WASHINGTON – A racist Facebook post about Michelle Obama has caused a major controversy involving a town mayor in the US state of West Virginia.
Pamela Ramsey Taylor, who runs a local non-profit group in Clay County, referred to the first lady as an “ape”.
“It will be refreshing to have a classy, beautiful, dignified first lady in the White House. I’m tired of seeing a Ape in heels,” she said.
Local mayor Beverly Whaling responded with “just made my day Pam”.
Whaling is mayor of the town of Clay, which has a population of just 491.
It has no African American residents, according to the 2010 census. In Clay County as a whole, more than 98 per cent of its 9,000 residents are white.
Despite the small population in the region, the controversial Facebook post spread across United States and international media outlets.
A petition calling for both women to be sacked has collected more than 85,000 signatures.
The Washington Post and New York Daily News reported that Taylor was removed from her position on Monday, while Clay’s town council planned to discuss the issue at a previously scheduled meeting Tuesday evening.
Taylor told local news outlet WSAZ, which first carried the story, that she acknowledged her Facebook post could be “interpreted as racist, but in no way was intended to be”, and that she was expressing a personal opinion on attractiveness, not the colour of a person’s skin.
She told the news station she was considering legal action for slander against unnamed individuals. The Clay County Development group, of which Taylor is the director, is partly funded through state and federal grants, and the group provides services to elderly and low-income residents.
Meanwhile, Whaling issued a written apology to news media outlets saying that her comment wasn’t intended to be racist.
“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 in any way racist!”
Owens Brown, director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People West Virginia chapter, said it was “unfortunate that people still have these racist undertones”.
“Unfortunately, this is a reality that we are dealing with in America today. There’s no place for these types of attitudes in our state.”
West Virginia Democratic Party Chairwoman Belinda Biafore issued an apology to Michelle Obama “on behalf of my fellow Mountaineers”, referring to a nickname for inhabitants of the state.
“West Virginia truly is better than this. These radical, hateful, and racist ideals are exactly what we at the West Virginia Democratic Party will continue to fight against,” she said in a statement.
The state voted for the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, in the presidential election, with 68.7 per cent of the vote.