Sen. Vicki Marble (Photo Courtesy of KUSA TV, Denver)
FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- Sparks flew between two legislators when one accused the other of making racially insensitive comments about minorities and the infant mortality rate during a meeting Wednesday.
The heated exchange occurred during a meeting of the Economic Opportunity and Poverty Reduction Task Force when Republican state Sen. Vicki Marble addressed health issues among African Americans.
"When you look at life expectancy, there's certain problems in the black race," said Marble, who is white. "Sickle cell anemia is something that comes up. Diabetes is something that is prevalent in the genetic makeup. Although I gotta say, I've never had better BBQ and better chicken and ate better in my life then when you go down South, I mean, I love it. Everybody loves it," Marble said.
Marble's remarks appeared to insinuate poor diets should be considered factors to the mortality rate of blacks and Hispanics.
"The Mexican diet in Mexico with all of the fresh vegetables, you go down there and they're much thinner than they are up here. They change their diet. I've read studies on that. They become Americanized. Down the street near Five Points (a predominantly black neighborhood in Denver), there used to be an old café there named Type 2 Chicken, and I wanted to eat there for years because I just knew it was going to be the best ever, but these things aren't good for you, and it's really funny because there are so many attributing factors into why these graphs look the way they do."
Marble went on to blame government regulation for the demise of manufacturing jobs in the U.S., which she said harmed minorities by killing jobs and led some to lives of crime, hopelessness and addiction.
"If we would get a few things back in their lives, like a job, religion and family, and understand your genetic predisposition to certain diseases, and give them the responsibility to take care of themselves," Marble said, minorities would benefit.
Democratic state Rep. Rhonda Fields, who is black, responded by saying that Marble's statements were offensive and stereotypical.
"One of the things I will not tolerate is 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.
"I would ask that you suspend your perceptions and judgments about African-Americans about poverty. What we're trying to do is to come up with meaningful solutions. It's not about eating chicken."
Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, was chairing the hearing and promptly called a recess to give the situation a chance to simmer down. When the task force reconvened, Fields had left to attend a community meeting.
Kefalas said Marble's remarks were unsettling.
"Finally, I did end it because she was going on and on," Kefalas said. "It was disconcerting that she made those comments. I don't think she always understands the implications of what she says. I was disturbed. It's incredibly unfortunate that it distracted us from the important work we're trying to do to extend more opportunity to folks to raise themselves out of poverty."
Marble said her comments were taken out of context., adding there is nothing wrong with what she said.
"It's not racist. It's bringing out the facts so that you can be aware and take better care of yourself. I cater weddings and do BBQ's. That's my favorite. Anywhere you go for a political thing it's BBQ. We love it," Marble said.
"My comments were not meant to be disparaging to any community," Marble said in a written statement. "I am saddened they were taken in that regard."
Marble said she hasn't spoken to Fields since their exchange.
By Jamiel Lynch