Archive for Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Statehouse Live: Rep. Connie O’Brien issues apology for ‘olive complexion’ remark

February 16, 2011


— State Rep. Connie O’Brien, R-Tonganoxie, on Wednesday issued an apology for comments she made about a woman when she said she could tell the woman wasn’t a citizen because of her “olive complexion.”

“After contemplating the statements I made in the Federal and State Affairs Committee meeting, I understand how they could have been misconstrued,” said O’Brien. “I misspoke and apologize to those I offended. I have learned from this situation and will be more careful with my choice of words in the future.”

In her statement, O’Brien continued to maintain that the woman was in the country illegally.

“The student in question did not have a driver’s license, government identification or any other form of documentation. From the situation, it was clear that the student was not a United States citizen. However, I should have been more precise in stating why it was clear that she was not a legal citizen,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien’s original statement had caused an uproar. The Kansas Democratic Party said her comments to the committee were racist.

The dispute was over testimony O’Brien gave last week to the House Federal and State Affairs Committee in support of a bill that would repeal in-state tuition for certain undocumented students.

O’Brien told the committee about an incident last year when she accompanied her son to enroll at Kansas City Kansas Community College.

A woman near them in line was requesting her scholarship money, but when the clerk asked for her photo identification, the woman said she had none, O’Brien said.

The woman then asked for someone else to help her, O’Brien said. O’Brien told the committee that the woman was going to get financial assistance, and her son, who was born and raised in Kansas, wasn’t.

“We didn’t ask the girl what nationality she was. We didn’t think that was proper, but we could tell by looking at her that she was not originally from this country,” O’Brien said.

Rep. Sean Gatewood, D-Topeka, had asked O’Brien how she could tell, and O’Brien replied, “She wasn’t black, she wasn’t Asian, and she had the olive complexion.” O’Brien said she had a son-in-law from Afghanistan, who had olive complexion, so the woman could have been from Afghanistan.

Another committee member, Rep. Mario Goico, R-Wichita, told O’Brien during the committee hearing that the woman O’Brien had been speaking about, if she was an undocumented student, could not have received any federal or state scholarship funds.

On Monday, Kenny Johnston, executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party, said O’Brien should apologize to the state’s minority student population for her “extremely inappropriate comments.” He added, “Apparently in Rep. O’Brien’s world, all students with ‘olive complexion’ should be banned from receiving financial aid.”

When asked to respond on Monday, O’Brien had said she wanted to think about it for a day or two. But she did say the Democrats were making a big deal out of nothing “like they did with Bill Otto.” Otto, a Republican state legislator from LeRoy, was criticized for making a video in 2009 in which he criticized President Obama in a “RedNeck Rap,” while wearing a hat that said “OPOSSUM the other Dark Meat.” Otto said he didn’t mean for his video to have any racial overtones.


Steve Bunch 7 years, 1 month ago

Another non-apology: She's sorry anyone would "misconstrue" her words. Is she a racist or a moron? Hmm, could be both.

Bob Forer 7 years, 1 month ago

Definitely a moron. Is she a racist? Given the fact that most racists are morons, she certainly could be one. Definitely not the type of person I would want representing me in the legislature.

Brock Masters 7 years, 1 month ago

It was a stupid, ignorant comment, but I don't see how it can be construed as racist.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 1 month ago

It was certainly a race-based assessment on her part, since there is absolutely no evidence that her assessment that this student was not a citizen was correct.

Does that make it racist? That's pretty much in the eye of the beholder. You many like what you see. I don't.

Brock Masters 7 years, 1 month ago

Olive skin people, to which race do they belong?

Perhaps she was referring to nationality instead of race. Like I said, it was an ignorant comment, but I don't see racism in it. Most olive skin people are white...Greeks, Italians, middle eastern countries.

You think she is racist against white people?

You cannot judge nationality by the color of one's skin, but to try to make this into a racist comment is unjustified. Call it for what it is, stupid, ignorant and inappropriate, but don't try to make it into something it isn't. To do otherwise, is akin to crying wolf and we know what happens when people cry wolf one time too many.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 1 month ago

How about xenophobic? Does that sanitize it enough for you?

