Tom Hanks on critical race theory: ‘The truth about Tulsa was systematically ignored’

“Celebrating America”
Tom Hanks has spoken out against the conservatives’ love of rewriting American history. In a recent NY Times Op-Ed, Hanks addresses the need for critical race theory education. In case you have been hiding in a dusty corner in a seedy bar, conservatives in several states have been trying to ban education on racism. Tom writes that students should be taught the ugly history of continual violence against African Americans by white Americans. Tom states that white washing American history is the equivalent to “putting white feelings over the Black experience.” Below are a few more highlights via Huffington Post:

“How different would perspectives be had we all been taught about Tulsa in 1921, even as early as the fifth grade? Today, I find the omission tragic, an opportunity missed, a teachable moment squandered,” Hanks wrote.

Schools, Hanks said, “should also stop the battle to whitewash curriculums to avoid discomfort for students.”

“America’s history is messy but knowing that makes us a wiser and stronger people,” he wrote.

In his essay, Hanks marveled at the fact that he only learned about it by way of a New York Times article last year, writing that failing to teach about Tulsa and patterns of extreme violence against Black Americans had the effect of “placing white feelings over Black experience — literally Black lives in this case.”

“The truth about Tulsa, and the repeated violence by some white Americans against Black Americans, was systematically ignored, perhaps because it was regarded as too honest, too painful a lesson for our young white ears,” Hanks wrote. “So, our predominantly white schools didn’t teach it, our mass appeal works of historical fiction didn’t enlighten us, and my chosen industry didn’t take on the subject in films and shows until recently.”

“Today, I think historically based fiction entertainment must portray the burden of racism in our nation for the sake of the art form’s claims to verisimilitude and authenticity,” he said.

[From Huffington Post]

It is my opinion that not only should the Tulsa Massacre be taught, ALL the other massacres that happened during that period post slavery should be taught. I am tired of people asking, “why can’t Black people pull themselves out of poverty?” Um, not only are we facing a systemic racist system but every SINGLE time African-Americans built something and were thriving, angry jealous white mobs would come in, kill us, and destroy what we’d built. Black people were promised 40 acres and a mule as reparations for slavery, instead African Americans received share cropping, red-lining and lynchings. African Americans were promised equal access to government and education and received underfunded schools, the school to prison pipeline and the murder of our leaders. This has been the African American experience in America.

And for those who say, “but that was one hundred years ago,” this sort of systemic violence is still happening today. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others are victims of a system created over four hundred years ago to exploit and destroy Black bodies. Critical race theory and the true history of white supremacy should be taught in primary schools. No one should have to wait until they are in college to learn about what this country has done and continues to do to African Americans and Indigenous peoples specifically. Tom is right, white washing history is the equivalent of saying Black lives do not matter.

Full testimonies of survivors of the Tulsa Massacre:

Tom Hanks at the 2020 / 92nd Annual Academy Awards Academy Awards at the Dolby Theater at the Hollyw...

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31 Responses to “Tom Hanks on critical race theory: ‘The truth about Tulsa was systematically ignored’”

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  1. Pamspam says:

    True story – I am ashamed to admit that not only was I not taught about this in school, I’d never even heard of it until last year. I’m 52. I’ve marched at BLM protests and am a loud anti-racist. Yet here I’ve been, completely ignorant.

    • Snuffles says:

      I’m black and didn’t hear about it until recently.

    • NotSoSocialButterfly says:

      Same. I’m 55. Didn’t learn about in until 2-3 years ago. This country is so shameful.

    • lolalola3 says:

      Yep. Never heard of it before last year. How is this not a standard lesson in U.S. history books? I shouldn’t be shocked to hear how American history is, in fact, white American history only but how are we to learn from our mistakes if they are erased & forgotten. And by “mistakes” I mean racist, murderous, criminal behavior that yes, makes us uncomfortable but tough sh*t. As they say, the only way out is through.
      Thank you Celebitchy for taking on such a serious topic.

    • superashes says:

      Same here. Only learned about it from watching The Watchmen on HBO. Then again, I grew up in east Tennessee, so it isn’t a huge shock that no one was teaching it there.

      • BothSidesNow says:

        That is how I learned about as well. That’s when I researched it and I was appalled. Not only do African Americans still continue to suffer from systemic racism, nothing changes the past and we must all know the truth, whether it’s uncomfortable or not. The history that is taught should be every bit of uncomfortable as it should be. Unless we learn from the past, we are inherently determined to repeat it.

        As for the death of Kira, the health system is another ugly example of systemic racism. African American women are less likely to be taken seriously in regards to pain and treatment. We have to continue to identify and root out ALL forms of racism, from pay equality to health care. African Americans are also far below the pay system as well.

      • Dierski says:

        I only learned about it at all in the last 3 years as well, which is just wrong.

