Trump's June 19 rally in Tulsa is a very loud shout out to his racist base
The president's top advisor is an outed white supremacist and everyone knows it but he's still there
“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘N***er, n***er, n***er.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘n***er’—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘N***er, n***er.”
-Lee Atwater, describing the Southern Strategy in 1981
The “white power” hand gesture is a perfect greeting white supremacists have for each other. When your hand makes the “OK” sign, your last three fingers make a W and the circle made by your thumb and forefinger is the top half of the P, the latter half of which is made by the line in your palm.
The gesture itself is so innocuous that anyone can claim they’re simply making the “OK” sign when called out on it. Even the Anti-Defamation League has acknowledged the problem of the gesture. Though it began with a bunch of neckbeards on 4Chan trying to trick reporters into thinking the “OK” gesture was a white supremacist greeting, white supremacists have now started unironically using the gesture to signal to one another (omission of Christchurch shooter’s name mine):
By 2019, at least some white supremacists seem to have abandoned the ironic or satiric intent behind the original trolling campaign and used the symbol as a sincere expression of white supremacy, such as when Australian white supremacist [redacted] flashed the symbol during a March 2019 courtroom appearance soon after his arrest for allegedly murdering 50 people in a shooting spree at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
All this is to say that Trump announcing that his first rally since Coronavirus shut everything down is going to be on June 19 in Tulsa, Oklahoma is the equivalent of him flashing a White Power gesture at his base. June 19 is Juneteenth — also known as Freedom Day to the black community — which commemorates the ending of slavery when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on June 19, 1865.
Tulsa also carries a special significance, as it’s the site of perhaps the worst mass lynching in US history. On May 31 and June 1, 1921, approximately 300 black people were killed, and 35 blocks were set ablaze in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma. That part of town was also known as “Black Wall Street,” as it was the home of one of the most prosperous black communities in the US at the time. According to a 1999 New York Times article, Black Wall Street was a shining example of how black entrepreneurs could thrive even in a country that relegated them to second-class citizen status:
Greenwood came into being out of necessity, when black people were forbidden by law to live or own businesses in the white city -- and were expected to be off the white city streets by sundown. By the eve of the riot in 1921, the black city within a city included as many as 15,000 people and supported 191 businesses, including 15 doctors, 2 dentists, one chiropractor and three law offices. With a larger black land-owning class, Oklahoma had about 45 black municipalities -- more by far than any state in the union -- and was known as ''the promised land,'' a veritable capital of black economic independence.
The Times based its description of events from firsthand accounts of the massacre from some of its survivors. The paper’s depiction of events was eerily similar to the Nazi Kristallnacht attacks on Jewish homes and businesses:
As the morning wore on, a wall of fire worked its way across Greenwood, destroying everything in its path. The mob burst into one house after another, sometimes killing the occupants outright, often looting the house and setting it afire from within, in the manner of the pogroms that were carried out against the Jews in Eastern Europe.
There are no shortage of other dates Trump could have chosen for his rally, and no shortage of cities. It’s hard to see how having a rally on June 19 in Tulsa, Oklahoma wasn’t a deliberate choice. His top advisor, Stephen Miller, is an outed white nationalist who has faced calls to resign, and yet he’s still in the White House, advising the president.
Trump isn’t going to go onstage in Tulsa and shout the n-word, but he doesn’t need to. The people who will be attending know exactly what he’s doing. And that’s always been the point.