Responding to Racism
I’m very disappointed to see the letters to the editor in the autumn issue regarding your previous issue on social injustice. How is it possible that graduates of an inclusive institution like the University of Oregon can deny systemic racism and generally act like a bunch of racists? That is shameful.
Sue Favor, BA ’90 (English)
Los Angeles, California
Having just received the autumn issue of Oregon Quarterly, I am distressed at the general tenor of the letters regarding race matters on campus, including toppling of statues and renaming of Deady Hall. While I agree with the renaming, I am opposed to toppling statues. More distressing to me, however, is the white privilege expressed by a few of the letter writers.
There is no such thing as “reverse racism.” There is only racism, and the notion that racism directed against whites is somehow more outrageous or that it justifies racism perpetrated by whites is in itself racist, and a sign of the assumption of white privilege.
Racism is not only systemic, it is institutionalized. Nowhere in this nation has the law ever allowed a Black bus driver to order a white passenger to sit at the back. Native Americans have never taken vast tracks of land away from whites by force. Japanese Americans did not intern white populations in concentration camps during WWII. Latinx Americans have not held that whites should be satisfied to work for low wages at backbreaking labor.
These are just a few of the precedents that demonstrate how racism has been both institutional and systemic in our nation’s history, and indications in current events are that it remains so.
Joe Hlebica, BA ’77 (English)
San Diego, California
I was shocked to see multiple letters in your last issue denying the existence of systemic racism in the United States of America. The exclusion of people of color (and women) dates back to the original US Constitution, when you were eligible to vote only if you were a white male who owned property.
While whites have spent generations accumulating wealth that our federal government granted through homesteading, people of color were on the outside looking in. The accumulation of these and other privileges have manifested themselves in disproportionately white (and male) elected officials, corporate executives, boards of directors, and other positions of power. Homeownership is vastly less prevalent in communities of color, as well. As a result, the voices of people of color have been underrepresented for centuries.
These historic injustices are baked into our political, economic, and social systems. What will we do about it? As a white male in this country, I believe it’s incumbent upon those who have privilege to learn our history, then work with those with less privilege to make substantive changes in our society.
Wes Milligan, BS ’82 (finance)
In the autumn 2020 Oregon Quarterly letters to the editor, in response to “Race Matters,” “Denaming Deady,” and “Statues Toppled”: I wonder if the authors of these letters recognized—due to editorial choice or perhaps by volume of letters—that they are penned by graduates of the ’70s and ’80s (with exceptions). I suggest that the authors and their peers should reflect upon why that pattern emerged, and what viewpoints they cling to that allow them such a cynical view of progress toward racial justice and equity. Rather than considering dethroned statues and de-named buildings as historical erasure, I ask these authors to consider how these actions are recognition of past injury perpetrated through the unspoken cultural atmosphere of our alma mater. How can we help our classmates and colleagues feel their voices are heard, their concerns validated, and their identities celebrated? By acknowledging and beginning to repair past wrongs by which some of us benefitted while others among us were purposefully disenfranchised and downtrodden. The right side of history is never on the side of the oppressor.
Hannah Fuller Carleson, BS ’15 (Clark Honors College, environmental studies)
When reading any type of publication, one should always realize that there is usually “too much fiction in the ‘nonfiction.’”
Before it was taken down on YouTube, there was a vignette of LBJ exhorting his congressional colleagues to pass his Great Society programs. Included in it was his assertion that if you “let me have this, I will have those (insult-to-African Americans) voting Democratic for 200 years.” Well, up to now this case of identity politics has worked. But people are beginning to see through this paralyzing ploy.
Awaken, don’t be in woke-lockstep because you think that your publication must, in order to reach discerning subscribers, adhere to and propagate the progressive narrative. Instead, employ some critical thinking—which should be the most important tenet of a well-rounded education. While you’re at it, please cancel my subscription.
Anthony Traglio, BA ’76 (political science)
The “Dialogue” section of the autumn Oregon Quarterly featured several responses from UO alumni and community members critiquing the issue’s focus on race, the renaming of Deady Hall, and the protests occurring throughout the state.
