GOP Ohio state senator wonders if ’colored population’ gets coronavirus from not washing hands as much

GOP Ohio state senator wonders if ’colored population’ gets coronavirus from not washing hands as much

COLUMBUS, Ohio – During a hearing Tuesday on whether to declare racism a public health crisis in Ohio, a GOP state senator referred to "the colored population" and questioned whether African Americans get COVID-19 more often because they do not wash their hands as much.

Sen. Steve Huffman, a doctor from Tipp City north of Dayton, said, "I understand that African Americans have a higher incidence of prior conditions and that makes them more susceptible to COVID, but does not make them more susceptible just to get COVID."

Huffman made the remarks during a discussion with Angela Dawson, director of the Ohio Commission on Minority Health.

"We know it’s twice as often, correct? Could it just be that African Americans – the colored population – do not wash their hands as well as other groups? Or wear a mask? Or do not socially distance themselves? Could that just be maybe the explanation of why there’s a higher incidence?"

Coronavirus news and updates:2 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the US

Sen. Steven Huffman, R-Tipp City

Dawson, who is black, replied, "That is not the opinion of leading medical experts in this country."

Huffman later issued an apology.

"Regrettably, I asked a question in an unintentionally awkward way that was perceived as hurtful and was exactly the opposite of what I meant. I was trying to focus on why COVID-19 affects people of color at a higher rate since we really do not know all the reasons."

Rep. Stephanie Howse, a Cleveland Democrat who is president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, said the world "colored" is associated with segregation and Jim Crow laws, and is almost universally considered offensive in 2020. She added that the stereotype that "black people are dirty" has been used in the U.S. to justify centuries of white superiority and black oppression.

"When we talk about the internalized racism that is deeply ingrained in our institutions and the obstacles black Americans face in ever achieving meaningful change, this is exactly what we are talking about," Howse said in a statement early Thursday morning.

"The fact that a well-educated legislator, a Vice Chair of the Health Committee and a practicing medical doctor would, in a public setting, nonchalantly use such antiquated terminology paired with a hurtful, racist stereotype all in one breath reflects how unconscious this problem of racism is for too many."

The caucus is calling on legislators and staff to immediately take racial equity and implicit bias training.

John Fortney, spokesman for Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, said, “I know the president addressed it by speaking with Senator Huffman and also talked with committee members.”

Fortney noted the Senate will be holding a "listening tour" this month and next across the state on racial issues.

Former Ohio Republican Chairman Matt Borges defended Huffman.

"Everyone can evaluate the situation for themselves, but knowing Senator Huffman, there is zero doubt in my mind that he made a mistake, and that his contrition and apology are genuine," he said in a tweet.

But Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, a Democrat, said, "This is Dayton’s state senator. This is racist and unacceptable."


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