The Delaware House of Representatives majority leader started the second day of the 152nd General Assembly Wednesday by apologizing to the new minority leader for the way she phrased a description of her.
On Tuesday, Rep. Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, had introduced Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown as “the first colored woman in leadership in the House of Representatives.” They hugged after Longhurst singled out Minor-Brown.
The arcane phrasing drew criticism, Longhurst said Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, I horribly misspoke when trying to say women of color,” Longhurst said. “I know how hurtful that word is, that it’s so closely associated with one of the bleaker times in our history, Jim Crow. It’s a derogatory term, and the exact opposite of what I was trying to express to my friend. I’m really sorry.”
Longhurst said she intended to honor Minor-Brown.
“It was a day of celebration for all new members being sworn in for the first time and especially for my good friend, Rep. Melissa Minor Brown, who made history by becoming the first black person to hold a leadership position in the house,” Longhurst said Wednesday. “I wanted to celebrate Mimi and her accomplishments, which is so important not just for her, but for every young person who aspires to do great things.”
Longhurst said she had spoken to Minor-Brown and others, but wanted to publicly apologize to the House members and the guests they brought with them Monday for the annual swearing in.
“So many people came to Dover yesterday to celebrate their loved ones accomplishments,” Longhurst said. “And I’m sorry my mistake distracted from that. I am truly proud of this House and its diversity, and I’m honored to lead it. That includes being called to account when I missed up, whether it’s intentionally or not.”
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Minor-Brown, who sits next to Longhurst on the House floor, thanked her.
“I do understand why people were upset by Valerie’s word choice, particularly in the political climate that we’re in today,” Minor-Brown said. “The difference here in Delaware is that we do like to extend grace to our colleagues when they make a mistake.
Minor-Brown told Longhurst that she knew Longhurst’s intent “was not negative or coming from a bad place.”
“I know who you are,” she told Longhurst. “Even though the word choice was not the greatest, it’s important that we extend grace when we all make mistakes, and I’ve seen that happen out here on this floor.
“We as a caucus are ready to move forward as we continue to become more diverse.”
Minor-Brown ended by saying, “My hope is that we all continue to evolve our understanding that we will make mistakes but it’s important that we educate ourselves and we educate our colleagues and that we be patient and we are providing some understanding when we interact with each other.”
See Longhurst’s apology in this House video.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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