Oklahoma State Rep. Sally Kern (R) has apologized for her comments about black people not working as hard, saying that “my words were, obviously, not spoken correctly and for that I humbly apologize.”
But, she added: “Unfortunately, when we take ‘words or sentences’ out of the total context of a speech debated on the floor, there can be false misrepresentations, but the most important part is to always go to the heart of the matter.”
On Thursday the Tulsa World reported that during a debate on a bill to eliminate Affirmative Action in state government, Kern said: “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,” she added, “and I saw a lot of people of color who didn’t study hard because they said the government would take care of them.”
Kern said in her statement of apology: “I never intended to convey anything more than all races include people who can be lazy at times. Laziness never accomplishes much for anyone. Certainly laziness is not the reason for this but it can be a contributing factor just as it can be for any other race.”
In a very inadequate and poorly worded way I was meaning to say that government should not give perference [sic] based only upon race or gender. I deeply regret the anquish and insult I have caused to all Africian [sic] Americans and sincerely apologize and ask for your forgiveness. My husband and I serve in an inner city church ministering to people of every race because we love all people.
Kern’s comments were condemned by fellow Oklahoma legislators, including the state Senate’s Democratic Leader Andrew Rice, who said that “such immoral beliefs have no place in a civilized society. I am shocked that a member of the legislature would show such disrespect and mean-spiritedness by expressing such antiquated and bigoted views.”
Two members of the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus also slammed Kern. Caucus Chair Constance N. Johnson (D) called the remarks “offensive and backward,” and state Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre (D) said: “On the one hand you want to ignore remarks like that—but this really is too big to ignore.”
House Speaker Kris Steele, who is a Republican, came out against Kern:
I strongly disagree with the comments Rep. Kern made last night during debate. These types of comments are offensive and do not reflect the values of the Oklahoma House of Representatives or our great state. This morning, I called Rep. Kern to express my concern. She told me she was already planning to publicly apologize for her comments. She made the right decision by apologizing.
But Kern also said in her apology that her remarks were taken out of context. “We live in a sound bite society and our media likes to take only a portion of a dialog and use just a slice of it,” she said. “You can take a portion of something someone says and make it say anything you want it to say.”
She also attached a transcript of her remarks on the state House floor, which (sort of) elucidates what she was trying to get at:
You know I think that God gave us two ears so that we could hear both sides of the argument. We have heard tonight already that in prison there are more black people. Yes there are and that’s tragic. It’s tragic that our prisons here in Oklahoma, what are they, 99% occupancy? But the other side of the story perhaps we need to consider is this just because they’re black that they’re in prison or could it be because they didn’t want to work hard in school and white people often times don’t want to work hard in school or Asians often times. But a lot of times that’s what happens. I taught school for 20 years and I saw a lot of people of color who didn’t want to work as hard, they wanted it given to them. Matter of fact I had one student that said, “I don’t need to study, you know why? The government’s gonna take care of me.” That’s kind of revealing there.
She later added that “another elephant in the room that hasn’t been mentioned, what about reverse discrimination? There are all kinds of Supreme Court cases where the Supreme Court said there is reverse discrimination.”
Kern also came under fire for saying that women don’t make as much money as men because they tend to want to spend more time with their families. According to Kern’s transcript, the full quote (which seemingly got a negative reaction from other members of the House) is: “You see women usually don’t want to work as hard as a man because, how I mean, wait a minute, now listen to me, women, hang on, women tend to think a little more about their family, wanting to be at home more time, want to have a little more leisure time. That’s all I mean.”
You can read Kern’s full remarks here here.