Last month, during a meeting of the Colorado Economic Opportunity Poverty Reduction Task Force, State Sen. Vicki Marble (R) delivered a speech suggesting that the consumption of barbeque and chicken can be blamed for poverty rates in certain minority communities.
"When you look at life expectancy, there are problems in the black race: 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," Marble said. "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 love it and everybody loves it. The Mexican diet in Mexico with all of the fresh vegetables. And you go down there and they're much thinner than when they come up here … they change their diet."
Marble's comments were not only considered insensitive, but also factually unsubstantiated. A recent study by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization found that obesity rates are actually higher in Mexico than in the United States.
The ensuing dramatics follow a typical pattern of past storylines in which a public figure offends members of a particular group or community:
1. A member from said group responds to the comments. In this case Marble's fellow task force member Rep. Rhonda Fields (D) responded by stating, "I will not tolerate is racist and insensitive comments about African Americans, the color of their skin … I was highly offended by your remark."
2. A superior condemns the remarks and attempts to distance themselves and the organization they represent. Colorado State GOP Chairman Ryan Call criticized Marble's comments as "careless" and not reflective of the state Republican Party.
3. A thoroughly insincere apology is issued. "My comments were not meant to be disparaging to any community," Marble said. "I am saddened they were taken in that regard."
4. The issue is forgotten and everybody moves on with their lives.
However, it seems as if other members of GOP didn't get the memo with regards to the last step. A month, later the incident is still a central conversation for state party members. Many have even come to the defense of Marble, including Ken Clark, a right-wing radio host and state field director for the Tea Party group FreedomWorks.
"I get awful tired of Ryan Call throwing good, hard working Republicans under the bus," he told the Denver Post. "I think he's a squish, a jellyfish. He's got no backbone."
When the task force met again two weeks later, Rep. Lori Saine (R) arrived with a boxed chicken meal placed prominently for the entire audience to see:
The stunt was rumored to be part of silent protest, which was encouraged through a circulation of e-mails between party members. Saine later tweeted a picture of a chicken dinner she claimed she and her daughter would be having for dinner:
My daughter and I are enjoying dinner tonight; this is one of her favorite meals: pic.twitter.com/nCL2Xg4KXW— Lori (@lorisaine) September 5, 2013
So, what is this lesson in all of this? Surprise! People in positions of power are still spouting ignorant, outdated rhetoric and being validated for it. Parties are then turning teachable moments such as this into petty banter and an opportunity to jockey for political foothold, while important issues remain unaddressed.
Perhaps Rep. Fields best captured how absurd and distracting this whole incident is when she said, "The title for this committee is Economic Opportunity Poverty Reduction … it's not about chicken."