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White Male Lawmakers Are Really Mad They Got Called Out for Playing Cards While Women of Color Were Speaking

Does it feel like the divide between Republicans and Democrats couldn’t possibly get any wider? Both parties seem mired in a lack of partnership and understanding, not to mention basic respect; but the problem has been showing itself most egregiously lately in the way that white male Republicans–both politicians and pundits–have been treating women, specifically women of color. Between all the attention that’s been focused on Donald Trump and Bill O’Reilly both insulting Rep. Maxine Waters, and Sean Spicer spitting condescension at April Ryan, one might hope that Republicans would be willing to ease off the misogyny and racism for a while. But no.

There was a lengthy debate in the Minnesota House last week over a bill to raise penalties on protestors. A number of women of color gave impassioned, thoughtful speeches. And a lot of white men didn’t hear them, because they were busy playing cards in another room.

Minnesota House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman gathered everyone back for a roll call and praised the women for their speeches while calling out the Republicans’ behavior with the scathing remark, “I hate to break up the 100 percent white male card game in the retiring room, but I think this is an important debate.”

Now, how do we think those white male card players reacted to Hortman’s remark? Do we think they took it in stride, and realized they were being dismissive of the dissent of historically marginalized coworkers? Did they agree to listen to their colleagues, even if they don’t agree with them? (Otherwise known as “doing their job.”)

No, of course not. They called Hortman’s words “racist” and wrote a letter of protest.

They said she “needlessly invoked the race and gender of her colleagues,” and called her choice of words “deeply divisive.”

They also asked her to apologize. As you can see in the video above, her actual response is “I’m not sorry.”

I have no intention of apologizing. I am so tired of watching Rep. Susan Allen give an amazing speech, Rep. Peggy Flanagan give an amazing speech, watching Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn give an amazing speech, Rep. Rena Moran give the most heartfelt, incredible speech I’ve heard on this House floor, as long as I can remember, watching Rep. Ilhan Omar give an amazing speech… and looking around, to see, where are my colleagues? And I went in the retiring room, and I saw where a bunch of my colleagues were. And I’m really tired of watching women of color, in particular, being ignored. So, I’m not sorry.

The fact that those men thought their race and gender were being called out “needlessly” is maddening. In what looks to be a press conference, Hortman reiterated, “The identity and gender of the people who were speaking was relevant, and the identity and gender of the people who weren’t listening is relevant.”

As Hortman says in that video up there,

What they were talking about is how often communities of color are ignored, and they only way they can get the attention of the power structure and cause social change, is to protest. It just seemed ironic that the power structure that is in the Minnesota House of Representatives was off the floor and not listening to them.

That’s what separates invoking the race and gender of those in groups with assumed power and privilege from systematic racism and sexism. The Republican lawmaker who asked her to apologize said, “All I know is if I would’ve made a comment like that, it probably would have made the front page of the newspapers.”

Yes! Exactly! It would have. Because these men are the power structure. And they have to really lean into their obtuseness to be able to think there’s anything coincidental or inconsequential about the race and gender of  those they feel comfortable ignoring. Pointing out that a group of white men were ignoring their WOC colleagues is not a racist statement. It says nothing about white men as a whole. I’m racking my brain to come up with any correlating statement these men could have made about the women that wouldn’t absolutely deserve to make headlines. When we’re talking power structures and marginalized groups, false equivalencies abound and only serve to highlight the ignorance of the kind of person who proposes them.

Hortman did end up saying she has some work to do if “the way in which I tried to get my colleagues to listen to some of my other colleagues in some ways has made the gulf a little bit deeper.” But she stopped short of any flat-out apology. Because she’s not sorry.

It’s disappointing that these men think it’s acceptable to skip out on the testimony of women of color making a case for civil rights, and it’s disappointing that it took a white woman to get their attention. But kudos to Hortman for making good use of her privilege and her position as minority leader to give a lesson in allyship.

 

(via Pajiba, image: screengrab)

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