Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner said Wednesday that his comment about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas not behaving “like someone who is African-American” was a poor choice of words.
Renner made the remark Friday at City Hall during a mayor’s open house. It was captured on video and posted online. The video snippet does not include the question that prompted the response.
“Just because you have someone who checks a box, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be diverse,” Renner says in the video. “My personal favorite … would be Clarence Thomas. He sure does not behave like someone who is African-American, from my perspective.”
Thomas is black. He’s widely considered one of the most conservative Supreme Court justices.
Renner was asked about his remark Wednesday on GLT’s Sound Ideas. Here is a transcript of that conversation:
GLT: Can you elaborate and explain what you meant?
Renner: It was certainly a poor choice of words. I was saying that essentially, what we call “descriptive representation,” just because somebody is of a particular racial group, or is a particular ethnic group, does not mean they’ll represent that group and their broader interests.
And also, the snippet you’re talking about was promoted by a blogger who only conveniently 1, misquoted me, and 2, only put in part of a very long conversation. There were people from the media who were there and many others there. Nobody asked me about a question about that until about 48 hours later.
You can’t see in the short video clip what question you were asked, or the beginning and end of your comments. What question prompted that?
I haven’t actually seen it. I’ve only heard secondhand comments about it. We were talking about representation broadly. I’m not really going to be in a position where I discuss what a single person who doesn’t even live in our community—a blogger—puts on a blog…
You’re referencing Diane Benjamin, who runs the BLNNews website.
I would assume that, especially if you’re dealing with regular news, I’m not quite sure even why GLT would even mention her. Because there’s not much that’s terribly credible there.
But going back to the main theme of the open house, which I have every two weeks, is a broad representation on all boards and commissions, and do boards and commissions look like Bloomington. Yes. They look much more like Bloomington today—with nearly 300 board and commission members—than they did four years ago. We have gays. We have straights. We have people from the west side. East side. We have people of color and white people. We have younger people and millennials and older people. And that was not the case six years ago.
Other than the Human Relations Commission, we basically had a bunch of old and middle-aged white guys. Nothing wrong with middle-aged white guys. I’m one. But you need some degree of diversity in terms of opinions. And you make better decisions when you have more diversity of ideas, thoughts, and perspectives. We are all functions of how we are raised and our life experiences. And my life experiences are different from yours and other people. Understanding that is critical to making board and commission appointments.
I think that does clarify the point you’re trying to make about descriptive representation. To be fair, GLT does not often cite BLNNews as a provider of news content.
I don’t think the media generally cites somebody who doesn’t live in our community and is a single person who is espousing their views. If somebody sat on a street corner and did it every day, you probably wouldn’t pay much attention to them.
I think that’s fair. But you made the comment, and just said it was a poor choice of words.
Listen to Renner’s full interview below:
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