Rep. Melissa Hortman has been garnering quite a few kudos from left-leaning publications, citizens of color groups, and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party over her comments a few weeks ago when she said (ironically) that she was, “sorry to break up the white male poker game.”
The comment was made during a debate about the criminalization of free speech bill that Rep. Nick Zweras authored, which would permit police agencies to sue protesters to recover the costs of having officers stationed at a site. After a speech made by Rep. Ilhan Omar, Hortman noticed that several members of the Minnesota House were not in attendance.
Rep. Bob Dettmer demanded that Hortman apologize, but she refused. Rather, she pointed out each and every woman of color that made a speech on the issue and stated that she was tired of seeing them ignored when the white men went to the Retiring Room, where legislators go to discuss strategy and hang out. Needless to say, this didn’t sit well with Dettmer or some other legislators, with Dettmer mockingly apologizing to her.
Normally, I’m fairly reluctant to comment on things like this. Part of it is the amount of blowback I get, especially from my hometown. Another part is that I’m not sure where my place is. I certainly don’t want to outshine any citizens of color who I feel have more of a right to speak on these issues than I do. The last part is that sometimes I just don’t know what to say. How can I relate issues that are going on to a white community where issues like this aren’t considered or discussed? I’m much more comfortable talking about foreign policy or economic issues.
The sexism and prejudice were so apparent here: the condescension, the disregard of the issue at hand, and the attempt to silence discussion on an issue that largely affected citizens of color. This is similar to when Senator McConnell had Senator Warren silenced after reading Loretta King’s letter speaking out against Jeff Sessions for a federal judgeship in 1986 on the grounds of Sessions’ racism. McConnell, in defense of his treatment of Warren, said that she was “she was warned but nevertheless she persisted.” That went viral immediately.
The first duty of the government is to pursue justice. We get the definition of justice from Aristotle, who wrote that it was to “treat equals equally and unequals unequally.” In our Declaration of Independence, it is written that “all men are created equal.” What Hortman did was no small act. By exposing the racism and prejudice that was going on within the Minnesota House, she brought light onto the issue not just at hand, a massive attack on free speech, but the treatment that our fellow citizens face, even if they are elected officials.