Jack Kelly's "Remnants of Slavery" article: take it down and issue an apology

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Jack Kelly's "Remnants of Slavery" article: take it down and issue an apology

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This petition is a response to Jack Kelly’s offensive article, “Remnants of Slavery,” published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (September 13, 2015). In the article, Kelly makes numerous factually inaccurate, unsubstantiated, and inflammatory claims. The piece is of very poor quality as well as being offensive. Aside from the many highly dubious claims he makes throughout, we find the motivation for his writing the piece—essentially that African Americans should stop “blam[ing] all their problems on white racism”—unfit for publication. We expect more from Pittsburgh’s largest daily newspaper. To this end, we have two specific demands (see below after the full justification).

To provide just one problem example from the article, Kelly states that “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.” This is largely untrue, especially when one considers that slaves in ancient times often owned a considerable amount of personal wealth (a fact attested to by historians such as W.L. Westermann and R.H. Barrow). Kelly’s claim is furthermore completely unsubstantiated—if he wishes to make such an outlandish claim, he should at the very least provide some form of evidence. Finally, and more importantly, is a point made by VSB’s Damon Young: “But let’s say Kelly is right. (He’s not, but let’s say it anyway.) Let’s say slaves in America were actually treated better than slaves everywhere else. This does not matter. It’s an inherently invalid argument; a logical fallacy because you do not grade degrees of evil. Evil is evil. Stating that one evil is better than the other ignores the fact that one evil can not be better than another evil. All evil is equally evil.” Anyone who has ever read a slave narrative will know about the unspeakable horrors that these people underwent.

Another of Kelly’s statements that “Slavery was horrible, but no black American living today has suffered from it” is not only inaccurate (every black American today continues to suffer from the legacy of slavery) but also highly offensive. We contend furthermore that Kelly’s assertion that “Black racism is as vile and prevalent as any other kind” is likewise false because of continued structural oppression of African Americans. Finally, his assertion that black Americans must stop blaming “all their problems on white racism” is hurtful to those who continue to live in a society plagued by structural racism on a daily basis.

It seems that Jack Kelly’s article could only have been published to create shock or hype. If so, this is not the kind of journalism we expect from the Post-Gazette. The article is an embarrassment for the newspaper and indeed for the city of Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Black Media Federation has already published a statement “condemn[ing] the column as a blight on journalism.” But condemning the article is not enough. In addition, we demand: 

1.     That the article be removed from the Post-Gazette website.

2.     That the editors of the Post-Gazette publish an apology.




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