Ohio lawmaker faces backlash for asking if COVID-19 hit colored people harder as they don't 'wash their hands'
Huffman asked a witness before the Senate Health Committee on Tuesday why the novel coronavirus was affecting African Americans worse than white people
Ohio State Senator Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City) triggered outrage while participating in a hearing about declaring racism a public health crisis when he allegedly asked if "the colored population" is hit harder by COVID-19 because perhaps they didn't "wash their hands".
Huffman asked a witness before the Senate Health Committee on Tuesday why the novel coronavirus affecting African Americans was worse than white people, Dayton Daily News reported. “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 it doesn’t 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.
“That is not the opinion of leading medical experts in this country," Ohio Commission on Minority Health Director Angela Dawson said in response to Huffman.
She explained that the coronavirus attacks the respiratory system and so those with chronic respiratory conditions are more vulnerable to COVID-19. Meanwhile, Ohio Legislative Black Caucus President Stephanie Howse, D-Cleveland, noted that Huffman's question and choice of words represented systemic racism.
“He highlights what racism is from a systematic perspective. He’s a full legislator but beyond that, professionally, he’s a doctor. When we talk about the health disparities that happen because black folks aren’t believed when they’re actually hurt, they aren’t given the treatment that they need. Do you think that someone who acknowledges the ‘coloreds’ is going to give the love and care that people need when they come through those doors?” Howse said at the hearing.
According to her, Huffman implied that African-Americans are dirty and do not have the intelligence to wash their hands. But Huffman responded to Howse on Wednesday saying she misunderstood his question. “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,” he said.
Meanwhile, State Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Cincinnati, who serves on the Senate Health Committee, recalled that the audience cringed when Huffman made his comments. “He’s an example of why we have to have this discussion about racism and how it impacts people," she asserted.
Resolutions are yet to be passed in both the House and Senate on whether racism should be declared a public health crisis. State Rep. Nino Vitale, R-Urbana, responded to the House resolution by posting a photo of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus members on his Facebook page and commenting that he is "darker than most of the people in this picture. He explained that he was made fun of for his skin color and name in his childhood, and often called a "greasy Italian."
Vitale was asked about his post on Wednesday. “Do you have any idea about where I grew up or my past history?" he responded. "Look, their resolution is about black and brown people. I’m a brown person. I have a varied opinion on it. I don’t disagree that there are problems in our society. The question is how do we solve them.”
According to Howse, though, there was a clear motivation behind Vitale's post. “I will let you know why he did it: It’s an undermining of the notion that racism exists," she said.