Loudoun County Treasurer Roger Zurn (R) says he is remaining in office after numerous county leaders have called for him to step down after publishing a racially insensitive social media post.
In mid-June, the county treasurer published and quickly deleted the social media post following an announcement that the Aunt Jemima brand would be discontinued.
Zurn, who is white and has served as county treasurer since 1996, posted on his personal Facebook page June 17: “Wondering if Aunt Jemima will change to Uncle Tom’s?”
“I will not be resigning my position as county treasurer,” Zurn said during a June 25 press conference. “Leaders do not run from their mistakes. They grow from them.”
The Times-Mirror received a screengrab of the post before it was deleted. Zurn called it “an error in judgement.”
Zurn’s post followed Quaker Oats’ announcement on June 17 that Aunt Jemima’s maple syrup and pancake mix will get a new name and image. The image of the “mammy” kerchief was branded on Quaker Oats products for years, and it has been seen as a racist stereotype dating back to slavery.
“Uncle Tom,” meanwhile, is an offensive nickname for someone who desires to serve others aware of the servant’s lower status, otherwise known as a “house negro.” The stereotype was often used in minstrel shows that depicted black people as lazy, clownish and dumb.
About 20 people were in the boardroom during Zurn’s press conference, many of them his supporters.
Zurn apologized for his post “that rightly caused concern among many of our citizens beyond the African American community.”
Zurn said he made a joke and realized his error quickly. He said there was no excuse and no explanation.
He went on to tout his office’s work during his tenure, noting moving the personal property tax deadline by 30 days due to the COVID-19 pandemic and setting up payment plans. Compared to the same dates in 2019, the personal property collection rate was 4.1 percent higher, he said, and the real estate collections were down by slightly less than 1 percent.
Zurn said his office of 50 people is 80 percent female, with minorities making up 42 percent of the workforce. The two chief deputies are Black and Asian, he said.
“I hope that those who have seen my support and outreach to all communities, regardless of race or faith, know that I am a man of deep faith, and a decent human being that is better than the sum of some very poor jokes posted on my personal Facebook page,” he said.
Zurn said he plans to engage with faith and civil rights leaders “to become more thoughtful” on issues of race and inclusion.
“We are living in extraordinary times, and we will get through them if we give one another grace and have courageous conversations about the things that often seek to divide us,” Zurn said.
Zurn’s Facebook post follows weeks of racial unrest across America following the killing of George Floyd.
Activists and everyday Americans are calling for racial equality and reform after Floyd, a black man, was killed by a Minneapolis police officer last month. The incident, which involved the white officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, has sparked nationwide protests and renewed loud concerns over police brutality.
Loudoun County Supervisor Juli Briskman (D-Algonkian) has called for Zurn to resign, and two of her board colleagues strongly condemned not only the treasurer’s “Aunt Jemima” post, but other instances of insensitivity, as well.
“The residents of Loudoun County deserve better representation from our leaders and should be able to trust that the officer who collects and invests county tax dollars is meeting out his or her duties with integrity and without racial bias,” Briskman, who is white, said in a prepared statement.
The supervisor said this is not the first time Zurn has “engaged in harmful, disrespectful and racially discriminatory” conversation publicly on social media. She questioned whether he can carry out his constitutional duties in a fair and just manner.