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Councilor says comments about Harris not racist

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Jeanine Best represents Ward 3 on the Roswell City Council. (Submitted Photo)

Comments by a Roswell city councilor posted on Facebook have been called racist by a civil rights organization, but the councilor says her comments have been taken out of context and misunderstood.

Screenshots of comments City Councilor Jeanine Best made on the social media platform were sent to the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and posted to that group’s Facebook page with the organization commenting, “While she has a First Amendment right to spew racist garbage on the internet, we herby exercise our 1A right to proclaim it racist garbage.”

In the screenshots, Best questioned how Vice President-elect Kamala Harris can claim black heritage. Harris’ late mother was born in India and her father was born in Jamaica.

“I think I just want to know how an Indian mom and a Jamaican man can make a Afro-American (black) person. That is like telling me you painted a Herford (sic) cow black and she will now have black Angus babies,” she wrote in one of the comments.

In a further comment, she said “You don’t get the comment about the cows do you… It is genetics. You can’t take a Indian mom Jamaica dad (sic) and make a black child. That is a fact. She represents herself wrong.”

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Best said the comments were made on a post on a Facebook friend’s page using her personal account. She said the screenshots posted by the ACLU do not show the entire context of the conversation.

She denied the comments were racist.

“I wasn’t speaking racially. I was saying she misrepresented herself to the United States people for the 2020 election. That’s what it was,” she said.

Best said she has received calls and messages about the comments since the ACLU posted them Friday and an Albuquerque TV station broadcast a story Monday night. She said she has received threats of physical harm and even death threats, but has also received messages of support. She said she has not contacted authorities to investigate the threats.

“People are going to vent. They’re going to not like what I say and other people are going to like what I say. It’s out there. It is what it is,” she said.

Best said while she has no regrets about the comments, she might in the future avoid using agricultural analogies.

“I admitted on TV I forget that people don’t understand livestock. Maybe I need to say a brown-eyed man goes with a blue-eyed woman and the kids’ eyes are going to be brown because his genetics are stronger than her blue eyes. Maybe I need to put it that way. I don’t think genetics is taught in our schools any more so how do you explain that?” Best said.

She said she believed people are focusing on the cattle analogy because the ACLU specifically drew attention to that part in an interview and are ignoring the context of what she was trying to call attention to, how Harris represented herself to the public.

Micah McCoy, senior communications strategist for ACLU New Mexico, said the use of the livestock analogy is only part of why the organization called the comments racist.

“Two things stuck out. One, where she was taking it upon herself to erase part of the identity of the vice president-elect. There’s a long history in the United States of white people deciding who’s black and who’s not and what that means for them, how they can navigate society because of that,” he said.

He said that Best not recognizing the livestock analogy as racist is “deeply ignorant.”

“For someone to be a grown person in the year 2020 and not understand that making comparisons of people with African heritage to livestock, using that even in the same breath, is deeply hurtful due to the fact many people of African heritage in this country, their ancestors were owned and treated as livestock, bred as livestock and in some cases treated worse than the livestock. For that not to be a connection she made is at best deeply ignorant and a problem in and of itself or extremely racist or both,” he said.

McCoy said the screenshots of the comments were sent to the organization’s legal director by an acquaintance, but he did know who took the screenshots. The ACLU decided to post them because of Best’s position in the community as an elected official.

“We think it’s important to highlight when people in positions of power say things that could lead their constituents to believe they won’t be represented equally,” he said.

Best said she believes that she does fairly represent the constituents of her ward and all Roswell residents as a councilor.

“I’m the furthest thing from racist,” she said. “Just use your common sense and think for the best of either the city of Roswell or your country and don’t be brainwashed.”

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.