READER REBUTTAL: Smith’s column re-ignited the ‘dying embers’ of firestorm against Huffman

Credit: Amelia Robinson

Ohio Representative J. Todd Smith says attacks against Ohio Senator Steve Huffman are wrong. Huffman received sharp criticism in June after he asked a witness

Credit: Amelia Robinson

Note from Community Impact Editor Amelia Robinson: In July, Dayton Daily News reader Frances McGee-Cromartie of Dayton submitted a detailed response to a July 18 column written by Ohio Rep. J. Todd Smith in defense of State Sen. Steve Huffman. Publications of Ms. McGee Cromartie rebuttal was delayed due to schedule and mail issues with the Ideas and Voices page. Excerpts of her letter are printed below. The full letter can be found on DaytonDailyNews.com.

Sometimes the best thing a friend can do to help another firmly entrenched in a public firestorm is to stay silent. Sometimes the best thing that a friend can do to help that entrenched buddy is to understand that any attempt to provide an alternate explanation of that embarrassing gaffe will only serve to re-ignite the dying embers of that firestorm rather than quell the public’s anger and emotion.

Someone should have expressed these thoughts to local State Rep. J. Todd Smith before he wrote the Op-Ed that appeared in the “Dayton Daily News” on July 18.

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Upon reading Rep. Smith’s attempt to explain why State Sen. Steven Huffman’s remarks in a State subcommittee should not be perceived as ignorant or racist, it became more apparent that the opposite was true. Smith’s article made clear that neither he nor Huffman understand their white privilege; neither do they recognize the impact that is given to their words as state leaders.

In effect, this column illustrates the reason why many have called for Huffman ― an elected official who is also a physician with years of practice to his credit to resign from his Senate position; it may also show why Huffman’s medical group chose to sever its ties with him.

What the article does make clear is that, in an Ohio subcommittee meeting on health and looking at the issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Stephen Huffman forgot the most important tenet of the medical profession which is to “first do no harm.”

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If Huffman utterly understood this tenet, he would never have used the outdated term “colored” when questioning a health care professional of African American descent; neither would he have compounded that insult by suggesting that because African Americans are dying from the coronavirus at higher rates than the general public, the only conclusions that could be drawn from this factor was that African Americans, as a race are 1) dirtier than the general public, and 2) they must lack a basic understanding of the virtues of personal hygiene, specifically the washing of hands.

Before espousing such an outrageous and audacious idea, Huffman should have considered whether voicing those thoughts would expose him to allegations of racism or whether the public would recognize his specific questions as an attempt at scapegoating. The failure to consider the consequence of his words indicates a clear lapse in leadership.

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As an Ohio State Senator, Huffman and his aides have access to numerous reports that should have helped him understand that there are more complex and systemic reasons for the deadly effects of this coronavirus upon African American people. He should have been aware that many African Americans do not have access to health care or that they hold essential jobs that could not be performed at home. Thus, they might have been more likely to risk infection by interacting with people who refuse to wear masks that would lower the spread of the disease. There are certainly other more plausible reasons that could be attributed to the causality of these deaths other than the implication that the victims were dirty and ignorant.

In an attempt to prove that this firestorm of criticism is nothing more than “unhinged vitriol” or “character assassination,” Smith points to the silence that followed Huffman’s remarks as proof that his words were benign.

Rather than proving that Huffman’s statement was benign, I submit that the silence conclusively proved that both state leaders lack an understanding of the power and privilege that they each hold; and the silence exposed the barriers that the listeners would have faced if they tried to contradict Huffman at that hearing.

Ohio Representative J. Todd Smith
Ohio Representative J. Todd Smith

It is quite possible that in this setting people were taken aback when Huffman opened his mouth. Thus, shock and disbelief may have been the audience’s first response upon realizing that in the year 2020 such offensive and outdated language would be used by a state leader. Second, if one coupled the emotions of shock and disbelief with the deference and sense of decorum that cloak each state leader, then it is possible to understand why that particular moment was met with resounding silence. Third, it is also possible that if the audience had overcome their initial sense of shock, they may have been having an internal debate with themselves. The listeners had to be asking themselves whether a public challenge was worth the negative implications to their own careers and livelihoods. Would such a challenge result in their being fired, demoted or blackballed when looking for a promotion or new job? Finally, is it not possible that the members of the audience simply wished to leave the toxicity of the committee room and go to a safer place to process what they had just heard?

No matter what reason was given to explain the silence surrounding Senator Huffman’s remarks, it is equally clear that someone decided that those remarks were so egregious that they could neither be ignored nor could anyone continue to remain silent as a tacit and polite means of protecting this State Senator from his own ignorance. Sometimes, the victim of micro-aggressions and assaults has to decide if it is better to protect the aggressor from the consequences of his actions, rather than be subjected to the far more destructive and harmful repercussions that might result from the consequences meted out to the aggressor. One of the side effects of white privilege and racism is that the aggressor often forces the victim to decide whether it is better to be silent and ashamed of her complicity or to speak out and have society punish you for the act of speaking out.

In conclusion, I would argue that the uproar surrounding the “Huffman affair” is neither “unhinged vitriol” nor “character assassination.” Instead, the uproar is an attempt to raise awareness and break down the barriers that have been erected to protect white privilege. It appears that someone thought that Senator Huffman’s “benign” and outdated comments voiced in the year 2020 were too outrageous to ignore.

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And, instead of using the newspaper to cast aspersions on those individuals who found Stephen Huffman’s remarks offensive, J. Todd Smith should have taken his colleague aside and explained to him why him seemingly “benign” remarks fell short of the teachings of Jesus Christ of whom Smith declares Huffman is a devoted follower. Maybe if Smith also encouraged Huffman to go with him and have an open discussion with their African American constituents, Huffman could atone for his unchristian like comments and understand why his specific statements fall short of Christ’s commandments. That is what a real friend would do.

Do you have an opinion to share? Submit letters to edletter@coxinc.com.