Ryan Winkler Deletes 'Uncle Thomas' Tweet, Issues Apology To Justice Clarence Thomas After Voting Rights Act Decision

on June 26 2013 8:41 AM

A Minnesota state representative is in hot water after using a racist phrase to describe Justice Clarence Thomas after Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act.

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision to annul a crucial part of the Voting Rights Act, Democratic Rep. Ryan Winkler took to Twitter to voice his frustration. "VRA majority is four accomplices to race discrimination and one Uncle Thomas," Winkler tweeted, referring to Thomas.

Thomas was one of five Supreme Court justices to vote for the annulment of a key part of the Voting Rights Act, namely a requirement that forced 15 states with a history of racial discrimination to check with Washington before making changes to the manner in which they hold elections. The measure passed by a 5-4 vote.

In the tweet, Winkler referred to Thomas as “Uncle Thomas,” a play on the racist phrase “Uncle Tom.” Originally coined by Harriet Beecher Stowe in her 1852 novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” the derogatory term refers to an African-American person who has allegedly behaved in a manner that oppresses fellow African-Americans.

"I didn't think it was offensive to suggest that Justice Thomas should be even more concerned about racial discrimination than colleagues," Winkler wrote in defense of his tweet. "But if such a suggestion is offensive, I apologize."

Later, Winkler admitted to deleting his “Uncle Tom” tweet, claiming that he hadn’t meant to offend Thomas while attempting to qualify his use of the racist phrase. "Deleted tweet causing offense regarding Justice Thomas. I apologize for it, but believe VRA decision does abet racism."

In an interview with the Minnesota Star-Tribune, Winkler further attempted to explain his comments while offering a more formal apology. "I intended to point out the fact that Justice Thomas had turned his back on African-American civil rights. I did not intend it as a racially derogatory term, and I probably reacted too hastily in using a word that is very loaded," Winkler said.

Winkler also stated that he believed that the phrase “Uncle Tom” referred to someone who was a turncoat, regardless of racial implications. “I guess my judgment is way off,” he added.

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