AP NEWS

State senator complains of inherent bias at caucus meetings

June 26, 2019

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — A Washington state senator said her comments to a chamber of commerce audience about experiencing “hate, sexism, racism and misogyny” during closed-door Democratic meetings was a reference to coded language she hears everywhere, including the caucus room.

Sen. Mona Das, whose family moved to the U.S. from India when she was an infant, said Wednesday she was talking specifically about the use of terms like “those people” and other language that seeks to distance people in diverse groups.

“No one has said anything overtly racist or sexist, but it’s what I hear underneath it all, the coded language,” Das told The Associated Press.

Her initial comments, reported by The Kent Reporter, came last week during a legislative forum before a Kent Chamber of Commerce audience.

“After they close that door, that’s when it gets real,” Das said at the forum. “That’s when my 28 colleagues got real. And that’s when I heard hate, that’s when I heard misogyny and racism and sexism from people you would not expect.”

In a Facebook post responding to the article, Das accused the newspaper of mischaracterizing her words and wrote she was not singling out the Senate when discussing her concerns about implied bias.

“I was merely stating that every institution faces those issues,” she wrote.

But video of her comments posted on the chamber’s Facebook page shows she was not misquoted while talking about her experience as one of eight people of color in the Senate Democratic Caucus.

“The hate, sexism, racism and misogyny I experienced when that caucus room door closed would shock only the white folks in the room because the brown folks know it’s there,” she told the group.

Das, who is serving her first term after ousting incumbent Republican Sen. Joe Fain last November, said Wednesday her goal was to shine a light on the reality that even people who align with women or communities of color may use language that unintentionally “others” people.

“I don’t regret the conversation because now it has opened the conversation and is shining a light on inherent bias and making people think about their language,” she said.

Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig said that he and Das have had several conversations since the article came out, and he said institutional racism was already a planned topic for an upcoming caucus retreat in October.

“I believe that institutional racism does exist in state government and the Legislature and in many institutions in our society,” he said. “Conversations like this will help us get better as a Legislature and as a state.”

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