letter to the editor sig

This letter to the editor is a response to an opinion column written by Carter Donahue and published Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016. 

To Carter Donahue and the editorial staff at the The Daily Nebraskan:

The rambling incoherence and contradiction of your piece on Colin Kaepernick can be overlooked as the shortcomings of a writer in training. However, your ignorance surrounding a central theme of your article, systemic oppression of African-Americans in the United States, is unacceptably negligent. Even though you contradict yourself at least twice, you do state in an important paragraph that, “When I look from the perspective of our federal law, I don’t see black oppression at all. It doesn’t exist.” My letter is primarily a response to this argument, because I think it merits a clear and utter refutation.

A cursory Google search or a basic understanding of American history would yield some obvious examples of federal laws and state laws meant to oppress black Americans. Such as: Slavery! That is about as oppressive as you can get, and in our constitution it was written that one black person counted as three fifths of one white person. That is textbook racism. You might argue that slavery was a long time ago, and I would argue that 150 years is not a long time, especially in light of the fact that it existed in the colonial U.S. for over two centuries. Either way, slavery only sets the stage for the next obvious example that you neglected to remember.

Jim Crow laws! That’s right, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 that it was legal to segregate whites and blacks as long as they had equal facilities. The famous “separate but equal” ruling. Of course, we all know that in practice the freedoms and facilities enjoyed by the recently emancipated people were not equal. Supporting data for that assertion can be found in abundance.

This egregious and federally legal oppression of African-Americans only began to be rolled back in 1954 with the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. The Board of Education, which led to a trickling integration of public schools. This progress was only possible due to the courageous sacrifices of many social activists. Now, you might argue that 1954 was a long time ago, but then you would be calling my dad old. He is old, but he doesn’t like to be called old. Just like my dad, systemic racism in America is still getting along just fine.

For those of you that paid attention in your U.S. history classes and read the above, I apologize for the repetition, but the author and his editors must be reprimanded for discounting the vast majority of our nation’s history. Oppression of black Americans is still legal today, but it is not as obvious when reading the text of our laws. Instead, look at the indicators of oppression. According to data from the United States Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics (go to the original source if you want to do journalism!), in 2013 black males had a per capita incarceration rate 6.9 times higher than that of white males. According to The Counted (a database on U.S. police killings compiled by The Guardian), African-Americans were killed by police at a per capita rate 2.6 times greater than whites in 2015. According to a recent report from University of Pennsylvania, black K-12 students in southern states are suspended and expelled at disproportionately high rates (Smith and Harper 2015). I don’t even have enough time or space or knowledge to begin discussing racist housing policies after World War II.

It seems perfectly normal for a young aspiring journalist to offer their hot take on the latest trending controversial subject, but this is an institution of higher learning: do your homework. The article is poorly written from a rhetorical perspective because it lacks a coherent structure and the evidence presented is not even relevant to the central argument, which is excessively vague. By far the worst part is that you dismiss centuries of oppression with disturbing ease. Maybe it requires a little more thought for white people to see racism in America, but I imagine it is all too easy for people of color to see it. Please put more thought into your future articles.


Kyle Funk

Ph.D. Student

School of Biological Sciences

Smith, E. J., & Harper, S. R. (2015). Disproportionate impact of K-12 school suspension and expulsion on Black students in southern states. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education.