        While I didn’t watch The Watchmen, I had a friend who did, and when she mentioned it in passing, it became clear that she thought that the references to the Tulsa massacre were fictional, as she’d never heard about it before watching Watchmen, and was confused when I told her about the history I’d learned.

        We all need to learn about these things in schools, honestly and in full, and without shying away from our country’s awful history of white supremacy.

    • (TheOG) Jan90067 says:

      As a teacher, I’m ashamed to say we were never even given anything but the barest bones materials to use during “Black History Month” (as if it should be relegated to only ONE month out of 12 then forgotten!). I had to go out and buy my own posters, books, and create my own lessons/units to teach this. I also tried to take into account all of the other cultures in my class each year and teach about their backgrounds. This allowed for *so* many “teachable” moments that we weren’t finding in the books we were given.

      One fun thing I did to start each year was to have each child research their heritage and create a report (oral, written, audio- visual, didn’t matter). We plotted each child’s “heritage” on a world map as well (it was astounding how many had NO IDEA where their families came from originally!). We shared drafts along the way, thereby learning about each other as the semester progressed. We culminated the unit in the late fall with a “Multicultural Feast” where all of the kids would bring in a food from their culture and share with the whole class; I also encouraged them to wear any clothing that was associated with a celebration from their heritage. We turned the class into a giant buffet, and after hearing each child introduce the food, kids got their plates and sampled them. Parents were invited to come listen and join in. Kids (and the parents) always told me that they learned so many things about each other that they never would’ve known otherwise.

      • MM2 says:

        Thank you for teaching the next generation acceptance, tolerance & celebration for other cultures. Knowing we have teachers like you gives me hope.

      • Killfanora says:

        Brilliant idea! Well done, and thanks for sharing. I’m sure a lot of us will take lessons from it ( no pun intended.)

      • BothSidesNow says:

        Thank you so much for teaching and showing diversity to your students! I applaud and appreciate you going the extra miles to teach our new generations that we are all from different backgrounds and we all have a history that is expansive and should be celebrated!! Keep up the exceptional and tremendous work you are doing!!

    • TaraBest says:

      Both of my parents are from Oklahoma and my mom attended school in Tulsa. Neither were taught about this in school. It was something they learned as adults. Because of them I was aware of the Tulsa Massacre as a child, but not much beyond that it was a horrible thing that happened in Tulsa.
      I visited the Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta a few years ago and they do have a section that discusses the Tulsa Massacre. I was surprised to hear how many people were not aware of it until Watchmen, I guess I expected that our education had come a lot farther since my parents were kids.

  2. Becks1 says:

    I don’t remember when I first heard about Tulsa, but it was recently (like within the last two years maybe?) honestly I don’t even really remember covering the civil rights movement in school, besides some of the basic stories about Rosa Parks and MLK Jr. It wasn’t until I started really studying the 60s in high school and college (the year 1968 was fascinating to me) that I learned more about the history of race in this country, besides the whitewashed version I had learned about “well we used to make black people drink from different water fountains but then MLK gave a speech and now we all drink from the same water fountain” which is pretty much what I learned in elementary and middle school.

    I went to college in the south and I do think the university tried to do a decent job in terms of its course offerings but that’s coming from my white perspective, I’m sure minority students probably felt differently. I did take a course in southern politics (taught by a white professor) that did talk a lot about the civil rights movement and how it impacted voting patterns, and as part of that I remember we read Walking with the Wind by John Lewis which is an excellent book, and I learned a lot from that, as a senior in college.

    I am learning a lot more now as an adult but that’s because I am actively seeking out books and articles on our history. It definitely was not taught in schools. I mean I’m 39 years old and like I said only recently learned about what happened in Tulsa.

    If we can teach students the name of every damn tax the british passed leading up to the revolutionary war, or have students memorize speeches by Patrick Henry, we can teach them about the systemic racism and violence in our country for the past centuries as well.

  3. NCWoman says:

    Very well-written, Oya. I think we could benefit from an opinion piece from you too.

  4. Snuffles says:

    Good luck trying to get Southern states to agree to this. They still refuse to admit that the Civil War was largely about slavery. And they still teach revisionist history painting the confederacy in a sympathetic light. I saw a fascinating video about that on YouTube. The Daughters of the Confederacy were behind it. Just like they were behind erecting confederate statues and getting schools and other public buildings after confederate politicians and generals.

    • Alarmjaguar says:

      Yep and yep. In similar news, Texas just passed a law creating the “1836 Commission” about the Tx Revolution and teaching the “patriotic education” about TX that you can bet will not discuss the fact that the Tx Revolution occurred in defense of slavery (which Mexico had outlawed).

  5. Kim says:

    Oops. Think Tom Hanks forgot to educate his son Chet Haze on race and that appropriation isn’t a good idea.

