Pamela Taylor, whose racist comments about Michelle Obama propelled a small West Virginia town into an unflattering national spotlight and prompted the mayor to resign, will return to her job as head of a government-funded nonprofit later this month.
Taylor was removed from her position as executive director of the Clay County Development Corp. after she used a derogatory term in a Facebook post about the coming shift from Obama to Melania Trump. “It will be so refreshing to have a classy, beautiful, dignified First Lady in the White House,” she wrote last month, adding: “I’m tired of seeing a Ape in heels.”
After images of the post went viral last month, a Clay County Development Corp. representative told The Washington Post that the nonprofit’s board had removed Taylor from her position. The uproar also prompted Clay Mayor Beverly Whaling, who commented approvingly on Taylor’s post, to resign.
Now, according to a letter from the Clay County Development Corp.’s acting executive director, Taylor is scheduled to return to her old role on Dec. 23, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported. A call to the nonprofit was not returned Tuesday morning.
In response to Taylor’s reinstatement, Robert Roswall, commissioner for the West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services, and Cynthia Beane, acting commissioner for the state’s Bureau of Medical Services, wrote a letter to the nonprofit’s board requesting copies of its anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, as well as an explanation on how its employees have been trained.
Roswall and Beane wrote that “in light of recent events surrounding Ms. Taylor that made national media,” the county must “receive specific assurances that no actions of discrimination/harassment will be conducted or viewed as acceptable practices within the work environment for the Clay County Development Corporation.”
“Furthermore, please provide specific guarantees that neither Ms. Taylor, nor any other employee, has in any way conducted themselves in a discriminatory manner with any recipient, or potential recipient, receiving state services that your organization administers,” said the letter, dated Dec. 7 and addressed to Eunice Thomas, president of the nonprofit’s board.
Clay County Development Corp. uses state and federal funds and works with the county to provide services to elderly and low-income residents. In 2014, the nonprofit ranked second among the county’s top employers, according to Workforce West Virginia.
As such, the letter states, the nonprofit should already have in place policies on affirmative action and anti-discrimination or harassment practices.
After Taylor’s comments went viral, an online petition calling for her and Whaling to be fired began filling with digital signatures, ultimately logging nearly 200,000 of them.
Tuesday, as news of Taylor’s reinstatement spread, the petition was updated.
“While this petition was previously a success,” the update read, “we’ve just learned Pamela will get her job back on Dec. 23. Please share this petition to show you won’t stand for racism from public sector.”
Efforts to reach Taylor on Tuesday were unsuccessful, but she told NBC affiliate WSAZ earlier that she understood why her Facebook post may have been interpreted as racist, but that it was not her intention.
She said she was referring to her own opinion about Obama’s attractiveness, not the color of her skin, according to the news station.
Taylor reportedly told WSAZ that the heated public response to her Facebook post had become a “hate crime against me,” saying that she and her children had received death threats. She said she was planning to file a lawsuit against people who had slandered or libeled her amid the uproar, according to the news station.
In a previous statement to The Post, Whaling, the now former mayor, said her comment “was not intended to be racist at all.”
“I was referring to my day being made for change in the White House! I am truly sorry for any hard feeling this may have caused! Those who know me know that I’m not of any way racist! Again, I would like to apologize for this getting out of hand.”
There is a long and ugly history of comparing black people to apes.
“In the 19th century and well into the 20th, popular media from movies to fiction to political cartoons frequently portrayed blacks as more simian than human,” social psychologists Phillip Atiba Goff and Jennifer L. Eberhardt wrote in the Los Angeles Times.
“It was an association that provided cover for slavery itself, as well as anti-black violence. Lynchings in the United States were often justified by relying on this dehumanizing association, and it surfaced in the Rodney King controversy in Los Angeles: LAPD Officer Laurence Powell had referred to a black couple as ‘something right out of ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ moments before he was involved in the King beating,” they wrote. “Like nooses, the ‘N-word’ and white sheets, referring to blacks as apelike is among the most violent and hurtful legacies of our nation’s difficult racial past.”
Racist ape memes have surfaced repeatedly around the Obamas. Several years ago, the Awl catalogued them in a piece called “Primate in Chief: A Guide to Racist Obama Monkey Photoshops.”
The town of Clay has approximately 467 residents, according to a 2015 census estimate. The estimated population of Clay County is 8,910. Two-tenths of 1 percent of Clay County’s residents are African-American, according to census data. More than three-quarters of the presidential votes cast in the county went to Donald Trump.
The controversy left Clay scrambling to save its reputation.
Local officials condemned Taylor’s comments and the mayor’s response, emphasizing that the incident was not reflective of the community.
Council member Jason Hubbard publicly apologized to the first lady, asking outsiders to not “judge the entire community for one or two individual acts,” according to The Associated Press.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Kristine Guerra, Lindsey Bever