“If I had my choice, I guess I’d be a slave,” white Oklahoma state Representative Jim Olsen said, straight faced. “At least the slave has his life.”
Olsen’s statement came after Representative Ajay Pittman, one of the only Black women in the legislature, asked for clarification when Olsen compared abortion to slavery.
Pittman told Oklahoma City station KFOR that the statement was “traumatizing” and “hurtful”.
“It shows that we’re moving backward in the state of Oklahoma.”
Rep. Olsen made the remarks at a committee meeting while arguing in favor of a bill that would make it a felony for Oklahoma doctors to perform abortions.
Olsen refused to apologize and said he was comparing “one evil to another”
“Frankly,” he continued, smiling, “I’m not going to apologize for that.”
Democratic Chairwoman calls comments “galling”
“How dare he?” said Alicia Andrews, the chair of the Oklahoma Democratic Party.
“It’s disgusting and it’s galling. He’s a white man born in the 1950s or 60s. He is not in danger of being enslaved, he isn’t in danger of having his life put at risk from a dangerous pregnancy, he’s not in danger of being forced to birth the child of his rapist, and he’ll never experience these things!”
Andrews went on to say she was “emotionally exhausted by lawmakers trivializing historical trauma.”
Republicans largely silent amid racist comments
While Democrats across the state have been swift to condemn Olsen’s racist comments, Republicans have largely remained silent.
“He said it in a formal proceeding and, aside from Rep. Pittman, everyone just moved on like nothing happened,” Andrews said. “Those who are silent are complicit.”
Olsen’s troubling comments, made just weeks before the centennial of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, come on the heels of racist remarks from another Oklahoma Republican in March.
During yet another abortion debate, Representative Matt Boles used the term “colored babies” in reference to Black infants. Then as now, most Republicans in the legislature remained silent amid what became national outrage.
The trauma of trivializing slavery
In a public statement, Rep. Pittman expanded on how trivializing systemic racism to justify anti-choice bills is traumatizing to Black communities.
Enslaved Black women were often forced to bear the children of their enslavers, she noted.
Republican lawmakers, Pittman said “continue to chip away at the rights of women to choose proper healthcare for themselves.”
Anti-choice laws fail to reduce abortions
Oklahoma already has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, yet abortion rates have been climbing over the last several years.
“If your real drive is to minimize abortions,” Andrews said, “then you need to actually address the root cause.”
Andrews mentioned the need for enhanced healthcare services, comprehensive sex education and legal support for women as actual ways to decrease abortions.
But when Democrats introduce bills to tackle those issues, Andrews says “they go nowhere.”
Black political leaders “emotionally exhausted”
The blatant racism on display within the state legislature continues to go unaddressed. Many say apologies are not enough. Andrews and other Democratic leaders want legislators to engage in diversity and inclusiveness training.
Many Black political leaders in Oklahoma are, as Andrews said, emotionally exhausted.
“I’m honored to be the first Black chair of the Oklahoma Democratic Party,” she told the Times, “and I am a proud Black woman.”
“I am also more than that,” she said. “And I barely get to speak on other issues because racism here is so alive and rampant.”
“This is not what I thought I would be talking about in 2021.”