Rep. Morgan stands by viral tweet about rift with friend despite heavy criticism

Politics

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — State Rep. Patricia Morgan on Tuesday stood by a controversial message she posted to Twitter earlier in the day attributing a rift with a friend to the teaching of race-related issues in schools.

“I had a black friend,” Morgan tweeted. “I liked her and I think she liked me, too. But now she is hostile and unpleasant. I am sure I didn’t do anything to her, except be white. Is that what teachers and our political leaders really want for our society? Divide us because of our skin color? #CRT.”

CRT is short for “critical race theory,” an academic concept that examines American history and society through the lens of systemic racism. The term is contested, but critics have used it as a shorthand for K-12 education concepts they believe overemphasize divides among different races.

Morgan, 71, is one of the more prominent Republicans in Rhode Island, a state where the GOP accounts for only a small share of lawmakers and registered voters. She previously served as House minority leader and party chair, and she unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for governor in 2018.

Morgan’s tweet, posted just after 10 a.m., quickly drew national attention and had been quoted in other tweets more than 3,000 times within six hours. In an interview, Morgan said she suspected that Twitter’s algorithm had boosted the message.

“I’m wondering about the mechanism behind it,” Morgan said. “We know that Twitter can mute your tweets or promote them, they can change their metrics. … Very few Rhode Islanders are commenting on it, but I sure am getting a lot of California, New York, Oregon and Washington.”

“You know, normally I’m lucky if I get 20 people to notice my tweets,” she said. “So really, why would Patricia Arquette pick up my little tweet in Rhode Island?”

(Arquette, an Oscar-winning actress with about 541,000 Twitter followers, had tweeted in reply to Morgan, “You just divided the country with your tweet. Are you that unconscious?”)

Locally, Morgan faced widespread condemnation for the tweet over the course of the day. The BLM RI PAC, the political arm of the Black Lives Matter movement in Rhode Island, called on Democratic House Speaker Joe Shekarchi to expel her from the R.I. House of Representatives.

“This comment is offensive and deeply insulting to the Black and Brown community,” the PAC’s leaders said in a statement. “If Representative Patricia Morgan truly believed we shouldn’t be divided by our skin color, she wouldn’t have made this divisive of a comment, along with the many other similar comments she has made in the past.”

(Asked about Morgan’s statement, Shekarchi said, “There is no place for divisive remarks by any House member. I condemn any such comments.”)

Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, a Democratic candidate for governor, was among those who responded on Twitter.

“The strength of our state is in our diversity. @PatriciaMorgan is the former minority leader of the RI House and her comments are ignorant and embarrassing,” Gorbea wrote. “Rhode Island deserves leaders who bring people together not recklessly divide us.”

Morgan declined to identify the friend she mentioned in the tweet, saying it “wouldn’t be fair,” but said they recently met up at a Christmas party. “There was a coldness,” she said. Morgan said she has not spoken to the person since, and “she probably doesn’t even know about the tweet.”

Morgan added, “And no, I have more than one Black friend.”

More broadly, the lawmaker insisted she was not seeking attention when she sent the tweet and was expressing her sincere opinion. She also said she has no plans to run for higher office.

“I am sad that there are so many people in our society today that think that it’s not sad, that think that it’s a reason to criticize me because I am sad that our country is being pulled back into racial strife, instead of searching for real solutions to the issues,” she said.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram

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