Challenger Takes Issue With Congressman’s ‘Brown People’ Comment

by Nathan L. Gonzales August 8, 2013 · 2:13 PM EDT

Is “brown people” an offensive term for Latinos?

Rep. Alan Grayson is no stranger to controversial statements, but it’s unclear whether the Florida Democratic congressman’s mouth has gotten him into trouble once again.

“I think that would be a shame, but what really pushes immigration to the side is the fact that many people in the Republican Party don’t want to do anything that would help brown people,” Grayson said in an interview last week with Channel 13 news in Orlando. “There’s an underlying insinuation of racism in the way that Washington, D.C. Republicans look at this issue.” [Here is video of the entire interview.]

Grayson represents central Florida’s 9th District, which has a Hispanic voting age population of at least 40 percent. But even though his district also leans Democratic, one of Grayson’s Republican challengers pounced on his comments.

“Congressman Alan Grayson’s divisive remarks on race prove that he is completely out of touch with the residents of the 9th District,” said Jorge Bonilla (R) in a fundraising email. “By absurdly claiming that ‘Republicans don’t want to do anything that would help brown people,’ Mr. Grayson reduces an entire group of human beings to color-coded political pawns. Rather than stoking racial grievance and promoting class warfare, Mr. Grayson should find ways to enact policies that actually help job creation and small business development.”

“Congressman Grayson uses the term interchangeably with the phrase ‘people of color’ to refer to racial minorities in America,” campaign spokesman Todd Jurkowski said when asked to respond to Bonilla’s email.

It certainly isn’t the first time Grayson has used the term and at times it appears he uses the term to reference broader minority groups.

During last year’s campaign, Grayson made two references to “brown people” during a speech to party faithful in St. Petersburg, Florida. One time he was talking about immigration. During another, Grayson was talking about voting rights. The Democrat also used the term during the 2010 campaign when he claimed his Republican opponent was airing racist campaign ads.

It remains to be seen whether Grayson’s “brown people” moniker is offensive, acceptable, or something in between. But a question worth asking is whether a Republican candidate could also say “brown people” – especially as a blanket term for Latinos, blacks and other minority groups – without swift and numerous calls for his or her resignation.