Loudoun County Supervisor Juli Briskman (D-Algonkian) and a recently formed Facebook group are calling for Loudoun County Treasurer Roger Zurn (R) to resign after he published and quickly deleted a racially insensitive social media post following word that the Aunt Jemima brand will be discontinued.
Zurn, who is white and has served as county treasurer since 1996, posted on his personal Facebook page last week: “Wondering if Aunt Jemima will change to Uncle Tom’s?”
The post, a screengrab of which was sent to the Times-Mirror, was deleted minutes after it went live.
“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.
Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Koran Saines (D-Sterling), who is Black, said he agreed with his colleague on Twitter.
Saines tweeted, “He should know where terms, ‘Uncle Tom’ and ‘Aunt Jemima,’ the origins and the meaning behind them come from, and what they’re about, and what they symbolize. And for him, at his mature age, if he doesn’t know those things, then we need to get him a history lesson! #EnoughIsEnough”
Supervisor Sylvia Glass (D-Broad Run), who is Black, also weighed in on the situation.
“I would like to say I am surprised by Mr. Zurn’s most recent racist Facebook post. Sadly, I am not,” Glass said. “He, like so many other seemingly well-intentioned white men of a certain generation appear to be tone deaf to their white privilege and have been allowed to say, ‘I was only joking’ for too long.”
Loudoun County Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D), the county’s first Black chair, has not commented publicly on the incident.
Shortly after he deleted his post, Zurn told the Times-Mirror, “It was an error in judgement.”
The next day he issued an apology on Facebook. “As most are aware, I did a highly inappropriate post yesterday,” Zurn wrote. “It was a feeble attempt at humor and realized it within five minutes and took it down. ... I sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended. You have a right to be upset with me. I am disappointed in myself.”
Zurn scheduled a press conference for midday Thursday, after the Times-Mirror went to press. (Visit LoudounTimes.com for a recap of the press conference.)
His controversial post came after Quaker Oats’ announcement last week 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.
As of Wednesday morning, nearly 500 people had joined a private Facebook group called “Recall Roger Zurn.”
The Loudoun County Democratic Committee last week highlighted another recent instance of racial insensitivity from Zurn.
“On March 27, Mr. Zurn posted ‘China has released the names of the first two people to contract Coronavirus. Sum Ting Wong, Ho Lee Fuk,’” the LCDC said in a statement. “It is fundamental for constituents to hold their elected officials accountable for explicitly racist actions. It is especially unbecoming of an elected official who is supposed to lead with the best interest of all of his or her constituents in mind. Uncle Tom is universally understood as a derogatory term for men of color, and it is unbecoming of any person to use this term.”The statement continued, “Mr. Zurn’s posts personally offended tens of thousands of his constituents and have erased any integrity that may have been associated with his position … As constituents of Loudoun County, we demand that there is an adequate response either from the Loudoun County government or Mr. Zurn himself. Without doubt, many constituents have lost confidence in Mr. Zurn’s ability to execute the duties of his office without prejudice.”
Read local leaders’ reactions below:
Supervisor Juli Briskman (D-Algonkian)
”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.
This is not the first, the second or even the third time Mr. Zurn has engaged in harmful, disrespectful and racially discriminatory conversation publicly on social media and it calls into question whether he can carry out his constitutional duties in a fair and just manner.
On March 27, Mr. Zurn posted on Facebook: ‘China has released the names of the first two people to contract Coronavirus. Sum Ting Wong, Ho Lee Fuk,’ making fun of the Mandarin language and clearly dismissing the gravity of a virus that has now killed more than 120,000 U.S. citizens.
Also, on social media, Mr. Zurn has called Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Abdullahi Omar a ‘bimbo’ and has posted clearly sexist content with an image woman yelling at a man through a megaphone, saying he was in “deep doo doo,’ while mocking the outrage of Loudoun women over his social media content.
Enough is enough.
Today County Supervisors’ email is flooded with demands for Mr. Zurn’s resignation. The community called for the resignation of Gov. Ralph Northam in February 2019 over a 30-year-old photograph of someone in blackface on his medical yearbook pages.
Mr. Zurn should have learned from this and his many other blunders that brought community backlash. It is clear Mr. Zurn is not taking to heart the lessons from our past nor the atmosphere in our country today where thousands upon thousands are calling for racial justice in the face of systemic racism in all levels of government and society. If he cannot learn from his past mistakes and the loud and angry protesters who have been in the streets for the past three weeks, it is time for him to step down.”
Supervisor Sylvia Glass (D-Broad Run)
”I would like to say I am surprised by Mr. Zurn’s most recent racist Facebook post. Sadly, I am not. He, like so many other seemingly well-intentioned white men of a certain generation, appear to be tone deaf to their white privilege and have been allowed to say, ‘I was only joking’ for too long.
That time is past. The tragic murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and on and on and on, coupled with the misery wrought by COVID-19 seem to have finally brought our nation to a new moment of reckoning. Change is hard. It is harder for those who have enjoyed the seat of power for 400 years. But change is necessary and it is coming. I hope that all leaders of Loudoun County can walk hand-in-hand to usher in this change together.
I am a Christian, a Jesus follower. I know what my worth is in Him — this is what I remind myself when I see images of Aunt Jemima and comparisons to Uncle Tom — I am worthy. I only wish that all children of God, and we are all children of God, saw the worth in each other — regardless of race, education, wealth, beauty, power. I grew up in the church, my father was a pastor and past President of the Prince William County NAACP and worked for the equality of all citizens. I plan to use this legacy to work with my fellow leaders as we make our County more safe, welcoming, and equitable for all.
Mr. Zurn is also a Jesus follower. I hope this is the last time he thinks it’s ok to post a joke that is so obviously painful and demeaning to many of his fellow Loudoun citizens and sisters and brothers in Christ.
Let us not forget that Jesus taught us, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Chairman Koran Saines (D-Sterling)
”I am deeply offended and troubled by the racism displayed by Roger Zurn on his Facebook page today. Enough is enough! This is not the first nor the second time he has made racially charged and offensive posts. Sadly, this is a clear pattern now. This is not how anyone in our community should behave, let alone our community’s leaders.
I encourage others who were offended by these comments to let your feelings be known. All us elected officials have the same boss: the people, and the people have a right to let us know what they think about our conduct. There are many civil channels to do this.
We as a community must call out and denounce such harmful and insensitive remarks and actions. We should not stand for such indecency in Loudoun. We should no longer remain quiet or turn a blind eye to behaviors that damage the fabric of our community.
Given recent events that have shone a stark spotlight on the scourge of racism and hate, we as a community should be pulling together, not apart, and our leaders have a responsibility to heal, not inflame.”
Loudoun NAACP Branch
”We are glad to hear that companies across the country are reviewing insensitive marketing and practices and look forward to them supporting minority communities with more diverse hiring and promotion along with increased corporate investment into minority communities.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that Mr. Zurn has made a statement that members of minority communities and their allies would find offensive. We advise Mr. Zurn and other elected officials that not everything needs a hot-take or clever comment from them. Listening to communities directly impacted by systemic racism, who we would remind them are also their constituents, would serve them better.
Mr. Zurn, all elected officials representing Loudoun County and the general public are welcome to our general membership meetings the third Monday of every month at 7 p.m. to listen, learn and participate in making Loudoun the best community it can be. More information can be found here: https://naacploudoun.org/.
We look forward to Mr. Zurn joining our meeting in July.”