‘Offensive, inappropriate’ — Loudoun Co. treasurer addresses ‘Aunt Jemima’ Facebook post

For more than a week, Loudoun County, Virginia, Treasurer Roger Zurn is calling a recent Facebook post mocking the decision by Quaker Oats to retire its Aunt Jemima pancake brand offensive and inappropriate, but says he won’t quit his post.

“I will not be resigning my position as treasurer, as some have suggested,” Zurn said at a news conference Thursday at the county government center. “Leaders don’t run from their mistakes; they grow from them.”

Zurn said his remarks were “offensive, inappropriate and caused offense, especially to the African-American community,” adding that “When you make a mistake you need to come clean. I made a joke in poor taste. There is no excuse. There is no explanation.”

On June 17, Zurn posted on his personal Facebook page: “Wondering if Aunt Jemima will change to Uncle Tom’s?”

About two minutes after he made the post, Zurn said Thursday, “I realized what the meaning of ‘Uncle Tom’ would reflect, and I took it down.”

“We need people like me to listen, and to apologize,” Zurn said.

The day after the Aunt Jemima post, Zurn issued an apology on Facebook:

As most are aware, I did a highly inappropriate post yesterday. It was a feeble attempt at humor and realized it within five minutes and took it down. I cannot turn back the clock so I will own it and apologize for my insensitivity at a time when I can and should do better. I have learned and will be a better person for this unfortunate experience. I sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended. You have a right to be upset with me. I am disappointed in myself. Sincerely, Roger Zurn

Zurn gave some of his background, saying he grew up in Baltimore “in diverse communities of color, and I pride myself that I can walk into any room, any church, any social gathering, and make friends, build alliances and, most importantly, have meaningful fellowship.”

He said his mother was a single parent who worked cleaning houses, and his father was an alcoholic who left the family and never returned. He said he went to schools that were 80% to 90% African-American. “It grieves me deeply to think I’ve caused pain to a community I know so very well.”

The treasurer added that he didn’t understand “the devastating impact” of words on social media, but does now.

Calls for resignation

One member of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, Democrat Juli Briskman, and the local NAACP have called for Zurn — a Republican, who was first elected into office in 1996 — to resign.

Two other supervisors — Sylvia Glass and Koran Saines, who are Black — have said this is not the first time Zurn, who is white, has posted racially insensitive comments on social media and said he was only joking.

Zurn acknowledged that, saying, “I know there have been other posts too,” adding, “I will never post jokes in the future that will have racial overtones.”

Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall — a Democrat who is the first woman of color in Virginia’s history to be an elected chair of a county Board — has not commented publicly about Zurn’s post, or calls for his resignation.

Since his apology on Facebook, the most recent post on the social media page includes a statement from Loudoun County Republican Committee Chairman Sharon Sadler.

Loudoun County Treasurer Roger Zurn cares for every resident of the county he serves. I know he is not a racist. Roger has an unassailable record of serving people of all races in an equitable manner. It is unfortunate that those on the left simply choose to attack Republicans as a matter of course. They have no regard for Roger as a person who has shown no ill will towards anyone, of any political stripe, in the work he does as Treasurer. Nevermind the hypocrisy coming from Democrats: they still stand alongside a Governor who was comfortable with pictures of people (including himself) in blackface and a klan hood on his medical school yearbook page. The fact is that county Democrats are not actually “outraged.” They just want to score points in a fraught political climate. They want more division, not unity. I support Roger Zurn and thank him for his decades of service to Loudoun County.

Asked about the combative nature of that post, Zurn said, “I can only do what I do. … I have no control over what the party does.”

He said he would discourage both parties from using the incident in fundraising appeals.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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