Detroit Free Press Columnist, Rochelle Riley, and Pittsburgh Black Media Federation blast Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jack Kelly over slavery column
By ROCHELLE RILEY
The Pittsburgh Black Media Federation Monday denounced as “a blight on journalism” a Sunday column by Jack Kelly in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that included the line, “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.
“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,” wrote the federation, a local chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists. “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.”
Yes, it is inaccurate and vile. and yes, there are disclaimers from the newspaper’s editors about it being his, not the newspaper’s opinion.
But the question I have for Jack Kelly is: On what is his opinion based? What reporting did he do to make the obnoxious presumption that black Americans would have been better on the continent? And which African countries has he visited to feed his presumption?
And what studies did Kelly cite showing that three centuries of forced labor and outlawed education had no impact on descendants who couldn’t bequeath capital and lifestyle and wealth the way slave-owners could?
And if I hear one more uneducated conservative talk about the disintegration of the black family as if slavery didn’t disintegrate black families and the American government didn’t legally uphold the disintegration of the black family for three centuries – separating mothers from daughters, husbands from wives – my scream will be heard for three states.
As much as I am wary of criticizing newspapers (I, after all, work in a glass house in my day job), I feel it is appropriate in this case to denounce something so dangerously ignorant, so viciously and deliberately out of touch with reality, that it is heartbreaking.
My greatest concern leads to this question: Shouldn’t Kelly be challenged on fact as well as passion? Lazy columnists hurt all columnists. And unreported opinions based on air and tradition hurt journalism. Writing without reporting is like offering someone a cake that is half-baked, or runny. I like my cake done.
And the newspaper shouldn’t get away with saying “It’s his opinion.” It should be made to answer this question: Why print something that has been proven to be untrue?
Rochelle Riley has been a columnist for the Detroit Free-Press since 2000, where she writes about responsible government, community responsibility, public education, pop culture, race, film and Michigan’s reading crisis. She has worked at The Dallas Morning News, The Washington Post and The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky. She won the 2013 National Headliner Award for best column, received the inaugural Will Rogers Humanitarian Award for community service from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and has received multiple first-place column-writing honors from the National Association of Black Journalists and the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors.