Representative Ayanna Pressley spoke the hard truth about white supremacy. Governor Charlie Baker called it a “rant.”

Under any circumstances, this would be outrageous. Yet a white Republican governor opening his mouth to undermine a black congresswoman’s comments denouncing racist hatred at, of all places, a Martin Luther King breakfast, should once and for all bury deep the persistent oxymoron of any “good” Republicans.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a rant is “an extravagant, bombastic, or declamatory speech or utterance; (now esp.) a long, angry, or impassioned speech; a tirade.” Yes, Pressley’s comments were impassioned. They were not a tirade.


Speaking during a panel discussion Monday at Boston’s 50th annual MLK Memorial Breakfast, the congresswoman said “hate and white supremacy codified through legislation” is “ruining this country,” not identity politics, which are often cited by conservatives to mock and silence dissent by marginalized groups.

“There is nothing wrong with identity,” Pressley said. She added, “I’m still an abolitionist, because my people are still not free. And I mean that in every way, not only because of the new Jim Crow and mass incarceration, but because we don’t have economic justice.”

Pressley was the only woman and person of color on the panel. She was joined by Mayor Martin J. Walsh, Senator Edward Markey, and Baker.

Her comments received a standing ovation, and Baker, scheduled to speak next, joked about having to follow “that rant.” Appropriately, many in the audience of more than 1,300 groaned. Though the governor quickly said he agreed with Pressley’s comments, those groans became a roar on social media.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey tweeted, “Ayanna Pressley spoke the truth about racial injustice and the disparities faced by Black women and people of color at the MLK breakfast. It was thoughtful, personal, and anything but a rant. Language like that is dismissive and perpetuates the very harm we seek to end.”


Intentional or not, Baker also perpetuated the gross stereotype of the “angry black woman.” Our justified ire is often branded as irrational, which is designed to cheapen the seriousness of our concerns and sorrows. Angry white men are provoked and misunderstood; angry black women are just, you know, angry for no reason at all.

After the breakfast, Baker apologized to Pressley, according to Lizzy Guyton, his spokeswoman. “The governor agreed with congresswoman Pressley’s remarks today and believes her speech was moving,” she said.

Why Baker thought such a comment at that moment in that setting would be appropriate is anyone’s guess. Given how quickly he made it, one could surmise he meant exactly what he said. In his jab at a powerful black woman, Baker’s snark emitted a decidedly Trumpian stench. It also recalled his public clash last year with Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins over criminal justice policy. To many of us, that felt like just another example of a white man trying to put a strong black woman in her place.

Even though that beef was supposedly quashed, Rollins laced into Baker on Twitter after his quip about Pressley’s speech. She pointed out that Baker’s cabinet has no black secretaries, and that in Massachusetts only 3 out of 80 superior court judges are black. Her inference may be that Baker’s problems go deeper than one ill-timed remark to one African-American black woman.


Pressley, as she always does, spoke with fierce clarity and courage about issues that, with the state’s woeful reputation on race relations, its predominately white leadership would rather sugarcoat than address with the vigor and vision they deserve. That’s what should be remembered about Monday’s MLK breakfast.

Of course, this is not to say that Baker’s comment should be allowed to quickly fade away. Perhaps, he will address the incident during his State of the Commonwealth speech Tuesday. For now, a private apology for a very public wisecrack from the governor formerly known as the nation’s most popular won’t cut it.

Sorry, Charlie. You said what you said. And every one of us fed up with being talked over, infantilized, or dismissed by a white man heard you loud and clear.

Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.