Racism in the American Midwest
Working Towards a Better Future Together

In response to the murder of Eric Garner (2014), racial tension throughout the United States was markedly inflamed. Americans watched news reports and listened to calls for justice, yet many were convinced that racism of such magnitude only occurred in larger, less progressive metropolitan areas. The citizens in my hometown of Norman, Oklahoma envisioned ourselves as being different than those who resided in cities such as New York or Chicago. We believed that Norman presented a safe space for the Black community and due process was fairly implemented by an unbiased judicial system. The news bulletins that fellow community members and I observed following the murder of Eric Garner were infuriating, to say the least. However, the collective thought was that our community was immune to such gross instances of racism.

In September of 2016, former Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby shot and killed an unarmed Black man, Terence Crutcher. Witnessing such a violent offense occur within our state lines disturbed my community. Though Norman was optimistically envisioned as a safe space, our citizens and local government had failed to accomplish the goal. It is difficult to comprehend the magnitude of systemic violence and prejudice directed towards the Black community when White privilege blinds us from understanding the full extent of such inherent racism. The death of Terence Crutcher, coupled with audio and video recordings captured in the moments leading up to his murder, demonstrated the ease in which a similar homicide could have originated within our community.

Peaceful protests commenced in downtown Norman and Oklahoma City following the murder of Mr. Crutcher as supporters of the Black Lives Matter (#BLM) movement demanded justice across the state. Officer Shelby was charged with manslaughter and ultimately found not guilty. Though an indictment was leveraged against a perpetrator of racist violence, the verdict highlighted the racial bias in the Oklahoma court system.

In the wake of George Floyd’s death and prominent #BLM movement, my hometown is experiencing unrest and angst comparatively similar to that which has permeated the United States. As protests were scheduled, some concluded peacefully while others ended in riots analogous to those that have transpired in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Norman’s Black community members have volunteered to share personal accounts of racially charged harassment and assault by fellow students and a staff member at a local restaurant. Having phoned law enforcement authorities for assistance during a contentious incident, one Black woman stated that she was ultimately arrested without cause. Retail and restaurant proprietors that have routinely expressed racist views or perpetrated acts of racial bias now face boycotts by the Black community and supporters of #BLM. A small number of owners will undoubtedly close their businesses after suffering from lockdown orders and revenue loss for the previous six weeks.

As such anecdotes are shared via social media platforms, White people in Norman, Oklahoma are learning an invaluable lesson that should have been grasped long ago. A life granted with the benefits of White privilege is not wholly representative of the human experience. Ignoring fundamental inequalities that are inherent within America perpetuates the existence of biases that continue to plague Black Americans. We must stand alongside our neighbors who comprise communities of color to end racism. I am hopeful that our actions as supporters of the #BLM movement following the murders of Terence Crutcher, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor will continue to evoke change within the United States.

1157 EDT – Author: Jacklyn Hennion

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