After two centuries, we are making progress on race, but we seem to be rapidlylosing our “melting pot” of ideas. Our current culture encourages people to listen only to people who share their values, philosophy and ideas, then dismiss or belittle anyone who disagrees. Social media has become a fortress for social reinforcement instead of a place to exchange ideas.
Call me old fashioned, but I believe you should have conversations with people who think different in the hope of winning them over to your side or learning how you were mistaken. Screaming angry obscenities at people simply because they think different only incites violence and hatred, it does not solve any problems.
We have different viewpoints, cultures and faiths. But, as Bill and Melinda Gates say, “All lives have equal value.” Valuing the life of each person, no matter their age, disability, national origin or background, can make a radical statement. Our differences are what give us a unique story to tell; a story that is part of the fabric of this nation. We should embrace and celebrate our ethnic and cultural diversity instead of using it as a wedge to divide us. An appreciation for human dignity is one of the greatest legacies we can leave for our children and grandchildren.
Congress has many important issues to address, but we can’t pass legislation to force racial unity and trust. Unity and trust must be accomplished in our local communities, churches, and families. Sharing meals and spending quality time with people of a different race allows us to listen to the experiences of others. As my friend Tim Scott often says, “You can’t hate what you know.”
On May 31 and June 1, 1921, in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, thousands of individuals were murdered, injured or unjustly incarcerated simply because of the color of their skin. Churches and homes were burned to the ground and a vibrant and entrepreneurial business district was destroyed in the worst race riot in American history. Our past longs for a present generation that will work for renewal in our national struggle against racism, equal opportunity, and justice.
To help our state and nation remember, a 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Centennial Commission has been created, of which I am a member. The commission’s purpose is to teach people about the Race Riot; remember its victims and survivors; and encourage sustainable entrepreneurship in the community. While some may want to forget the Tulsa Race Riot, I believe there is something we can learn from the past as we look toward the future. In 2021, the entire nation will ask the pragmatic question, “What has changed in 100 years?”
It is easy to shrink back from controversial topics like race or our differences. But to ensure we never return to the racial sins of the past, we must teach, we must listen, we must lean in, we must remember, and we must engage each other as neighbors, friends and fellow Americans who love this country. Anger and ideological isolation will not solve our problems, love and knowledge will.
Hatred is not a political issue. Democrats and Republicans worked together to pass the Civil Rights Act, and it was a Republican President named Abraham Lincoln who changed the course of race relations in America forever. No one should defend the sins of our past, and we cannot wipe out the facts of history, but when the children in our community need a role model for the future, let’s determine to be that role model.
Let me ask you again: When is the last time you or your family invited a person or family of another race to your home for dinner? Next Sunday, over a meal at your home, would you be part of the solution?
James Lankford, a Republican, is the junior U.S. senator from Oklahoma.