Local expert weighs in on Tulsa's level of racism

Tulsa has become a watchword in the ongoing debate over race relations in this country, due in no small part to a series of murders on Good Friday morning which many see as racially motivated.

Jacob England and Alvin Watts stand accused of gunning down five black people in a span of a couple of hours, killing three. Both suspects are white, according to jail records.

Any doubts that the case had grabbed national and international attention were shattered when it became known that Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton had chosen to come to Tulsa Apr. 14 and 15 respectively.

While it's unknown exactly what their message will be, one can easily draw the conclusion that race will be among the topics discussed.

But does Tulsa have a major problem with racial tension? KRMG turned to a local expert, Mana Tahaie, Director of Racial Justice for the Tulsa YWCA.

Tahaie told KRMG she doesn't think Tulsans are more racist than people in similarly-sized cities.

She does believe Tulsans have a problem when it comes to discussing the issues which do exist.

"We resist dealing with it, we resist talking about it. After something like this happens one of the most common responses I hear is 'we just need to get over it.' There's this sense of not wanting to grapple with some very real problems that we have."

She described the program she works with at the YWCA as largely educational. "One of the roles I hope the YWCA can play is to try and help people have a more productive and more honest conversation, and go through this process a little bit more intentionally rather than just trying to race through it or go around it and get to the other side because it feels kind of uncomfortable."

As for the visits of Sharpton and Jackson, she admits they are "definitely provocative figures, there is no way that you could deny that."

That said, she doesn't want to prejudge what they might have to say. "If we're projecting our sense of what these two gentlemen might have to say based on a preconception of who they are, then we're missing an opportunity to hear them" and their messages.

"I don't think these folks are going to come here and pass judgement on Tulsa. I suspect that some of the reasons that some people are against it is because they think they're going to come in and say bad things about Tulsa. I don't think that's going to happen because it think we did a really good job. Our law enforcement did exactly what they needed to do. There was lots of interdepartmental cooperation, and lots of really quick action -- this wasn't a Sanford, Florida, this was swift justice."

The YWCA has two events coming in the near future dealing with racial justice. The Stand Against Racism takes place April 27, and the Race Against Racism is April 28.

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