Candidate for State Superintendent of Schools apologizes for tweet about racial slur

Deborah Kerr

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A white candidate to be Wisconsin’s top education official deleted her Twitter account and apologized after posting a message that she had been called a racial slur for Black people when she was 16 because “my lips were bigger than most and that was the reference given to me.”

Deborah Kerr posted the message at 5:40 p.m. on Tuesday, the same day as Wisconsin’s primary for state superintendent of schools. Kerr was the second-highest vote getter in the primary and advanced to the April general election.

The tweet from Kerr’s account came in response to a question posed by the host of a podcast called Race Through Education, Madison Payton, who is also coordinator of curriculum and instruction at a New York City high school. Payton asked, “When was the first time someone called you the n-word? I was 18.”

Kerr responded: “I was 16 in high school and white — my lips were bigger than most and that was the reference given to me.”

Kerr said Wednesday in a statement, “I posted a tweet in response to a post that dealt with the issue of racism. 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.”

Payton’s original tweet was still publicly available Wednesday, but Kerr’s response along with her Twitter account was gone. Screenshots of her message were circulating widely.

“I do not shy away from conversations about race,” Kerr said. “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.”

Kerr provided a copy of an open letter she issued in 2019 after players on the Brown Deer High School football team were called a racial slur by opponents. In the letter, Kerr called out racism and urged everyone to address it and take responsibility for the marginalization of Black people.

“Anyone making any type of derogatory remarks and/or racial slurs to any human being is immoral,” she wrote then. “We all need to be part of the solution and willing to engage in further actions that eliminate these disparities.”

Jill Underly, the superintendent of Pecatonica Area Schools, was the top vote-getter and will face Kerr on April 6. Her campaign spokesman had no immediate comment.