A couple of things stand out right now in the recent and ongoing Kern kerfuffle over state Rep. Sally Kern’s racist and sexist remarks last week on the floor on the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
First, even many Republicans publicly agreed Kern, an Oklahoma City Republican, had crossed a line when she essentially called African-American people lazy and looking for a government handout and when she described women as not as focused on their jobs as men. Kern made the remarks over debate on ending affirmative action in Oklahoma. It doesn’t get more ugly than that. Republicans and Democrats voted 76-16 Monday to reprimand her. Kern apologized and claimed she misspoke. But her remarks reflected a type of typical and stereotypical hate speech that seemed more learned than suddenly rhetorically inappropriate.
Second, The Oklahoman editorial page has apparently been conspicuously absent in commenting on the issue. I can’t find an editorial on the issue yet on NewsOK.com. This is especially bewildering because the paper’s ownership is connected to the ownership of the Oklahoma City Thunder, a National Basketball Association team, which is made up of some of the most prominent and successful African Americans in the Oklahoma City community. Clay Bennett is chairman of the group that owns the basketball franchise. He is married to Louise Gaylord Bennett, the daughter of the late Edward L. Gaylord. The Gaylord family has owned The Oklahoman for decades. (Here’s a list of recent in-house editorials in The Oklahoman. I’ll gladly correct the record if I’m wrong.)
Looking for a reason for a possible Thunder stumble against the Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA playoffs? What if players on the Oklahoma City team now realize or are reminded they’re playing for a lot of fans that send racist politicians, such as Kern, to office. Frankly, in the context of Kern’s remarks, it’s kind of eerie watching Thunder fans—all dressed in the same T-shirt—chanting in unison and closely following cues from the public address system. It’s a metaphor.
In any event, Kern’s apology and reprimand aren’t enough. If Kern were truly apologetic, she would resign and begin some type of program to explore her basic intolerance of what seems to be at this point all groups of people, except for white, straight men. She might try to understand what drives her intolerance. If she can redeem herself, then that’s great. She can always run again for office again. But right now her very presence at the state Capitol is offensive to many people, harmful to the state’s image and suffocating to open-minded people here.
(Updated: Kern was officially reprimanded Monday for her recent remarks by the Oklahoma House of Representatives.)
Will state Rep. Sally Kern (R-Oklahoma City) escape any real political damage over her racist and sexist comments on the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives?
As she argued last week in favor of a bill that could lead to the end of affirmative action here, Kern said, as a former teacher, she encountered people of color who were essentially lazy and wanted the government “to take care of them.” She also said women didn’t want to work as hard as men because they want more” leisure time.”
Her outrageous comments made national news and drew widespread criticism. But this isn’t the first time the legislator has brought critical attention to herself and the state.
For the record, here are some highlights of Kern’s controversial career:
Kern was recorded at event in 2008 arguing that the homosexual agenda was a worst threat to the nation that terrorism. She also said, “"Studies show no society that has totally embraced homosexuality has lasted more than a few decades.” Here’s a recording of her comments. Her intolerant comments sparked outraged throughout the world. Television show host Ellen DeGeneres, for example, took issue with Kern’s remarks. DeGeneres played some of Kern’s remarks, mocked them, and then tried to call her.
Kern was stopped from entering the state Capitol in March 2008 when it was discovered she was carrying a gun. She argued that she had simply forgotten she was carrying the weapon.
Kern also sponsored religious-intrusion legislation in 2008, called the Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act, that contained this stipulation:
If the assignment given by a teacher involves writing a poem, the work of a student who submits a poem in the form of a prayer (for example, a psalm) should be judged on the basis of academic standards, including literary quality, and not penalized or rewarded on account of its religious content.
Kern issued a Proclamation of Morality in 2009 that drew widespread criticism and ridicule for its outlandish claims. Here’s part of the “proclamation”:
WHEREAS, the people of Oklahoma have a strong tradition of reliance upon the Creator of the Universe; and
WHEREAS, we believe our economic woes are consequences of our greater national moral crisis; and
WHEREAS, this nation has become a world leader in promoting abortion, pornography, same sex marriage, sex trafficking, divorce, illegitimate births, child abuse, and many other forms of debauchery; and
WHEREAS, alarmed that the Government of the United States of America is forsaking the rich Christian heritage upon which this nation was built; . . .
Kern provoked the anger of civil rights and Muslim groups this year for pushing legislation that tried to get around a judge’s decision to issue an injunction against a constitutional amendment, passed by voters, that would ban the use of Sharia law in Oklahoma. Here’s a Slate article about the issue.
