A white state senator who used the racially-derogative "N" word in a conversation with a black legislator last week met privately with Iowa’s African-American leaders last night.
Senator Jack Hatch, a Democrat from Des Moines, appeared with those same leaders at a news conference today along with Representative Ako Abdul-Samad – the black legislator who heard Hatch use the "N" word. Abdul-Samad wants this to be a teaching moment about the ills of racism.
"When we had the first African American president come and win Iowa, when he took the oath in the White House, a lot of people began to sweep sexism and racism under the table because they said, ‘Oh, the village is o.k.’ The village isn’t o.k.," Abdul-Samad. "What has happened was that we have seen through Senator Jack Hatch that we do still have some issues."
Abdul-Samad said he wanted to take the "anger" and turn this incident into a "teaching moment."
"This Senator Jack Hatch started the snowball going down the hill, but this snowball is going to catch a whole lot of people up," Abdul-Samad said. "There’s still individuals that tell the blond joke. There’s still individuals that tell the Jewish joke."
Hatch said Monday he was "overcome by the moment" when he used the racially-charged word and angry about something that had happened in the statehouse when he made the remark. Reverend Keith Ratliff, president of the NAACP’s Iowa chapter, opened the news conference by rejecting that excuse.
"For State Senator Jack Hatch or some lawmakers to suggest that because tensions were high that it in some way excuses this type of language and dialogue the NAACP feels is ridiculous and blatantly wrong," Ratliff said.
Hatch a few minutes later admitted the incident exposed a "character flaw" in himself.
"This is not just something that we can slip under the rug," Hatch said. "There was a character deficit in me that came out that moment — a moment that I have to share with my family and, well, just about everybody."
Hatch told reporters he welcomed a potetial primary challenge when he faces reelection.
Linda Carter-Lewis, president of the Des Moines chapter of the NAACP, said Hatch apologized privately last night to Iowa’s African-American leaders.
"Words, once spoken, cannot be retracted or erased," she said. "Senator Hatch will suffer the consequences for his actions."
Hatch has agreed to participate in a series of educational seminars in the Des Moines area to talk "about the language of hate and insensitivity," according to Carter-Lewis.
Representative Wayne Ford, a Democrat from Des Moines who is Iowa’s longest-serving black legislator, told reporters he’s not sure whether his 40-year friendship with Hatch will be healed. "Only time will tell if Senator Hatch and I will have the same type of relationship that we had before last week’s incident," Ford said. "A lot of that will be based on his deeds, his communications and his commitment."
Hatch said he is willing to talk often in public about his mistake to keep "the dialogue" going. "What we’ve learned from this is words do have meaning and words do hurt and my words the other day penetrated the very soul of the difference between the races and our cultures," Hatch said. "And for that I’m sorry and I hope that that is accepted not only by my colleagues but by the community."
Click on the audio link below to listen to the entire news conference.