Black journalists slam ‘egregiously ignorant’ columnist who defended US slavery as relatively ‘benign’
The Pittsburgh Black Media Federation (PBMF) has condemned an op-ed written by Post-Gazette columnist Jack Kelly that asserts black people should get over slavery – and white people shouldn’t feel guilty — because America’s peculiar institution wasn’t really that bad.
Kelly’s column, published Sunday and entitled “Remnants of slavery,” asserts that because Abraham Lincoln, most of the Union soldiers and the people who voted for Lincoln were white, the “blood debt” has been paid and there is no more need for “white guilt.” This claim, however, is skewed by the fact that black men didn’t have the right to vote until after Lincoln’s death and blacks were barred from fighting for the Union until Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 — and even then, racism prevented most from joining the infantry, according to the Library of Congress.
In a statement condemning the column, PBMF calls the factually-unsound op-ed “propaganda and twisted thinking.”
“Normally, the type of propaganda and twisted thinking evidenced in Jack Kelly’s column ‘Remnants of Slavery,’ published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Sept. 13, should not be dignified with a response. However, its content is so egregiously ignorant, its premise so flawed, and the platform that lends it credence so public that it must be addressed for the sake of truth and accuracy.”
Examples cited by the PBMF as particularly egregious from the column include the following quotes:
“The words ‘slavery’ and ‘benign’ ought never to appear in the same sentence, but slaves in the American South and the British Caribbean (usually) were treated less harshly than in most other places where slavery has been practiced — especially in ancient times.”
“Slavery was horrible, but no black American living today has suffered from it. Most are better off than if their ancestors had remained in Africa.”
It’s not clear what Kelly is referring to, but the idea that Africa, an enormous and diverse continent of 54 countries is a homogenously poor backwater is outdated and considered racist.
The PBMF notes that academics agree that the effects of slavery are lasting.
“Historians, sociologists and psychologists across the globe agree that U.S. slavery was uniquely pernicious in its practice and long-term debilitating effects on slaves and their descendants, a disgraceful legacy that still has adverse impact today,” the statement reads. “Some of the racial disparities that persist in educational achievement, access to quality housing and livable wages, and other areas have been linked to the lasting effects of slavery.”
Kelly also claims that slavery was America’s “original sin,” but not because of the massive scale of human suffering, tragedy and subjugation that resulted form it. Instead, “[w]hat made slavery America’s original sin was its violent conflict with our founding principles.”
The organization said Kelly’s column failed to meet the standards of ethical journalism.
“Before sitting down at his computer to write, Mr. Kelly should consider the professional and ethical mandates of responsible journalism. In this case, learning the facts about U.S. slavery and institutional racism before articulating an opinion likely would have resulted in a more legitimate expression of opinion and provided an important public service to P-G readers.”
The organization offered to furnish Kelly with experts next time.
“[W]e are glad to furnish experts from every ethnic group who can educate Mr. Kelly about the myths, fallacies and erroneous assumptions that undergirded his column. We also would be delighted to introduce him to journalism ethicists who can remind him why an opinion piece is not a license to revise history.
The Pittsburgh Black Media Federation strongly condemns the column as a blight on journalism. Shame on Mr. Kelly, and shame on the Post-Gazette for printing something unfit for a serious newspaper.”