An Ohio GOP lawmaker and doctor who last year described Black Americans as “colored” in questioning their hygiene as it relates to contracting COVID-19 will now lead the state Senate Health Committee, according to the Associated Press.
This past June, state Sen. Stephen Huffman, an emergency room doctor, openly questioned the coronavirus prevention methods of Black Americans while speaking with Angela Dawson, a Black woman and the executive director of the Ohio Commission on Minority Health.
“I understand African Americans have higher instances of chronic conditions that makes them more susceptible to death from COVID,” Huffman said. “But why does that make them more susceptible just to get COVID?”
He added: “Could it just be that African Americans – or the colored population — do not wash their hands as well as other groups? Or wear masks? Or do not socially distance themselves? Could that just be the explanation of why there’s a higher incidence?”
The comments fueled an uproar, with Huffman being fired from his emergency room position, along with the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) calling for him to resign and Black lawmakers criticizing his statements.
Democratic Rep. Stephanie Howse of Cleveland, who is Black, said at the time that Huffman’s comments stunt any hope for changing the racial climate.
“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,” she said shortly after the incident. “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.”
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Huffman took to Facebook shortly after the incident to apologize for his comments.
“I had absolutely no malicious intent, but I recognize that my choice of words was unacceptable and hurtful,” he wrote. “I apologize, and I make no excuses. Those who know me will tell you that I have nothing but love and respect for all people, and I would never intentionally disrespect or denigrate anyone for any reason.”
Huffman was tapped to lead the health committee by his cousin, GOP Senate President Matt Huffman.
John Fortney, a spokesman for the Senate president, released a statement defending Huffman’s chairmanship.
“Senator Huffman … has a long record of providing health care to minority neighborhoods and has joined multiple mission trips at his own expense to treat those from disadvantaged countries,” he said. “He apologized months ago for asking a clumsy and awkwardly worded question. Sincere apologies deserve sincere forgiveness, and not the perpetual politically weaponized judgment of the cancel culture.”
After the announcement, Huffman said that he is “proud” to chair the committee and tried once again to make amends for his comments.
“In our state’s effort to help understand why COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting African Americans, more than seven months ago I asked an awkwardly worded question that unfortunately hurt many people,” he said. “I immediately apologized and have been working to heal any harm caused.”
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