Another day, another example of our elected officials displaying their own racial bias and ignorance.
This time the culprit is Colorado State Senator Vicki Marble (R-Fort Collins). The Huffington Post reported that on Wednesday at a meeting for the Economic Opportunity Poverty Reduction Task Force, Marble commented on why people of color experience certain racial health disparities:
"When you look at life expectancy, there are problems in the black race. Sickle-cell anemia is something that comes up. Diabetes is something that's prevalent in the genetic makeup, and you just can't help it. Although I've got to say, I've never had better barbecue and better chicken and ate better in my life than when you go down South and you, I mean, I love it. Everybody loves it."
Oh, it gets better. She added:
“The Mexican diet in Mexico with all of the fresh vegetables, and you go down there and they are much thinner than they are up here. They’ve changed their diet. I’ve read studies on that.”
Thankfully, fellow state congresswoman Rhonda Fields (D-CO), didn’t let Marble’s comments slide. Fields, who is African-American, took to the podium and unleashed:
“One of the things I will not tolerate [are] racist and insensitive remarks about African Americans, the color of their skin, what you mentioned that we eat. I was highly offended by your remarks, and I will not engage in a dialogue where you are using these stereotypical references about African Americans and chicken and food.”
A few hours later, Marble released a statement claiming that she didn’t mean to “be disparaging to any community” and that she was “saddened [her comments] were taken in that regard.”
Did Marble really believe that using African-Americans” and “fried chicken” in the same sentence when trying to explain complex issues such as health, race and mortality wouldn’t be met with any criticism? Did she expect for her colleagues to applaud her for borrowing from Paula Dean’s playbook?
Sadly, out of control and unfounded comments are not rare when it comes from GOP politicians. But Marble’s comments are deeper than racial stereotyping of Blacks and Latinos. She is doing what most of the Conservative Right does very well: Blame the poor and the sick for being poor and sick.
Don’t want to be unhealthy? Just stop eating fattening foods.
Don’t want to be poor? Get and retain a job.
Don’t want to be sick? Just go to the doctor and take care of yourself.
If we really want to narrow the health and poverty gap in the U.S., we cannot solely focus on personal responsibility, even if so many of the chronic diseases we disproportionately suffer from are preventable. We must be honest and vocal about the structural obstacles that stand in our way.
How can we ensure that we are employed at jobs that actually offer us health care? (African-Americans are more likely to have jobs with no coverage.)
How can we ensure that fast food chains and corner stores that sell food with very little nutritional value are not the only places where we can buy affordable food?
How can we make neighborhoods safer so that people can go outside and be active instead of fearing for their lives?
How can we ensure that communities of color have doctors who have offices in their neighborhoods? How can we ensure that poor states will accept the Medicaid expansion?
Clearly, these issues are extremely complex, which is why it’s so dangerous to have people like Marble in positions of power, because they lack the peripheral vision necessary to create effective policies that will better our health and our pocketbooks. They lack the ability to acknowledge that in 2013 racism, systematic oppression and social inequality still exists and seriously affects our lives.
Perhaps for the Right, making fried chicken the scapegoat is much easier to digest than the truth.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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