This story was updated July 7 to include new comments from Ryan Walters.
It’s OK to teach Oklahoma schoolchildren about the Tulsa Race Massacre, just don’t tell them it was motivated by the color of anyone’s skin, the state superintendent of schools said at a July 6 forum.
Ryan Walters, who was elected to the state’s top education post in November, was mocked and lambasted by those at the meeting in Norman, Okla., and in reports given online immediately afterward.
The conservative Republican was asked how teaching about the 1921 murder of hundreds of Black citizens of Tulsa doesn’t violate his ban on teaching what he calls Critical Race Theory.
His reply: “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. 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.”
By historical fact, residents of the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa — dubbed the “Black Wall Street” — were murdered by armed white vigilantes precisely because of the color of their skin.
University of Oklahoma social scientist Samuel Perry tweeted in response to a report of what Walters said of the race massacre: “My wife (a teacher) and I attended this event tonight. This was just the tip of the iceberg of idiocy Walters spewed. Driving home we felt so angry and embarrassed we live in a state where people elected this ignorant and incompetent clown.”
Walters, a former high school history teacher, has drawn sharp critique from his campaign through his ascension to office in one of the most politically conservative states in the union. He advocates a blatantly evangelical Christian perspective that follows the most divisive ideology of Trumpism.
Last month, he called for promoting Christianity and “Western heritage” in every classroom, including displays of the Ten Commandments, according to a report in the Oklahoman.
Promoting faith in public school classrooms would restore morality, he said. “The current national left-wing indoctrination is attempting to destroy religion as a way to destroy our entire country.”
Slamming “the radical left” is a common theme for Walters. At the July 6 meeting at the Norman Central Library, he said: “It doesn’t matter how much the radical left attacks me. It doesn’t matter how much the teachers union spends against me. I will never stop speaking truth.”
What Walters considers “truth” is not seen that way by many Oklahomans.
What Walters considers “truth” is not seen that way by many Oklahomans, evidenced by the large and angry crowd that greeted him in the university town about 20 miles south of Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma City TV station Fox 25 reported: “The Cleveland County Republican Party invited him to speak at the Norman Central Library. The room was packed with many unhappy Oklahomans, making for an hour of chaos.”
One person asked: “Why are you banning books and coming to speak at a library?”
Walters also opposes teachers’ unions.
He first was named to the top education post by Gov. Kevin Stitt after the well-respected secretary, Joy Hoffmeister, resigned to run unsuccessfully against Stitt in the governor’s race.
Professional educators and their related professional organizations actively opposed Walters but could not sway the general public to act on their fears that the new secretary holds extreme views that are a danger to public education in the state.
Faced with tremendous backlash to reports of his comments in Norman, Walters told another Oklahoma City TV station he had been misquoted.
The quotes used above in this story are verbatim from verified recordings of the event. While addressing the Tulsa Race Massacre, Walter said of that historical event: “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.”
Nevertheless, he claimed he had been misquoted.
“The media is twisting two separate answers,” he told KOCO-TV. “They misrepresented my statements about the Tulsa Race Massacre in an attempt to create a fake controversy. Let me be crystal clear that history should be accurately taught: One, the Tulsa Race Massacre is a terrible mark on our history. The events on that day were racist, evil, and it is inexcusable. Individuals are responsible for their actions and should be held accountable. Two, kids should never be made to feel bad or told they are inferior based on the color of their skin.”
Remembering the Tulsa race massacre of 1921 | Opinion by Wendell Griffen
Is it now illegal to mention the Tulsa Race Massacre in the classrooms of Oklahoma? | Opinion by Alan Bean
Juneteenth should remind us of all the things we don’t know | Opinion by Mark Wingfield