On Tuesday, President Joe Biden spoke in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, a despicable event that occurred on June 1, 1921, when a mob of racist white people burned, looted, and destroyed thousands of black businesses, and homes, and killed around 300 people of color. In less than 24 hours, a prosperous black neighborhood that took years to build and was often referred to as the Black Wall Street was desecrated. All because a young black teenager named Dick Rowland was accused of assaulting a young white elevator operator named Sarah Page.
That was one of the darkest days in our country’s history, and it deserves to be taught, studied, and remembered for the atrocity that it was.
Biden could have commemorated the event by addressing the ways Americans have attempted to eliminate the scourge of racism in the past century, including electing the first black man to be president of the United States. He could have touted the accomplishments and contributions of generations of successful black entrepreneurs, doctors, scientists, engineers, artists, preachers, athletes, and more.
But instead the president used the Tulsa massacre to promote his usual inflammatory and divisive rhetoric and excoriate America as a deeply racist country, still today.
“We must address what remains the stain on the soul of America,” Biden said in his address at Greenwood Cultural Center in Tulsa. “What happened in Greenwood was an act of hate and domestic terrorism with a through line that exists today still. Just close your eyes, remember what you saw in Charlottesville four years ago on television. Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, the KKK coming out of those fields at night with lighted torches, the veins bulging as they were screaming. Remember? Just close your eyes and picture what it was.”
Aside from the fact that asking a room full of mostly black people to close their eyes to remember members of the Ku Klux Klan carrying torches in Charlottesville has to be one of the more truly bizarre requests that a president has made in recent memory, to somehow equate that event as in any way equivalent to what happened in Tulsa is not only disgraceful but also deeply disrespectful to the families of the 300 victims who died and to all those who lost their homes, businesses, and livelihoods a century ago.
To be sure, what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 was disturbing. Some were outraged that Confederate statues were being torn down, and others were giddy about that prospect. Two sides clashed, and one person was killed. Neo-Nazis, and, yes, members of Antifa, who were also present with helmets and baseball bats in hand, deserve scorn and contempt. But the two events are not equal, and Biden has repeatedly presented a false, propagandized version of the Charlottesville incident for his own political advantage.
There is a reason that Biden can’t resist bringing up the events of Charlottesville at every opportunity. He wants the country, and particularly people of color, to believe that we have made very little progress regarding race. Worse than that, he wants black people to believe not only that they are continuing to be oppressed but also that many white people are resentful of them advancing professionally, economically, and socially.
“For too long, we’ve allowed a narrowed, cramped view of the promise of this nation to fester, the view that America is a zero-sum game where there’s only one winner,” Biden said. “If you succeed, I fail. If you get ahead, I fall behind. If you get a job, I lose mine. And maybe worst of all, if I hold you down, I lift myself up, instead of if you do well, we all do well.”
Anyone who thinks that way is clearly a racist, but to pretend, as Biden did, that that is a mainstream viewpoint for white Americans is disingenuous and insulting. Ironically enough, that sort of divisive rhetoric is typically what Biden himself has often used when he wants to create class warfare. For a president to make such an outlandish claim in a speech in 2021 is reprehensible.
But Biden’s inspirational speech did not end there.
He then went on to claim that “Terrorism from white supremacy is the most lethal threat to the homeland today, not Isis, not Al-Qaeda — white supremacists. That’s not me; that’s the intelligence community under both Trump and under my administration.”
Biden appeared to be referring to a draft of a report from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from last September, which Politico reported as saying that in 2019 “Among DVE [domestic violent extremist] actors, WSEs [white supremacist extremists] conducted half of all lethal attacks (8 of 16), resulting in the majority of deaths (39 of 48).” In other words, violent extremists or white supremacists were responsible for 39 deaths in 2019.
Yet Biden made no mention of the fact that Black Lives Matter and Antifa riots in 2020 resulted in more than 30 deaths, in addition to 700 injured police officers and insurance damages estimated to be valued at more than $2 billion. Many of the businesses that were destroyed were owned by minorities and located in minority neighborhoods. Biden also neglected to address the fact that we’re currently in the midst of a massive crime wave that largely affects people of color and those in minority communities.
Just look at Chicago, a city that recorded 774 murders in 2020, an increase of more than 50 percent from the 506 murders in 2019. An alarming 80 percent of all gun-violence victims from the Windy City in 2020 were black, but Biden did not have much to say about that.
Instead he said that blacks were unable to advance professionally due to their inability to hire lawyers and accountants.
“The data shows young Black entrepreneurs are just as capable of succeeding, given the chance, as white entrepreneurs are. But they don’t have lawyers. They don’t have … accountants, but they have great ideas,” the president said. Evidently Biden does not believe that black people are capable of acquiring the services of lawyers or accountants. That statement seems racist in and of itself.
Biden also accused new voting laws in Georgia and Texas intended to eliminate the risks of voter fraud of being attempts at voter suppression. According to Biden, asking people of color to show an ID is racist.
But there is some hope, apparently: in what was perhaps the strangest remark of his entire speech, Biden did mention that black people have advanced in some capacity because we’re now seeing interracial couples in commercials.
“Today when you turn on the stations, sit on one station for two hours, and I don’t know how many commercials you’ll see, 8:00 to 5:00. Two to three out of five have mixed-race couples in them,” Biden said. “That’s not by accident. They’re selling soap, man.”
This sort of insensitive remark is nothing new for Biden, who has a history of making racist statements. To take just a couple examples, last May, when Biden appeared on the radio show The Breakfast Club, he told host Charlamagne tha God, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” And he followed up that remark last August by saying, “Unlike the African American community, with notable exceptions, the Latino community is an incredibly diverse community with incredibly diverse attitudes about different things.” And this is the man calling wide swathes of Americans racist.
The massacre in Tulsa 100 years ago was a devastating tragedy that left a blemish on our country’s history. But for a sitting president to speak as though our entire nation remains racist and that black Americans are still being handcuffed from advancing economically and professionally because of the actions of white Americans not only diminishes their achievements but is a flat-out lie used for political ends. After his appalling Tulsa speech, Biden may want to reconsider his own conduct and past racist comments before smearing a large percentage of the American population as bigots.
David Keltz was a speechwriter for the Administrator at the U.S. General Services Administration from 2020–21 and is the author of the new book The Campaign of His Life and Media Bias in the Trump Presidency and the Extinction of the Conservative Millennial. He previously served as a White House Intern for Vice President Mike Pence. You can follow him on Twitter @david_keltz or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.