Minnesota politician accused of racism after criticising 'white male card game' during Black Lives Matter debate

Mythili Sampathkumar
Activists protest the death of Philando Castile on July 9, 2016 in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. Protestors were blocked from entering the Basilica Block Party, a music festival in downtown Minneapolis. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

A politician has been called "racist" after she refused to apologise for claiming that she had to break up a “100 percent white male card game” to get her colleagues to listen to a debate on Black Lives Matter.

Melissa Hortman, the Minority Leader in the Minnesota House of Representatives, made the comment to voice her frustration over the lack of attendance while women of colour were speaking.

Many of her colleagues were relaxing in another room instead of watching the speeches and some were playing cards. So Ms Hortman, a white Democrat, made a “call of the House” to get fellow legislators back to the floor.

"I hate to break up the 100 percent white male card game in the retiring room, but I think this is an important debate,” she told her fellow politicians, according to the US news channel Kare 11.

Asked by a member of the rival Republican Party to apologise, Ms Dortman said she had "no intention" of doing so, adding that she was “really tired of watching women of colour in particular being ignored. So I’m not sorry.”

The politicians then went to hear Democrat, Ms Ilhan Omar, speak out against a proposed bill put forward by Republicans that would make protestors liable for law enforcement costs should they not disperse when ordered to. They would also face arrest.

Democrats have claimed the bill introduced in response to Black Lives Matter protesters who shut down a popular Minneapolis shopping mall and several roads after Jamar Clark and Philando Castile were shot by police.

A former refugee and the first Somali-American politician elected to office, Ms Omar said the activities of these protesters was closely connected to civil rights activists from the 1960s.

Ms Hortman told the ThinkProgress website she thought it was an “important debate” about the work that needs to be done on civil rights by those in the state legislature who had never faced racism in their lives.

But House Republican Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, called her "white male card game" comment “racist.”

Dozens of his fellow party members have also signed a letter claiming Ms Hortman’s comments “needlessly invoked the race and gender of her colleagues, and called into question the motives of members during a lengthy floor debate.”

It will be entered in the House’s official journal.

Ms Hortman was unrepentant. “I’m still not sorry”, she said after the letter was made public.

The bill nonetheless passed through the legislature and it will be up to the state's governor, Mark Dayton, to sign it into law as part of a larger public safety bill.