Minnesota State Rep. Ryan Winkler found himself backpedaling Tuesday after criticism poured in around the country for calling U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas an "Uncle Tom."
Thomas is the only black member of the court. The term has been used as an insult to describe African-Americans deemed too subservient to white authority figures for at least a century, according to Minneapolis' Star-Tribune.
Winkler is white.
The phrase originated from the title character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 abolitionist novel "Uncle Tom’s Cabin."
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Winkler singled out Thomas for criticism after the court's 5-4 decision to void a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the Star-Tribune reported. Winkler tweeted after the ruling: "VRA majority is four accomplices to race discrimination and one Uncle Thomas."
When complaints about the tweet spiked, Winkler took to Twitter again, claiming he did not realize the term was offensive in what appeared to be a back-handed apology.
"I didn’t think it was offensive to suggest that Justice Thomas should be even more concerned about racial discrimination than colleagues." The Star-Tribune stated that Winkler tweeted at one point. "But if such a suggestion is offensive, I apologize."
The Star-Tribune said Winkler tweeter later: "Deleted tweet causing offense regarding Justice Thomas. I apologize for it, but believe VRA decision does abet racism."
African-American Republican Party official Chris Fields bristled at Winkler's Twitter comments, considering the remarks damning to politics in general.
"As the secretary of the Minnesota Republican Party, as a black man, as a Minnesotan [and] as a concerned citizen who wants to see good professional discourse in Minnesota politics. … It’s offensive, it’s highly charged and it has no place in Minnesota politics,” Fields told the Star-Tribune.
Minnesota Deputy Senate Majority Leader Jeff Hayden, who is African-American, called Winkler's remarks "unfortunate."
"I talked to Ryan today and told him as much," Hayden told the Star-Tribune. "I thought it was a poor choice of words and frankly, as leaders and public officials we have to be very careful about what we say."
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Former U.S. Rep. Allen West took to Facebook to demand that Winkler resign his Minnesota seat
"If he did not understand the term 'Uncle Tom' is a racist slur he is a lying, ignorant liberal progressive," West, an African-American who served one term in the U.S. House from Florida, but remains popular nationally among conservatives. "This horrific racial epithet is regularly used by white liberals and their complicit black allies to attack Black conservatives."
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