Brock Masters 7 years, 1 month ago

It is not about sanitizing it, but accurately describing it. True cases of racism do not get the attention they deserve because the race card is played so often that people are skeptical and desensitized to it.

Sharpton lost much of his credibility when he held Tawana Brawley up as a victim of racism.

Throwing the race card at every issue is much like hurling curse words. Easy to do, but lacks real substance.

Call out O'Brien for her true transgressions is all I am saying.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 1 month ago

"Sharpton lost much of his credibility when he held Tawana Brawley up as a victim of racism."

The problem there wasn't the racism charge, per se, but that the whole incident was fabricated.

I can agree that "racism" gets a bit overused, but that's primarily because the term "race" is rather ill-defined.

Does "olive-complected" define racial characteristics? Maybe. Maybe not. But I think in the way she used it here-- to indicate that the particular student "isn't one of us," and therefore not welcome, gets mighty close to what is commonly considered racist thinking.

Brock Masters 7 years, 1 month ago

I agree that it was used to confirm that she wasn't one of us, but in terms of nationality, not race. Huge difference.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 1 month ago

"but in terms of nationality, not race."

As I said, race is not a particularly well-defined term, so bigotry with regard to race/nationality are often referred to with the term "racism." And really, the distinction between bigotry based on nationality, ethnicity, race, religion, whatever, is somewhat arbitrary. Hate is still hate.

Brock Masters 7 years, 1 month ago

Perhaps people who do not understand the difference, but racism is defined as being based on race. The meaning o fthe word is not changed just because people do not understand the proper use of the word .

rac·ism   /ˈreɪsɪzəm/ Show Spelled [rey-siz-uhm] Show IPA

–noun 1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others. 2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination. 3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

ebyrdstarr 7 years, 1 month ago

Fred, might I suggest that you take your dictionary research one step further and look up the definition of race? One definition, from the American Heritage Dictionary: a group of people united or classified together on the basis of common history, nationality, or geographical distribution: the German race.

To paraphrase you, the meaning of the word isn't changed just because one commenter on a newspaper website would like the word to have only one narrow meaning.

Alyosha 7 years, 1 month ago

Could you define "uber-left"? Or, "uhinged left"?

You repeat the words "left" and "far-left" so often, and yet it's clear from all your posts that there is no real definition for "left" and "far-left" aside from "people who disagree with me."

Now you've added "unhinged left," which, like your other rhetorical ticks, has no objective meaning.

What on earth do you mean, in words a reasonable adult can understand?

deec 7 years, 1 month ago

The woman in line earned a scholarship. The whiner's son didn't. Get over it. Even if the woman in line was a foreigner, the scholarship could have come from her home country.

tomatogrower 7 years, 1 month ago

Exactly deec. I'm sorry her son isn't smart enough to get scholarships. I can't believe she doesn't know the difference between scholarships and financial aid. What level of education does this woman have?

sr80 7 years, 1 month ago

where did you come up with that pile of malarkey!!! you tell me of one country that does that.if anything it was from personal monies or from aid to that country.

deec 7 years, 1 month ago

Students choosing this option might include foreign students fully supported by their governments, or military personnel supported by the U. S. government, planning intense courses of study to complete the M.S. degree in the shortest possible time.

introversion 7 years, 1 month ago

Ya know, there are a handful of people who live in Tonganoxie that try to put some of the pre-conceived notions about the backwater little railroad town to bed. It appears that their elected officials are interested in confirming stereotypes.

Way to go, Connie.

DWilly 7 years, 1 month ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

question4u 7 years, 1 month ago

Nice job Connie. Did you see that you made the Miami Herald in an article titled "GOP Lawmaker: I Know an Illegal Immigrant When I See One"?

You have made Kansas so proud.

Kim Murphree 7 years, 1 month ago

The point is, if the woman had been white, there would have been no question raised--THAT'S why it can be considered racist--and that has nothing to do with blowing anything out of proportion. It has to do with judging people differently based on the color of their skin--in this case "olive complexion." If the Representative would have asked the same question about the woman's nationality if she was white...then, its not really racist, but who will really believe that is true? Are we worried about illegal Canadian? Swedes? Germans? If we are...shouldn't we be "carding" everyone?

