COLUMBUS— Ohio Legislative Black Caucus (OLBC) President State Rep. Stephanie Howse (D-Cleveland) today issued a statement in response to state Senator Steven Huffman’s (R-Tipp City) being fired from his job as an emergency room physician at Upper Valley Medical Center.
According to news reports, Senator Huffman was fired for his line of questioning during Tuesday’s hearing of the Senate Health Committee where he asked Angela Dawson, executive director of the Ohio Commission on Minority Health, if the “colored population” were more susceptible to COVID-19 because “they did not wash their hands as well as other groups.”
Historically, the world “colored” is associated with segregation and Jim Crow laws and is almost universally considered offensive in 2020. Additionally, the unfounded idea that “Black people are dirty” has long been used as a racist stereotype in the United States to justify centuries of white superiority and Black oppression.
“There is something very wrong with a world where a lawmaker can be fired from his place of employment for being racist but keep his seat as Vice Chair of the Ohio Senate Health Committee. The private sector has deemed his behavior unacceptable, however, he faces no penalty or public rebuke from Senate leadership and the Republican party,” said Rep. Howse. “While we applaud the decision of the hospital to take a stand against such behavior, we would be remiss if we did not point out the culture of racism that permeates throughout our health care profession. He is not the only doctor who talks or thinks like this. What we are witnessing is not only the racial bias that exists in the Ohio Legislature, we are also seeing the bias that is prevalent in the healthcare profession and has led to the disproportionate rates of health problems within the Black community.
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. Because we know Senator Huffman is not alone in the way he talks and the biases he holds. ‘Colored’ is an old word, associated with segregation and Jim Crow and has long been universally considered offensive. If someone is still using this antiquated word, that means that individual has never tried to grow and understand the deep-seeded racism in this country. This along with the use of the racist stereotype that ‘black people are dirty’ which has long been used to justify white superiority and Black oppression proves how unconscious this problem of racism is for too many and why it persists generation after generation.
We need widespread racial equity and implicit bias training now – for our lawmakers and staff, for law enforcement, for our health care providers and others. Racism is a public health crisis. We can no longer ignore it. We must act.”
Huffman’s question was asked during a Senate committee hearing to consider declaring racism a public health crisis. The House version of the resolution, HCR 31, has zero Republican sponsors and to date, has not received a single hearing.
In recent weeks, Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron) has voiced frustration about the lack of action from Governor Mike DeWine’s Minority Health Strike Force to respond appropriately to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Ohio’s minority communities. She has echoed OLBC’s repeated calls to declare racism a public health crisis.