North Carolina Republican apologises for ‘thinly-veiled racial’ attack

‘Would you have not been able to achieve these if you were not an athlete or a minority?’

John Bowden
Washington DC
Thursday 18 May 2023 02:35 BST
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Jeff McNeely and Abraham Jones
Jeff McNeely and Abraham Jones (North Carolina General Assembly)

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Louise Thomas

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A Republican lawmaker in the North Carolina statehouse has apologised after questioning whether one of his Black Democratic colleagues in the legislature was only admitted to Harvard due to his race.

It was an appalling moment that occurred during official proceedings and led to the white Republican who made the remarks, Jeff McNeely, walking them back only a few hours later.

The remarks in question were directed at state Rep Abraham Jones, a Democrat who has represented Wake County, North Carolina, since 2021. Mr Jones is a graduate of both Harvard’s undergraduate program as well as the university’s law school.

"Would you have not been able to achieve these if you were not an athlete or a minority?" Mr McNeely asked Mr Jones on Wednesday.

Mr Jones responded by noting his student rank at Harvard, the second-highest out of five, before commenting calmly in response: “I earned my place, and I did well.”

Mr McNeely was reportedly suspended from speaking further during the proceedings at hand and later issued an apology.

“I respect Representative Jones. I think he’s a great legislator. I think he’s a great man. What I tried to ask or say did not come out right. That happens a lot, and I apologize,” said Mr McNeely, according to statehouse reporter Bryan Anderson.

North Carolina’s legislature is home to a supermajority of Republican lawmakers, thanks to a recent surprise defection of a Democratic lawmaker who blamed the mistreatment supposedly coming from her colleagues for her shift in ideology.

But the state also is presided over by a Democratic governor and is often a purple state in presidential elections.

Mr McNeely’s statements were condemned by Democrats in the state legislature, including Mr Jones himself who described the “thinly-veiled racial aspect” of the encounter in his statement.

He added separately: “I worked hard to get where I am today. It is disappointing that another member of our chamber would imply that I have been successful simply because of the color of my skin, or because I am an athlete. I appreciate the member apologizing for his remarks.”

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