After Trump’s election as president, Pamela Ramsey Taylor, who was director of Clay County Development Corp. in Clay, a tiny town outside Charleston, reportedly posted about the move from Michelle Obama to Melania Trump on Facebook, saying: “It will be so refreshing to have a classy, beautiful, dignified First Lady back in the White House. I’m tired of seeing a Ape in heels,” according to NBC affiliate WSAZ.
The news station reported that the town’s mayor, Beverly Whaling, then replied, “Just made my day Pam.”
The comments were later deleted, but images of the post have been shared widely on social media. As of Monday afternoon, an online petition calling for the women’s terminations had garnered more than 14,000 signatures.
Both of their Facebook pages have been removed, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
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 Trump.
The two women have apologized for their remarks.
“My comment was not intended to be racist at all,” Whaling said in a statement to The Washington Post. “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! ("I have a black friend!")
“Again, I would like to apologize for this getting out of hand!” (lmao)
Taylor could not be reached for comment, but WSAZ reported that she had issued an apology on Facebook.
However, Taylor told the news station that the public response had become a “hate crime against me,” explaining that she and her children had received death threats. She said she is planning to file a lawsuit against people who have slandered or libeled her, according to the news station.
A representative of Clay County Development Corp., a nonprofit funded with state and federal money, said the board “removed” Taylor from her position as director and appointed Leslie McGlothlin to take her place. McGlothlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The station reported that Taylor said she understood why her post may have been interpreted as racist, but that was not her intention. She said she was referring to her own opinion about the first lady’s attractiveness, not about the color of her skin, according to the news station.
There is a long and ugly history of comparing black people to primates.
“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.
“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 primate 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, outside of Charleston, has approximately 467 residents, according to a 2015 census estimate. The estimated population of Clay County is 8,910.
Clay Town Councilman Jason Hubbard told the Charleston Gazette-Mail that the town will address the incident at a council meeting Tuesday night.
How dare she insult the queen :(