DENVER - State Rep. Rhonda Fields says she is "highly offended" by another legislator's racially-charged references during a recent legislative hearing on poverty reduction.
Sen. Vicki Marble, a Republican from Fort Collins, made the rambling remarks about the eating habits of blacks and Hispanics during a meeting of the Economic Opportunity Poverty Reduction Task Force.
"When you look at life expectancy, there are problems in the black race," said Marble. "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. Although I’ve got to say I've never had better BBQ and better chicken and ate better in my life than when you go down South, and you, I mean, I love it. And everybody loves it."
Marble continued: "The Mexican diet in Mexico with all of the fresh vegetables, and you go down there and they are much thinner than they are up here. They’ve changed their diet. I’ve read studies on that."
Fields was stunned by Marble's remarks.
"What was shocking is the generalizations, the stereotypes, the blatant stereotypes, making comments that black people have a problem, that Latino people have a problem," Fields said in response.
Fields, a black Democrat representing Aurora, shared her thoughts with reporters in the State Capitol building on Friday. Her office had received numerous requests for her opinions, she said.
"Over 70 percent of my people in my district are living in poverty, I just want to make sure that kids get a fresh start and a great start for a great education and that is what I think the conversation should be -- not on chicken," Fields said.
"To bring it down to fried chicken and BBQ is insulting not just to a race of people but to all the people of Colorado," said James Johnson, a spokesman for the Colorado chapter of the NAACP. "This task force is doing good work to address poverty, but these comments are a distraction."
"I never said anything about fried chicken I don't know why Rep. Fields would say that or why they would put that out because it wasn't there," Marble told 7NEWS reporter Russell Haythorn on Friday.
During that interview, Marble explained her concern is that certain racial, geographic and economic groups have predispositions to some health problems. She promised to be sharing pieces of research in the near future, including a doctor's thesis on the subject.
"At least give the people their information about health and what is going on within their families, within their demographics and their communities. Give them that opportunity so they can make a choice on how to eat," she said.
"Reality is not sensitive. Cancer is harsh. Let's get the dialogue going and let's talk about -- certainly if I go say I'm going to go have Mexican food is that racially insensitive? Or if I'm going to go have Italian food, is that insensitive? And southern cooking -- it's all ethnic groups, there's Cajun, blacks, whites."
Marble also went on to say she knows that predispositions run in her family. Although she didn't list specific predispositions for each group, she did provide an overview of her ancestry.
"In my family we have Native American, black and Mexican -- they came from Mexico -- and we also have Jew [sic]. And each one of those are predisposed to certain -- even my mother has dementia, it runs in my family. We also have blood vessel disorders and it is genetic. And so we try to eat properly and watch it."
Despite the controversy, both of the legislators say this is an opportunity to highlight the task force's goals.
"What her comments have done is given us an opportunity to turn a spotlight on people who are hurting in our state. This is an opportunity to talk about poverty," Fields said.
"Does what Rhonda did make me angry? No, it's opened up a great avenue for the media to put attention on some things that are true and real," Marble said.