Oklahoma’s far-right superintendent of public instruction thinks that schools should teach students about the Tulsa race massacre, so long as teachers don’t actually acknowledge that the white supremacist attack was about race.
Ryan Walters took office in January, and prior to that, he served as the state’s secretary of education. Walters is anti–“critical race theory,” a Republican bogeyman used to attack critical thought about racial justice. Last month, he called for schools to promote Christianity in the classroom—including by displaying the Ten Commandments—as well as “Western heritage,” which many scholars recognize as coded language for white supremacist ideology.
Walters held a public forum Thursday night, during which someone asked him how teaching about the Tulsa race massacre doesn’t violate his ban on CRT. “I would never tell a kid that because of your race, because of the color of your skin, or your gender or anything like that, you are less of a person or are inherently racist,” Walters said.
“That doesn’t mean you don’t judge the actions of individuals. Oh, you can. Absolutely, historically, you should. ‘This was right. This was wrong. They did this for this reason.’ But to say it was inherent in that because of their skin is where I say that is critical race theory. You’re saying that race defines a person.”
In case it wasn’t obvious by the event name alone, the Tulsa race massacre was unequivocally about race. In 1921, mobs of armed white vigilantes razed the Greenwood District in Tulsa, a thriving Black neighborhood known as Black Wall Street.
The attackers, some of whom had been deputized and armed by city officials, murdered Black residents and destroyed homes and businesses over the course of two days. The massacre is considered one of the worst incidents of racially motivated violence in U.S. history.
The rest of the forum went pretty terribly for Walters. Attendees loudly mocked him and his policies. One pointed out the irony of holding the forum in a public library after pushing book bans. He was also called out for his opposition to teachers unions.