A Common Retort After Insensitive Remarks by Elected Leaders: Resign

A Common Retort After Insensitive Remarks by Elected Leaders: Resign

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On a Sunday afternoon in early August, Barry Presgraves, the mayor of a small historic Virginia town, posted a political meme on his Facebook page. To him, it was a lighthearted political dig at the upcoming presidential election: “Joe Biden has just announced Aunt Jemima as his VP pick.”

But some citizens of Luray, Va., saw something else: racism served in a 130-year syrup brand.

The three-term mayor deleted the post, but the damage was done. Many called for him to step down, including Leah Pence, a town council member.

“In our community, there is a significant amount of subliminal racism, misogyny and homophobia,” said Ms. Pence, who grew up in Luray. “This was a perfect outward example of that. Leaders are supposed to set the tone for the community.”

Initially, Mr. Presgraves, 77, said he thought the post was humorous; then he apologized to people of color and women for any hurt feelings. But leaving the office was out of the question: “Hell no — I’m not resigning,” he told a local news organization. The Town Council eventually voted to public censure him for his “harmful words.”

In the village of Endicott, N.Y., both the mayor and deputy mayor faced calls to resign for sharing and liking a “White Lives Matter” post on their personal Facebook pages.

Linda Jackson, the mayor, and Cheryl Chapman, the deputy mayor, did not resign, and they described themselves in a statement as women “from two different political parties who made mistakes. Together, we take blame for those mistakes.” They admitted to “ignorance of the Black Lives Matter movement” and have since attended antiracism workshops.

For many, the twin forces of the coronavirus pandemic, which has disproportionately affected Black communities, and the killing of Mr. Floyd have exposed gaping disparities and ushered in a new and deeper understanding of the realities of Black life.

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