Last Tuesday, one legislator demonstrated the perfect way to call out one's dismissive peers and how to respond to ridiculous accusations. That legislator is Minnesota Rep. Melissa Hortman, who was accused of being racist against white men after criticizing a group of white male House members who were gathered in another room while Rep. Ilhan Omar and other women of color gave speeches about police brutality, civil rights, and the freedom to protest.
The situation unfolded at the Minnesota House, where lawmakers were gathered to debate a bill introduced by Republican Rep. Nick Zerwas that aimed to punish protestors. Under the proposed law, a civilian would be forced to pay a fine covering any expenses incurred by a state agency or political subdivision while responding to an "unlawful assembly" or a "public nuisance." Those who could potentially be charged include anyone convicted of participating in an unlawful assembly, committing a public nuisance, or even being present at an unlawful assembly.
Given the recent high-profile deaths of two black men — Philando Castile and Jamar Clark — at the hands of Minnesota police officers, the Black Lives Matter movement has been active and vocal in the state. Rep. Zerwas and supporters of his bill are seeking to punish certain strategies they see as inconvenient to the public, some of which have been used at Black Lives Matter protests, such as the blocking of highways.
Rep. Omar gave a powerful 15-minute speech explaining the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, defending protestors and the black community as having been pushed to a position where there is "no choice" but to object to those in power by using tactics the Republican bill sought to penalize, and by recalling the fights of Dr. Martin Luther King and other civil rights activists.
Frustrated by the absence of numerous white male representatives, Hortman ordered a call of the House and explicitly called them out for their dismissiveness. "I hate to break up the 100 percent white male card game in the retiring room, but I think this is an important debate," she said. Rep. Bob Dettmer and others were offended by the remark, with Dettmer even telling Hortman to apologize.
Hortman's response was perfect: "I'm not sorry."
Her full response was even more flawless:
I have no intention of apologizing. I am so tired of watching Rep. Susan Allen give an amazing speech, Rep. Peggy Flanagan give an amazing speech, watching Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn give an amazing speech, Rep. Rena Moran give the most heartfelt, incredible speech I've heard on this House floor, as long as I can remember, watching Rep. Ilhan Omar give an amazing speech... and looking around, to see, where are my colleagues? And I went in the retiring room, and I saw where a bunch of my colleagues were. And I'm really tired of watching women of color, in particular, being ignored. So, I'm not sorry.
Rep. Joyce Peppin and Rep. Greg Davids both referred to Hortman's words as "racist," and on Friday, a long list of Republicans signed a letter to be entered in the official House journal demanding that she apologize for "needlessly invok[ing] the race and gender of her colleagues."
Her response? "I'm still not sorry."
There is an endless amount of material explaining why "reverse racism" is a concept based on logical fallacies and is basically not a real thing. Perhaps one day the white men who ignore the voices of women of color on issues that affect people of color will one day read some of it. Until then, Hortman's unapologetic attitude is exactly the kind more progressive legislators need.