The head of the Houston firefighters union blasted City Councilwoman Jolanda Jones for her handling of allegations of racism and sexism in the Houston Fire Department, saying in a sharply worded letter on Thursday that she had disparaged “thousands of firefighters.”
The letter, written by Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 341 President Jeff Caynon, also accuses her of making threats, intimidation and “racist ranting” during a July 14 discussion at a local restaurant.
Jones has urged the city to adopt a zero-tolerance policy for handling discrimination incidents and has stood by the side of two female firefighters who found racist and sexist graffiti scrawled in their quarters at an airport fire station earlier this month.
But Caynon, who is black, said in the letter that she crossed a line in the meeting when she referred to him as a “house Negro” only interested in keeping his job.
The term compares a person to the stereotype of a docile black servant living inside the house of a master during slavery.
“You imply that I am not really ‘black’ because I do not share your biased point of view,” Caynon wrote. “I do not know where to begin in responding, except to say that you and the race-baiting opportunists criticizing HFD deserve one another. I am indeed interested in keeping my job, and the choice between standing with the men and women of the HPFFA or standing with you is not a difficult one. Your insults are unwarranted, ignorant and damaging.”
You know, I like Council Member Jones. I think it’s a good thing, especially in our strong-Mayor system, for there to be a couple of Council members who march to their own beat, even if I don’t always agree with where that takes them. I have no idea what she was thinking here. There’s no place for this, and she needs to apologize. I note that the Chron story says she denies using the term “house Negro”, but she admitted to it in this KHOU story, saying she was “talking in passion.” She is also pushing back on her Facebook page, where she disputes one of the claims Caynon makes in his letter in her status. You can see the letter here. (PDF) Miya has more.
UPDATE: Here is CM Jones’ response. The key bits:
I disagree, in the strongest terms, with Mr. Caynon’s characterization of our meeting. While he is entitled to his opinion, justice will be served if we are operating under the same set of facts. There was no threat by the restaurant owner to call the police. In fact, as I was leaving I was pulled aside by a woman sitting at the next table with her young son, who wanted her son to meet me because she was proud that I was standing up for women.
I challenged Mr. Caynon in our heated conversation to stand up more forcefully for these female firefighters – whose jobs are stressful enough without having to deal with a hostile work environment while putting their lives at risk to keep Houston safe. During this heated discussion, I used inappropriate language used by others to describe Mr. Caynon, and for this, I apologize.
I want Houstonians to know that I will continue to challenge Mr. Caynon and our leaders until we honor all our firefighters by providing a workplace that is free from discrimination, intimidation and retaliation for ALL.
I respectfully ask Mr. Caynon and the union to do the same.
So there you have it.