Bigotry not to blame for Oklahoma’s shortcomings (The Oklahoman)

This editorial was prompted by OK Policy’s report “Closing the Opportunity Gap: Building Equity in Oklahoma.” OK Policy analyst Kate Richey penned an editorial in response, which The Oklahoman declined to publish. 

By The Oklahoman Editorial Board 

Oklahoma’s history undeniably includes shameful treatment of minorities, particularly during the first decades of statehood under Democratic Party rule. But those acts are now history, in every sense of the word. 

Today, the state is led by a female governor. The House speaker is black and has American Indian heritage. The chief justice of the state Supreme Court is black. Oklahoma’s economic growth is creating opportunity for all. Yet some insist that Oklahoma remains subtly hostile to minorities.

An issue brief by the Oklahoma Policy Institute declares Oklahomans have “inherited a legacy of discrimination that historically impeded economic opportunity for people of color and created a wealth deficit that persists today.”

The report notes blacks have lower income and savings than white Oklahomans. The group cites data showing blacks have higher rates for smoking, obesity, cancer, heart-disease mortality, incarceration and unemployment than whites, while having lower levels of educational achievement.

This isn’t proof of discrimination. Instead, the data largely demonstrates the impact of personal choices. State policies don’t force people to drop out of school, smoke or become obese. Cancer rates and heart problems often spring from tobacco use and the failure to exercise, not from societal discrimination.

The brief declares, “Hiring discrimination against ex-offenders is well-documented and widespread.” Again, no one forces an individual to commit a crime; business owners aren’t eager to hire ex-cons of any color.

 OK Policy proposes increasing the number of doctors, offering state matching funds for college savings accounts, emphasizing substance abuse treatment and prevention over incarceration, providing state incentives to hire unemployed workers, and job training. We support corrections reform and agree that Oklahoma needs more doctors. But these reforms would benefit Oklahomans of all races.

The problems OK Policy notes are real. But they’re often the result of personal choices, not racism. And they’re not limited to the black community.


Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in 2013. As Policy Director, she supervises policy research and strategy. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern, and she was OK Policy's health care policy analyst through July 2020. She graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. Carly is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification; the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking; The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa; and Leadership Tulsa Class 62. She currently serves on the boards of Restore Hope Ministries and The Arc of Oklahoma. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and doing battle with her hundred year-old house.

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