We live in an era of unbridled division and disharmony; all two viewpoints happen to view their opponents as stupid and evil. People, left or right, live within a thought confirming bubble where reason goes to die. This division often creates a situation where individuals are sucked into a land of extremity, forcing everyone else to tune out of a conversation of insults and personal attacks. Americans are divided on Social, economic, political, and racial lines.
On Nov. 15, Tulsans gathered at the Greenwood Cultural Center to remember the history of Tulsa race-relations and reconcile the differences in our community through the Ninth Dinner of Reconciliation with Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, Eli Saslow, as the keynote speaker.
Saslow had the fortune to meet and document the adventure of an ex-white nationalist. Derek Black had been born into hate, his father, Don Black, founded “Stormfront” a site that popularized the term “white nationalism” to generate a wider audience and whose motto is “White Pride Worldwide.”
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “it’s registered users have been behind almost 100 murders.” After, attending New College in Florida, Derek Black began to interact with people from differing perspectives and backgrounds across the world.
After a student ousted Black as a White Nationalist, Michael, a Jewish student at the school invited Black to a Shabbat dinner with the intention of fostering a relationship with Black. Through the commitment of his new diverse group of friends Derek Black started a gradual journey from White Supremacy. He would attend Shabbat diners for the next two years to discuss topics such as life, music, and Derek’s white nationalism.
They would have heart-felt discussions about the human costs of Black’s ideology ,which argued that people like Matthew would have been forced from their home and pushed into an unknown land.
Derek’s friends thrusted forth gracious humanity to a person whose ideology demanded the inferiority of his peers. On Nov. 12, 2012, Derek released a statement announcing that he didn’t consider himself a White Supremist but still believed that the separation of the races was a net benefit for all.
At this time his relationships had forced him to reexamine his worldview and he started to view his white nationalism with increasing suspicion. And seven months later in July 2013, he released an article through the SPLC denouncing white nationalism while “[acknowledging] that things I have said as well as my actions have been harmful to people of color, people of Jewish descent, activists striving for opportunity and fairness for all, and others affected.
Eli Saslow’s experiences stressed the importance of forming relationships with people dissimilar than you in order to mend the divides in American society. Whether these divides exist across racial, political, or generational lines.
The room hosting the Dinner of Reconciliation expressed these truths, people were asked to break bread with strangers and to meet people you may not have encountered in ordinary life. The elderly interacted with the next generation so that knowledge and experiences can be shared. And people from all walks of life and races greeted each other in loving conversation.
“We are very good at bringing people together so that they can have dialogues,” says Jean Neal, program developer at the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation.
But the divisions in Tulsa still exist and affect the lives of thousands of Tulsans. Schools in north Tulsa remain segregated. And because of these educational disparities your possibilities for success are inevitably linked to your racial background. Poverty is spread throughout Tulsa affecting everyone while concentrating on racial minorities. North Tulsa remains underdeveloped compared to the Greater Tulsa region.
Although Tulsa has achieved a great amount of change in recent decades, “Tulsa has so far to go” says Neal.
“Everyone must come to the table to or [these] problems won’t be solved.”