Shortly before polls closed in the primary election for state superintendent, candidate Deborah Kerr was responding to a prompt on Twitter about experiences with the N-word. The series of tweets prompted controversy and led her to deactivate her account.
Kerr is one of two candidates who advanced to the general election in April. She is widely seen as the more conservative candidate of the two remaining candidates and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin has endorsed her opponent, Jill Underly.
The prompt she responded to asked, “when was the first time someone called you the n-word?” Kerr, who is white, replied with a story from high school.
“I was 16 in high school and white – my lips were bigger than most and that was the reference given to me,” she wrote.
After deleting her account, Kerr apologized in a statement.
“Yesterday I posted a tweet in response to a post that dealt with the issue of racism,” she said in the statement. “While not intending the post to be interpreted as racist, the post was itself insensitive and so I shut my account down and removed the comment.”
“I do not shy away from conversations about race,” she added. “In fact, I am very vocal about racism as it exists in its many forms and I intentionally point to it when I see it. I apologize for having posted something that was intended to be a part of the discussion of racism. I will continue to serve as a champion against racism in our schools and in our communities.”
The backlash from progressive groups and political figures was swift. Some Black Twitter users also said they were blocked by Kerr after tweeting at her about the incident, according to a report in Madison365.
“In a time of reckoning about race and sensitivity, a comment such as this one is incredibly damaging to many,” said Nada Elmikashfi, a staff person for state Rep. Francesca Hong (D-Madison). “A white candidate for state superintendent should understand the nuances of conversation around the n-word and where their voice adds or takes away. This was a moment where it took away and for the sake of the children of Wisconsin, I hope this isn’t a callout but rather a call in to do better.”
Racial injustice and racism in schools has been a major issue in the race to be the next head of the Department of Public Instruction. As former superintendent of the Brown Deer School District, Kerr has emphasized she worked in a district that is 80% students of color.
The general election between Kerr and Pecatonica Area School District superintendent Jill Underly, is set for April 6.