Fairfax Co. Library Board trustee apologizes for race remarks; calls for resignation continue

Calls continue for the resignation of a member of Virginia’s Fairfax County Library Board of Trustees following an apology over remarks that many consider racist.

Philip Rosenthal, the trustee who represents the Springfield District, apologized for comments he made about books currently being featured on the library’s website on topics that include systematic racism, Black history, social justice and civil rights.

At the board’s July 29 meeting, Rosenthal started his remarks comments by stating he was not a racist.

However, he has been condemned by 27 civic groups across Fairfax County in an open letter, by fellow board members, and the public.

Rosenthal, talking about the library’s website, said, “Black lives documentary, why don’t we have some white lives documentaries? ”

He also questioned the books on systematic racism being featured. “We have this new word, ‘systemic racism.’ I’m not sure anybody knows what it means.”

Rosenthal also commented on books celebrating the LGBTQ community. “We have ‘rainbow reads’ for teens, why don’t we have the flip side of the ‘rainbow reads’ for teens?”

And Rosenthal criticized the promotion of books written by Muslims.

But Rosenthal took a more conciliatory tone during Wednesday night’s board’s meeting, held on Zoom.

“I used very inappropriate words, and I apologize to you, because it was not my intention,” he said.

Rosenthal said what he was trying to communicate was that he wanted the library “to balance when we put things on our website.”

Ten Fairfax County residents spoke at the meeting and most, but not all, urged the library board to continue to promote and offer books from minority voices.

An 11-year-old named Whitney said, “I think that providing information and highlighting certain voices shows that they matter.”

Oscar Persky, a high school student, said, “Oppressed voices are heard less and oppressed people are given less opportunities, so I believe for them to be heard they need to be enhanced.”

Darren Ewing, a former trustee who represented the Dranesville District, resigned late last month after criticism that his comments seemed to support Rosenthal’s views.

In an email quoted by several community publications, such as the Tysons Reporter and Reston Now, Ewing reportedly wrote, “My remarks were not to lend support to Mr. Rosenthal’s comments, but to examine the idea of more neutrality in the presentation of the library’s collection. I have decided to tender my resignation effective immediately. Perhaps my vacancy will help the board in developing a more diverse representation to further the library’s mission.”

Jane Miscavage, the at-large trustee on the library board, suggested Rosenthal’s comments have damaged the library board’s credibility and his own.

The Fairfax County Library Board of Trustees is responsible for library policies and making budget recommendations to the county’s Board of Supervisors. It has no authority to remove fellow board members who are appointed by county supervisors.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeffrey McKay released a letter that said, “It is my hope that Mr. Rosenthal resigns.”

But Rosenthal gave no indication he was thinking about stepping down.

Watch Philip Rosenthal deliver his remarks from the July 29 meeting of the Fairfax County Library Board of Trustees below.

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