Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, a white lawmaker in the Tennessee House of Representatives, argued that her skin color played a role in her escaping expulsion from that body after her two Black colleagues lost their House seats for participating in the same gun violence protest with her.
On March 30, 2023, Johnson, Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, and Rep. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, led anti-gun violence chants on the floor of the House, echoing a group of protestors who were packed into the Capitol rotunda. Their protest occurred days after the deadly Nashville Covenant School shooting.
In early April 2023, Republican members of the House began proceedings to expel the three lawmakers, and on Apr. 6, 2023, they succeeded in expelling Pearson and Jones, while Johnson was narrowly spared by a one-vote margin. The expulsion of Pearson and Jones, who are Black, resulted in accusations of racism, which the Republican party denied, arguing to the contrary that they wanted to avoid setting a precedent in which lawmakers could disrupt House proceedings through protest.
In an interview with CNN, Johnson was asked, "Why were those two expelled and you weren't?"
In response she said, "Well, I think it's pretty clear. I'm a 60-year-old white woman and they are two young Black men. In listening to the questions, and the way they were questioned, and the way they were talked to… I was talked down to as a woman, mansplained to, but it was completely different from the questioning they got. And this whole idea that [...] you have to almost assimilate into this body to be like us."
She added that she felt the two Black men were spoken to in a "demeaning way" and told "if you're going to come into this body, you're going to have to act like this body."
Moments after the vote, while standing amongst a crowd of journalists in the Capitol, another reporter asked Johnson why she escaped expulsion when Jones and Pearson did not. Johnson responded, "I'll answer your question — it might have to do with the color of our skin."
Johnson even retweeted these exchanges on her official account:
Pearson and Jones were both in their first terms in the House, while Johnson was in her fourth term. During the expusion proceedings, attorneys for Johnson had argued that she had stood with Pearson and Jones to support their protest and had not been disrupting proceedings while shouting into a bullhorn. According to reports, on March 30, Jones and Pearson walked onto the floor to lead gun reform chants using a megaphone, with Johnson later flanking them in support.
In the aftermath of the Nashville shooting thousands of Tennesseans marched three times to the Capitol, calling for gun control reform. The expulsion of the two Black lawmakers was called "fascist" and "undemocratic" by some of the protesters.
However, the two expelled lawmakers may not be gone for long. According to the Associated Press, county commissions in their districts get to pick replacements until special elections are held, and they may pick Jones and Pearson, who are both eligible to run again.
Regardless of the reasons given by Republicans for the expulsion of the two Black lawmakers, Johnson believed it had to do with their race and that she was protected by her white skin color. We rate this claim as a "Correct attribution."