Loudoun County Treasurer H. Roger Zurn sparked outrage on Wednesday evening with a joke on Facebook about plans to change the name of the Aunt Jemima brand of breakfast foods, posting “Wondering if Aunt Jemima will change to Uncle Tom’s?” before deleting the post minutes later.
The post immediately drew ire on social media, which prompted apologies from Zurn.
“it was a sincere mistake, and I apologize,” he said.
“Within five minutes, I realized I made a mistake,” Zurn said. “I took it down. It was a stupid joke.”
The Quaker Oats Company, which owns the Aunt Jemima brand, and which is itself owned by PepsiCo, announced Wednesday it would change the name and imagery of the brand. The Aunt Jemima imagery and brand is based on a racist “mammy” stereotype of black women dating back to at least the 1800s. “Uncle Tom” is an epithet originating from title character of the 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, an enslaved person, and refers to a black person who is exceedingly subservient, particularly because of his or her race.
Supervisor Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling), one of Loudoun’s three black county supervisors, sent Loudoun Now a statement in which he wrote, “I am deeply offended and troubled by the racism displayed by Roger Zurn on his Facebook page today” and called on others to let their feelings be known.
“We as a community must call out and denounce such harmful and insensitive remarks and actions,” Saines wrote. “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.”
Saines also pointed to past instances in which Zurn has made off-color jokes on social media, deleting them afterward. In one such case, Zurn posted on March 27 “China has released the names of the first two people to contract Corona virus,” with “Sum Ting Wong” and “Ho Lee Fuk.”
“We should not be expecting these types of comments from an elected official,” Saines said in a phone interview. “He should know where those terms, Uncle Tom and Aunt Jemima, the origins and the meaning behind this type of language, 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 some history lesson.”
He suggested Zurn contact the NAACP, and other white people to reach out.
“I encourage my white neighbors to reach out and ask questions, go to some NAACP meetings, email them if you need a better understanding on why these terms are offensive,” Saines said. “Talk to your neighbors, have a better understanding, because enough is enough.”