"Passing off demeaning and worn-out racial stereotypes as humor isn’t funny," said Luray, Virginia, Mayor Barry Presgraves

By Benjamin VanHoose
August 14, 2020 10:12 AM
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Kamala Harris (left) and Barry Presgraves
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images; Facebook

A mayor from Virginia is apologizing after calling vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris a racist, sexist nickname.

In a since-deleted Facebook post shared over the weekend, Mayor Barry Presgraves of Luray, Virginia, referred to Harris, 55, as "Aunt Jemima," according to NBC News.

Harris, a Democratic senator from California, was named by Joe Biden on Tuesday as his vice president pick going into the upcoming election, becoming the first Black and Indian-American woman to be on a major party's presidential ticket.

On Monday, Presgraves, 77, apologized for his public social media comments, as the town council voted five-to-one to formally censure him for the remarks.

"I want to make this very clear to everyone, with absolutely no qualifications: I understand what I posted on social media was wrong, offensive and unbecoming," he said, according to the town's official minutes from the meeting. "It does not reflect what was in my heart."

"I also want to make a direct apology to all people of color and women," continued Presgraves. "Passing off demeaning and worn-out racial stereotypes as humor isn’t funny. I now fully understand how hurtful it is. I can and will do better, and we can all do better. We must. From the bottom of my heart I am sorry and humbly ask for your forgiveness and your grace."

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on Wednesday, August 12, 2020
OLIVIER DOULIERY/Getty Images

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In their statement about censuring the mayor, the council members called his word "harmful."

"While the Town Council affirms the freedom of speech guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, as elected officials, we are held to a higher standard within our communities," they said. "Statements by public officials have a powerful impact on the community."

"We have listened carefully to and reflected deeply upon the public comments shared with the town during the past week. Your apology is a step towards reconciliation with our citizens, however, damage both internal and external to our community remains."

The council members added that the statement of censure "focuses on the action" and that they expect Presgraves' "highest level of commitment and dedication to serving all citizens" regardless of "race, sex or other characteristics."

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"We recognize that words alone will not advance this cause or any other. We are dedicated to working in a transparent manner to build public trust in Town governance and move our great Town forward during this time of healing," the statement concluded.

Harris previously talked with PEOPLE about opening new doors for women in politics. “Each woman who breaks a barrier and expands the minds of people in terms of what’s possible and what that looks like, they do our country a great service,” she said last fall while running to be the Democratic presidential candidate. “I certainly do think about it that way.”

“My mother had many expressions and one of them was, she would say, ‘Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you’re not the last,' ” Harris recalled.  “So with breaking those barriers, I’ve also felt a responsibility to lay a path for other people to follow.”