    • Betsy says:

      Or he did and Chet Haze still did what he was going to do. After a certain point a person is responsible for themselves.

      • Sigmund says:

        Honestly, I don’t disagree…but I still can’t help but look at Chet Haze and wonder wth went wrong there. Tom, Colin, and Rita all seem like thoughtful folks who care about race issues and want to learn more. And then you’ve got Chet.

      • MM2 says:

        Yeah, children are separate humans from their parents. My family has siblings who run the spectrum from full blown narcissist to incredibly caring humans. Parenting can only go so far.

  6. Betsy says:

    Thank you for mentioning all the other massacres, too. Yvette Nicole Brown retweeted a map of the US that had all (well, probably let’s say “most of”) the white supremacist massacres in the US. I think I had heard of one or two, but not all of them. It’s not that Tulsa shouldn’t get attention, but my god I didn’t know there were so many.

  7. Goldie says:

    I’m not sure how I first learned about the Tulsa massacre, but it may very well have been on this site. IIRC Several years ago a couple of African American posters referenced “Black Wallstreet”, and that made me curious to learn more about it. And then about 3 years ago, I listened to one of the survivors speak about her experience on NPR.
    Celebitchy and NPR have been such blessings to me.
    I agree that it’s a travesty that these things were not taught in most schools.

  8. tx_mom says:

    If you’d like to learn more about how Black history is/isn’t taught in the US, I can’t recommend this book enough: How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith. It’s exactly the book I needed to read at exactly the time I needed it.

    I just visited the Whitney Plantation in Louisiana, the one and only plantation museum that addresses slavery front and center. And I live in Texas, where my Black children were woefully misinformed at school about the history of their own state (it was all about states’ rights, y’all!). It’s painful to see how Black History is NOT taught, it’s being suppressed, even while White legislators are literally trying to remove the words of Dr. King or the very existence of Cesar Chavez from the history books of Texas schoolchildren.

    I learned about Tulsa about 20 years ago when I was visiting Tulsa and read about the massacre on Wikipedia. There were no signs in the Greenwood district commemorating the event. For the past twenty years I’ve told people about it and nobody had heard of it until Watchmen. Many I spoke to denied the possibility that our country was overrun by what were basically pogroms within living memory.

    Clint Smith is a poet who was educated by sociologists, read his book! Read information written in beautiful, evocative language!

  9. Watson says:

    The erasure of violence against black people, and the genocide of indigenous people is precisely why violence against black and indigenous bodies is still occurring today. People do not see history with clear eyes and have no understanding of why things are the way they are. Example: why are indigenous people or those in the black community wary of vaccines? Because there is a dark and disgusting history of using them as involuntary test subjects.

    In short: it’s white supremacy in action and it needs to be rectified. All of it. Education is the key!

    • Snuffles says:

      “ In short: it’s white supremacy in action and it needs to be rectified. All of it. Education is the key!”


      These conservative white lawmakers know that and that’s why they are SO against it.

  10. nolabirds says:

    I also had not heard of the Tulsa Massacre until recently – until I was watching HBO’s The Watchmen and googled it after the first couple episodes.

    On a side note – I just read a great article in MotherJones called “Jim Crow Killed Voting Rights for Generations. Now the GOP is Repeating History”. Super informative and also full of a ton of our history that I did not know about and was never mentioned all my years of education. I know we have to take accountability to educate ourselves, but it’s hard to know what you don’t know (and therefore where to start our personal journeys to develop a more informed perspective).

  11. HoofRat says:

    As a Canadian, I had no idea about black history in our country, and what has been perpetrated against African-Canadians. The narrative I heard was that enslaved Americans made it north to Canada on the Underground Railroad, then everything was hunky-dory. Never occurred to me to ask myself why my neighbourhood was entirely white. Africville, anyone? And don’t get me started about how atrocities against Indigenous people have been swept under the rug; I didn’t know much about residential schools until I went to University. Even now, the Alberta government is trying its best to keep knowledge of residential schools out of the elementary school curriculum because it might be too upsetting for children. News flash: it should be – anyone who isn’t upset by those 215 little ones buried in a mass grave at the former Kamloops residential school needs a soul transplant. We should all be furious, we all need to demand the changes that will acknowledge and validate the deep pain of those who have been systematically marginalized.

  12. Lindsey says:

    I grew up in Oklahoma and didn’t learn about it in school. I’m glad that it’s getting some of the attention it deserves now. I’m now in TX where the state government decided to ban teaching on racism. How can we learn from the past if we don’t teach about the past? I’m so tired of white men making these decisions.

  13. Alarmjaguar says:

    Amen, Oya and thank you for this write up!

  14. Gingerly says:

    As much of a nightmare as recent times have been, I’m so grateful too. That the African American experience is a national conversation framed by facts – I hope and pray it’s another step that leads to a real reckoning.