Kern, on the House floor last week, argued:
"We have a high percentage of blacks in prison, and that's tragic, but are they in prison just because they are black or because they don't want to study as hard in school? I've taught school, and I saw a lot of people of color who didn't study hard because they said the government would take care of them."
" . . . women usually don't want to work as hard as a man... women tend to think a little bit more about their family, wanting to be at home more time, wanting to have a little more leisure time."
Her comments, for which she later apologized, prompted the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to call for her resignation. The Oklahoma Democratic Party has also called for her resignation, and other prominent politicians want her to be at least reprimanded by the GOP leadership.
Gov. Mary Fallin and other GOP leaders should push for the resignation of fellow Republican state Rep. Sally Kern following the legislator’s obviously racist and sexist comments Wednesday on the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
Here’s how Kern’s comments were reported:
“We have a high percentage of blacks in prison, and that’s tragic, but are they in prison just because they are black or because they don’t want to study as hard in school? I’ve taught school, and I saw a lot of people of color who didn’t study hard because they said the government would take care of them.”
“ . . . women usually don't want to work as hard as a man... women tend to think a little bit more about their family, wanting to be at home more time, wanting to have a little more leisure time."
In other words, under Kern’s framework, African Americans are lazy and women, well, they can’t compete with men because of their desire for “leisure time.” Ironically, Kern’s position actually argues she should resign her own position so a white man can take over and do the job right.
Kern made the comments as she argued in favor of a bill, eventually passed by the House, that will send a ballot measure to the Oklahoma voters asking them to end affirmative action.
Kern, of Oklahoma City, later apologized for her remarks, as reported by the media:
"I want to humbly apologize for my statements last night about African Americans and women. I believe that our government should not provide preference based on race or gender. I misspoke while trying to convey this point last night during debate.
"Women are some of the hardest workers in the world. My husband is a pastor of a diverse, inner-city church and the way that my words came out last night is certainly not my true spirit."
But this isn’t an apology at all. Note how political it is: “I believe that our government should not provide preference based on race or gender.” She had to get that in there, didn’t she? Note, as well, Kern simply says she “misspoke.” What does that mean? Her initial comments were quite specific. She also refers to “the way that my words came out . . .”. Do her words just have a mind of their own? They just come out of her mouth and aren’t connected to her brain or her belief system? Is she trying to say that what she really meant is just the opposite of what she said? That’s preposterous. A real apology would admit that she’s held racist and sexist views. Her resignation would prove she’s truly apologetic and plans to change her views.
This type of archaic racism and sexism, which is an embarrassment to Oklahoma, should not be tolerated. The state’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has asked Kern to resign, and other groups, politicians, the corporate power structure and political activists should do so, too. At the very least, Kern should be reprimanded by the Oklahoma House leadership. There’s probably no doubt that a majority of state voters, with their hatred of the nation’s first African-American president, will vote to end affirmative action, but that’s no excuse for Kern’s comments.
I wonder what the players and owners of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the local NBA franchise, think about Kern’s comments? They should speak up, too. Probably the most effective protest against Kern would be to picket the next Thunder home game asking the organization to speak up against Kern’s racist and sexist views if it fails to act before then.
Fallin’s response to the issue so far has been extremely weak. Through a spokesperson, Fallin said she "disagreed with Kern's initial comments and is glad she apologized for her remarks."
Kern, of course, is infamous for her 2008 comments that argued the “homosexual agenda” is worse than terrorism. Her husband, Steve, a local Baptist minister, has been pushing to allow the teaching of creationist-backed ideas in the state’s science classrooms. Sally Kern is a former teacher. Did she argue for her racism views in the classroom?
The larger point is that Oklahoma is undoubtedly filled with people who share the couple’s views. That’s a shame, but it’s the reality. What can help is education and more, not less, diversity in our state’s institutions and businesses. How can that happen when racist and sexist remarks by an Oklahoma leader are essentially condoned or shrugged off by the prevailing political party and the state’s governor?
Here’s how Kern’s remarks were reported by Talking Points Memo. TPM shows the full context of Kern’s remarks, but it doesn’t make a real difference.
(On a personal note that is somewhat related to this issue, I recently posted a piece in which I argued I thought Fallin would govern as a center-right leader. I was wrong. Fallin’s actions this legislative session, including her rejection of federal funds to create a health exchange and her non-response to Kern, show she’s just another pawn of the radical right.)