Vickie Marble, a Republican state senator from Colorado, claims she didn’t mean to offend African Americans when she said black people are living in poverty, in part, because they eat too much fried chicken.
“When you look at life expectancy, there are problems in the black race,” Marble said during a meeting of the legislature’s Economic Opportunity Poverty Reduction Task Force. “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.”
Too late. I’m offended. Since when did eating fried chicken become associated with poverty and sickle cell anemia? And why are so many Republicans so ignorant when it comes to issues of race – and with black Americans in particular?
State Rep. Rhonda Fields (D) said she was offended, too: “The title for this committee is the Economic Opportunity Poverty Reduction Task Force; and one of the things I will not tolerate is racist and insensitive comments about African Americans, the color of their skin.”
“You mentioned what we eat — I was highly offended by your remarks,” Fields, who is African American, told Marble. “I will not engage in a dialogue where I’m in the company where you are using the stereotype references about African Americans and chicken and food and all kinds of things. I will just not tolerate that. This is not what this committee is all about. So I will ask that you suspend your perceptions and judgments about African Americans, about poverty — what we’re trying to do is come up with solutions and it’s not about chicken. It’s not about eating chicken.”
For many black Americans, Marble is a small-time, perhaps inconsequential, state legislator who doesn’t deserve mention. But here’s the bigger picture: Marble’s racially bonehead comments come as the Republican Party is rolling out a well-funded national campaign to attract African Americans and people of color to the Republican Party before the 2016 presidential election. I seriously hope Marble isn’t on the GOP’s minority welcoming committee, and, if she is, I hope she’s not in charge of bringing snacks.
It’s a hard sell for overwhelmingly white Republicans to convince black Americans to bolt from the Democratic Party and take a chance on Republicans who don’t have a single racial minority among the 20 most senior members of the Republican National Committee or the National Republican Congressional Committee.
“If you’re trying to court African American voters, it’s much better to have an African American in the room talking about how these outreach policies are going to be implemented,” said former RNC chair Michael Steele, the first African American to hold that position. “They have an appreciation and understanding of what the issues are, how the language is being interpreted, and what takeaway they will get from your visit.”
“These institutions are old, they’re stale, and they’re crumbling,” Steele said. “We can either shore them up with faces that look a lot like mine, like Marco Rubio’s, like Susana Martinez’s, or they can crumble and go to dust.”
But Republicans are hoping that Raffi Williams, the 24-year-old son of Fox News commentator Juan Williams, will help change attitudes in his new position as deputy press secretary for the Republican National Committee.
“I think it’s a slow process. If you expect us to get a ridiculous amount of African mericans in the next election, that’s not going to happen probably,” Raffi, a rising star in the Republican Party, told reporters. “But we can start to make inroads, and the more inclusive we are as a party, the better optics we get to other demographics as well — not just African Americans — and that helps us in the long run.”
Only time will tell if Williams can help the Republican Party connect with black voters. Black Enterprise just named him one of “10 Black Republicans You Probably Don’t Know But Should.”
NAACP Colorado Political Action Director James Johnson told reporters that Marble was guilty of reinforcing racial stereotypes, at the very least.
“To bring it down to fried chicken and BBQ is insulting not just to a race of people but to all the people of Colorado,” Johnson said. “This task force is doing good work to address poverty, but these comments are a distraction.”
Meanwhile, Marble released a statement claiming that her racist remarks were taken out of context, and not meant to disparage any community.
Marble’s comments were not taken out of context; she knew exactly what she was saying – and she said it anyway. There was no real outrage from Republicans anywhere – not even from Raffi Williams.
If the Republican Party has any shot at all at wooing black voters, the GOP needs to start by calling out people like Marble when they make racists comments.
So far, the GOP campaign to court black voters is – as usual – long on marketing and short on substance.
“I think it’s a great opportunity, and it’s something that’s really exciting to me.” Williams told reporters. “The RNC is really trying to do great things and reach new communities, and I want to be on the ground level of that.”
“The challenge is, in the recent past the Republican Party hasn’t done a great job of reaching out to minority communities,” he said. “We’re going to have to start rebuilding that, and start really engaging with these communities. … We haven’t really done much more than lip service.”
For once, I agree.