While reading these responses, I discovered an overarching theme: in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “sincere ignorance.” Sincere in the sense that your critiques were obviously good-faith attempts at fear mongering, and ignorant in the sense that you would describe advocating for racial justice as “radical,” “Democrat propaganda,” and “white-liberal-infantilization.”
While you commiserate over fond memories of slave-loving Deady, many of us will continue to advocate for the removal of toxic landmarks of our state and nation’s racist history. Statues like the Pioneer—dedicated to the “Anglo-Saxon race” by the Oregon Historical Society in 1919—promote a noninclusive, unjust, and harmful image of our campus.
And when the next innocent person of color is gunned down or choked to death in the streets of our nation, perhaps then you will reconsider whether systemic racism exists. Eight minutes and 46 seconds was apparently not long enough to convince you.
Zachary Johnson, law, class of 2022
I was surprised when I read the letters in the autumn issue and found that there were UO graduates that were unaware that Matthew Deady, although a Democrat, was a conservative. The Democratic party of the 1850s were the conservatives, and the newly formed Republican party, led by Abraham Lincoln, were the liberals. Today, Matthew Deady would be a Republican.
Robert Mullins, BS ’76 (political science), BS ’99 (sociology, public relations)
I received your most recent Oregon Quarterly summer 2020, titled “How Do We Move Forward?” The way each university should intelligently move forward is by not eliminating history! To eliminate our history is to not learn from it.
Not too long ago there was a movement in England to remove all mention of the Holocaust from textbooks. Pretend it never happened? Ridiculous! Teach it; learn from it, so it is never repeated.
The same should be so for the statues. Teach the good and the bad that these men did. Don’t allow a mob rule to destroy them. Move them into a museum where they can be tools of learning.
A shame [Matthew Deady] had a negative racial being, but what he did do was good. Was Carson perfect? Susan Campbell? Hopefully, you will not yield to this disenchanted group or that one, tearing them all down. We can do better.
Lois Hall-Gruver, class of 1957
Since the University of Oregon is now applying 21st-century standards to viewpoints and actions in the distant past, we must conclude that further changes will be pursued. First among these should be the renaming of the university to exclude the term “Oregon” because at the time of Oregon’s admission to the union, the state had statutes in place prohibiting the immigration of the “Negro” race.
I eagerly await the petitions from the university community calling on the city of Eugene to eliminate the street names of Jefferson, Jackson, Wilson, and Lincoln (since President Lincoln originally did not call for an end to slavery but merely an end to its expansion).
We should measure the actions and positions of individuals and institutions in light of the corresponding times and situations and not apply our 21st-century standards to actions and positions taken in different times.
Jeff Johnson, BS ’76 (transportation and business environments), JD ’79
The June 13, 2020, malicious removal of the Pioneer Mother and Pioneer statues on the UO campus by a small group was undemocratic in every way. The democratic principles of our nation hold that UO alumni and present students could vote to determine whether the statues should be restored to their original positions or not. Perhaps the UO administration could soothe hard feelings by holding such a poll, rather than just accepting the removal of the statues. If the vote is to “restore” then so be it.
Larry Hayes, BS ’67 (marketing)
Lake Oswego, Oregon
The Norm He Knew
I read with interest Greg Ingold’s scathing letter about my good friend Norm Van Brocklin (Autumn 2020). Just how well did Mr. Ingold know Norm? I knew Norm very well, from my first memories in the early 1950s until his death in 1983. While no doubt Norm was no choirboy, the man Mr. Ingold describes is certainly not the Norm that I knew, respected, and enjoyed. Among other qualities, Norm went out of his way to help and encourage young people. I was fortunate to witness and benefit from this firsthand.
Kirk Johansen, BS ’71 (political science), JD ’74
We want to hear from you. Submit your letters at OregonQuarterly.com, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or by mail to Editor, Oregon Quarterly, 5228 University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403-5228. Published letters may be edited for brevity, clarity, and style.