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.