Brock Masters 7 years, 1 month ago

Where did it state that the woman wasn't white? Many olive skin people are white.

pacman 7 years, 1 month ago

Racism is about discrimination. Most Hispanics are members of the white race. So when people discriminate againt them, how is that not racism?

Brock Masters 7 years, 1 month ago

I'll type slowly to make it easier for you to follow. Yes, racism is discrimination, but there are many types of discrimination. I am sure you've read the EEO statement about not discriminating based on race, national origin, religion and so on.

Racism is discrimination based on someone's race. O'Brien's comments were not prompted by the person's race, but her perception of the woman's nationality.

And since you raised the point, explain to me why a white person from Spain gets special protection/consideration as a Hispanic but a white person from Italy does not?

ebyrdstarr 7 years, 1 month ago

You are using the word race in too restrictive a manner. A perusal of more than one dictionary reveals that the word race can properly be used to refer to persons of a similar origin or nationality, i.e. the German race. Hence, the word racism is not mis-applied in this situation.

Brock Masters 7 years, 1 month ago

True, race can be used in the manner you described, but look up the definition of racism. It means discrimination based on race.

Also, generally racists base their hate based on the color of the person's skin.

This was not the case here. O'Brien, as I have pointed out, was basing her assertions on the person's percieved nationality.

It was a stupd, ignorant and inappropriate comment. We can all agree to that, but playing the race card does nothing but take away from the true transgression.

ebyrdstarr 7 years, 1 month ago

But if racism is discrimination on the basis of race and race can mean what I said, then this can be considered discrimination on the basis of race aka racism. Where does it say in the definition of racism that it only applies to one meaning of the word race?

As for your further points, call me crazy, but deciding the person was an illegal immigrant at least in part based on the person's complexion seems to be basing that decision on skin color.

It isn't "playing the race card" to call judging someone by the color of her skin racist.

Brock Masters 7 years, 1 month ago

Like I said, look up the meaning of racism.

People want to label O'Brien as a racist because it connotes a far higher level of evil than just wanting to deny someone from getting financial aid because they are not here legally.

Tea party people are racist, the GOP is racist, white people are racist..and on and on.

I get tired of false accusations of racism. jump on her for her stupidity, her ignorance, her inappropriate comment, but you're stretching it to call her a racist.

And, if you look at the post that started this, the person said if the person was white it would be different and I simply asked how do you know they weren't?

Reserve the word for true racist.

I'm done and you can be right. You win.

ebyrdstarr 7 years, 1 month ago

I am right and i do win because I'm not conveniently ignoring parts of dictionary definitions that hurt my point. The dictionary definition of racism requires one to understand the dictionary definition of race. Thus, it cannot be restricted in the narrow way you would insist on.

I get tired of people rerfusing to see legitimiate instances of racism. The representative made a judgment about someone at least in part based on the color of that person's skin. Stop being afraid to call a spade a spade.

pacman 7 years, 1 month ago

Racial discrimination typically points out taxonomic differences between different groups of people, although anyone may be discriminated against on an ethnic or cultural basis, independently of their somatic differences. According to the United Nations conventions, there is NO DISTICTION between the term racial discrimination and ethnicity discrimination.

Please also ilustrate me on how Hispanics get special protection/consideration. and BTW, italians are not Hispanics they don't speak Spanish but they can be considered Latinos.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 1 month ago

The disintegration of Yugoslavia involved groups of people who are nearly identical both linguistically and genetically. They just happened to have been separated by religion and politics over the last 500 or more years.

But the treatment they meted out to each other was as hateful, bigoted, and, yes, racist, as anything that's happened on this planet since WWII.

Bob Forer 7 years, 1 month ago

Damn, more bad press. Once again, I will be explaining to my out-of-state friends how Lawrence is profoundly different than the rest of Kansas.

