Despite protests seeking end to racial discrimination raging across the US, Stephen Huffman, Ohio State Senator, sparked a controversy suggesting that colored people are susceptible to contracting the coronavirus because they "do not wash their hands as well".

Stephen Huffman, Ohio State Senator,
Ohio State Senator Stephen Huffman Twitter

Huffman, the Republican Senator, who is also a doctor, made the remarks during a hearing on a proposal to declare racism a public health crisis in the state.

Huffman Questions Colored People's Hygiene, Social Distancing Habits

Huffman came up with the comment after one of the witnesses spoke about health disparities among black Ohioans. Interrupting the speaker midway, Huffman said: "I understand African Americans have a higher incidence of chronic conditions and that makes them more susceptible to death from Covid. But why does it not make them more susceptible just to get Covid?"

"Could it just be that African Americans or the colored population do not wash their hands as well as other groups? Or wear a mask? Or do not socially distance themselves? Could that be the explanation for why the higher incidence?" asked Angela Dawson, the director of the Ohio Commission on Minority Health, reports the New York Post.

A visibly stunned Dawson, a black woman, snubbed the senator by replying after a pause: "That is not the opinion of leading medical experts in this country." The video clip was shared widely on social media.

A study released in May revealed that even though black Americans represent 13.4 per cent of the American population, counties with higher black populations account for more than half of all Covid-19 cases and almost 60 per cent of deaths.

Huffman's Racial Comments Trigger Anger

Soon after Huffman's racial comments, politicians and various groups supporting the Black Lives Matter campaign expressed their anger. Speaking to the New York Post, Rep. Stephanie Howse, president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, accusing Huffman of suggesting that African Americans are dirty, said: "He highlights what racism is from a systematic perspective. Huffman is a "full legislator" as well as a doctor. Do you think that someone who acknowledges the 'coloreds' is going to give the love and care that people need when they come through those doors?"

Howse later gave vent to her outrage in a Facebook post: "No one can convince me that was a mistake, we didn't hear what we heard. hen you are talking about colored populations, it is 2020. It's offensive."

Democratic state Sen. Cecil Thomas said: "The audience cringed when Huffman made the remark to the Senate Health Committee. He's an example of why we have to have this discussion about racism and how it impacts people."

Huffman Apologizes as Voices Demanding His Removal Increase

Demanding the removal of Huffman from the public office, ACLU of Ohio said in a statement: "Steve Huffman must immediately step down from public office, and if he refuses to do so he must be removed from the Ohio State Senate. As a practicing physician of nearly 20 years, he knew precisely what type of harm his ignorant, heinous, and callously hurtful comments would have on communities of color in Ohio."

"His racist views and sentiments, which no doubt impact and effect his legislative record and priorities, are antithetical to everything the ACLU of Ohio stands for, the work we do, the relationships we hold, and the mission we uphold," read the statement further.

Sensing the damage cause by his statement, Huffman issued an apology."Regrettably, I asked a question in an unintentionally awkward way that was perceived as hurtful and was exactly the opposite of what I meant. I was trying to focus on why COVID-19 affects people of color at a higher rate since we really do not know all the reasons," he said in statement issued to CNN.