A senator in Ohio has landed himself in hot water after asking an expert witness whether the ‘colored population’ suffered more than others from the deadly coronavirus, owing to inadequate hygiene skills.
On Tuesday, during a meeting of the Senate Health Committee, Sen. Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City), who is white, asked the witness why the impact of Covid-19 has been worse on people of color than on white people. But he phrased his question in a way that can only be described as cringeworthy.
“Could it just be that African Americans or the colored population do not wash their hands as well as other groups, or don’t wear a mask, or don’t socially distance themselves? Could that be the explanation of the higher incidence?” local media reported him as asking the witness.
The question angered Stephanie Howse, President of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, who said it was emblematic of the United States’ systemic racism.
“He’s a full legislator, but, beyond that, professionally, he’s a doctor,” she said of Huffman, who is an emergency-room physician. “Health disparities happen because black folks aren’t believed when they’re actually hurt, and they aren’t given the treatment that they need.”
Howse added that Huffman had also implied that people of color were dirty, and not smart enough to take protective measures.
The senator later denied the accusations, saying his question simply highlighted a shortage of scientific knowledge about the coronavirus and “why it affects people of color at a higher rate.” He expressed regret for wording his query “in an unintentionally awkward way that was perceived as hurtful and was exactly the opposite of what I meant.”
The Health Committee hearing was part of a wider discussion at the Ohio legislature on whether racism should be considered a contributing factor in the ongoing health crisis. Resolutions on the matter are pending in both the House and the Senate.
Answering the senator’s question was Angela C Dawson, Executive Director of the Ohio Commission on Minority Health, who is a black woman. Her reply was categorical: “That is not the opinion of leading medical experts in this country.”
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