Wayne Propst 7 years, 1 month ago

yer kid can't enroll himself ,,,,bring yer mommy to college enrollment... pitiful....sounds like a made up red neck time ,,,interview with

BigPrune 7 years, 1 month ago

You wouldn't think she'd be too much of a racist, if she is, if her daugher married an Afghan. Usually the fruit doesn't fall far from the tree.

BigPrune 7 years, 1 month ago

Say wha? I said her daughter married an Afghan.

kernal 7 years, 1 month ago

tomatoegrower, you asked what level of education she has? Here it is:'Brien

tomatogrower 7 years, 1 month ago

I googled it. She was a teacher? How does she not know the difference between a scholarship and financial aid?

pace 7 years, 1 month ago

The group that it is currently politically correct to hate is any person who can be imagined as an illegal alien or who it can be imagined to have sympathy for illegal aliens. She said, the woman, who she only "imagines" might be an illegal alien, her proof was the hue of her skin. She then" imagined" this person somehow stood between the representative's children and their getting financial assistance. A lot of imagination, very little understanding She gets it, that she shouldn't have said how the woman's color made her think the sequence. She needs to get more sense and less imagining. Two things I have in common with her, the common misuse of the word "that" and that my children would not be eligible for financial aid. Unlike her I don't imagine the same series of cause and effect. When illegal alien problems come to my mind I think dark thoughts about how corporations and industries are the culpable culprits and should be fined, imprisoned and stopped. I also think we need to address border problems by a full throttle national reform of existing law and practices. Instead the feds and the states are creating piecemeal laws and then suing each other over them. We don't need to increase the ineffective and destructive catch and release of illiegal aliens. We don't need to waste money and effort. We need to protect our borders, to stop giving our jobs away. to establish working visa programs, We need strong, effective national laws and enforcement on the border control, on illegal hiring. We need laws that follow the money not the color.

tomatogrower 7 years, 1 month ago

It was part of the minutes for our state congress. He didn't make this up.

pace 7 years, 1 month ago

She stated, "From the situation, it was clear that the student was not a United States citizen. "

I wonder if she is a birther? DNA won't prove citizenship, birth certificates won't proof citizenship. A strange number of the radical teas don't seem to know that Hawaii is a state. They want proof.

anen87 7 years, 1 month ago

I guess David Beckham isn't going to bring his Olive skin prego wife here anytime soon. Miss O’Brien will think she's an Illegal carrying an anchor baby.

anen87 7 years, 1 month ago

Connie O’Brien DOES NOT LOOK like Conan O'Brien Both Irish Both have same Surnames yet they look different. SHE HERSELF IS OLIVE SKIN!!!!

tomatogrower 7 years, 1 month ago

How do we know if Obrien is a US citizen? I want to see her original birth certificate. How do we know she isn't a sleeper terrorist?

Terry Jacobsen 7 years, 1 month ago

I get tired of the whole race thing constantly being over-played. Yawnnnn alot of blah blah about nothing.

Kontum1972 7 years, 1 month ago

that town gives me the creeps.....

shades of ....."Deliverance"

blindrabbit 7 years, 1 month ago

O'Brien: Sound Irish to me; must be Catholic, love potatoes, drinks like a fish and supports the IRA. Oh well, what you you expect from a Tongieite. Just as crazy as that nutty gal from Baldwin; Repubs all.

b66044 7 years, 1 month ago

Absolutely the definition of racism. Actually, its the worst kind of racism. A person involved in state decision-making states that the color of a person's skin determines if they are an American. You have to bury your head pretty far in the sand to apologize for O'Brien.

sr80 7 years, 1 month ago

i tried to e-mail Rep.0'brien both at the capital and her home with no success, but was told all space was filled with hate messages .you liberal idealist looking through your rose colored glasses have been successful in perpetuating your twisted views of what is actually going on in today's society!!! i foresee her stepping down from her position soon,thanks for letting me know that the 1st amendment is still alive and strong,unless your a republican!!!!

blindrabbit 7 years, 1 month ago

kontum: Methinks that was the town with the crazy police chief that resigned about a year ago. We can attribute the crazyness up there to either the annual Tonganoxie Squirrel Hunt or the air pressure anomalies due to the Tonganoxie Split identified by weatherman Dan Henry many year ago

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