Local lawmaker’s ‘colored’ comment prompts call for bias training

Posted at 11:14 AM, Jun 11, 2020

COLUMBUS, Ohio — After a state senator used the term “colored population” during a hearing, the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus called for all 132 members of the General Assembly and their staff to take training on racial equity and implicit bias, according to the Journal-News.

The move comes after state Sen. Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, this week asked if “the colored population” is hit harder by the coronavirus because perhaps they don’t wash their hands as well as other groups.

Huffman later issued a statement: “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.”

OLBC President Stephanie Howse, D-Cleveland, said in a statement: “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.

“Because he is not alone in the way he talks and the biases he holds. Black Ohioans have spent the last several days teaching lessons to people just like him about racism and trying to verbalize the pain we are feeling right now so others can better understand the black experience. We are tired of these conversations, but we must not stop.”

Huffman, an emergency room physician, asked a witness before the Senate Health Committee on Tuesday why COVID-19 is hitting African Americans harder than white people.

“My point is I understand African Americans have a higher incidence of chronic conditions and it makes them more susceptible to death from COVID. But why doesn’t it make them more susceptible to just get COVID? Could it just be that African Americans or the colored population do not wash their hands as well as other groups or wear a mask or do not socially distance themselves? That could be the explanation of the higher incidence?” he said.

Ohio Commission on Minority Health Director Angela Dawson responded to Huffman: “That is not the opinion of leading medical experts in this country.” COVID-19 impacts the respiratory system, so those with chronic conditions are more vulnerable, she said.

Ohio NAACP President Tom Roberts, a former state lawmaker who previously represented Huffman’s district said, “It is just unbelievable he would ask that kind of question or use that kind of terminology.”