You would be hard-pressed to find anyone in Maryland politics who thinks Harford County Del. Mary Ann Lisanti should stay in office after reports that she used the n-word to refer to part of Prince George’s County during an after-hours gathering at an Annapolis cigar bar last month. The Democrats say she should go. The Republicans think she should go. The Legislative Black Caucus, the executives of both Prince George’s and Harford counties, the NAACP — heck, even the League of Conservation Voters felt compelled to weigh in on this one. And the rambling mess of a statement she read to reporters after she was formally censured by the House of Delegates on Thursday night probably won't change any minds — particularly not after she accused all those demanding her resignation of acting out of “political expediency” because of the “desperation of their situation,” whatever that means. Her remarks didn’t even manage to clear up the question of whether she admits to having used the word or not; her explanations since The Washington Post first reported on the matter have ranged from not recalling to denying to admitting she has used the word before to insisting it is not part of her vocabulary. She ran through the gamut again on Thursday.
(We also note what in this context is a particularly unfortunate typo, referring to the n-word as “most deployable” rather than “deplorable.”)
But amid all that, she does hint at one valid question: Why did nobody do something about the offensive language until weeks later? As Ms. Lisanti notes in her statement, no one reported it in accordance with the General Assembly’s harassment procedures, and so far as we have been able to discern, no one mentioned it to House leadership until after it was revealed by The Post. It appears that no one confronted her about it in the moment, either. Ms. Lisanti, a Democrat, made the remark to another delegate in reference to his work campaigning on behalf of a third House member in Prince George’s (which Ms. Lisanti reportedly called a “n----- district”). Whom did she say it to?
We know it wasn’t the one member of the House of Delegates who chose not to vote to censure her — Baltimore/Harford county Del. Rick Impallaria, who has his own history of coded and not-so-coded racial language as the wingman of former Del. Patrick McDonough. Mr. Impallaria is a Republican and so would presumably not have been campaigning for a Democrat in Prince George’s. So unless it happened to be one of the two delegates who had an excused absence from Thursday night’s voting session, one of whom is also a Republican, the person to whom Ms. Lisanti said the word just voted to censure her. Did he or she not think much of it at the time?
Ms. Lisanti will now undergo sensitivity training, as she should. But there’s a lesson in this for the rest of us, too. Saying the n-word is unacceptable, but letting it slide is, too. We should all have the courage to recognize that and act on racist language or deeds in the moment, not just when we can pile on with everyone else’s condemnation.