A Republican lawmaker in the North Carolina statehouse has apologized after questioning whether one of his Black Democratic colleagues in the legislature was only admitted to Harvard because of his race.
It was a terrible moment that happened during official proceedings and led to the white Republican who made the comments, Jeff McNeely, walking them back just a few hours later.
The comments in question were directed at state Rep Abraham Jones, a Democrat representing Wake County, North Carolina, since 2021. Mr Jones is a graduate of the undergraduate program at Harvard as well as the university’s law school.
“Can’t you make it if you’re not an athlete or a minority?” Mr McNeely asked Mr Jones on Wednesday.
Mr Jones responded by noting his Harvard class rank, the second highest of five, before calmly commenting in response: “I got my place, and I did well.”
Mr McNeely was reportedly suspended from speaking further during the proceedings and later issued an apology.
“I respect Representative Jones. I think he’s a great legislator. I think he’s a great person. What I tried to ask or say didn’t come out right. That happens a lot, and I apologize, ”said Mr McNeely, according to statehouse reporter Bryan Anderson.
The North Carolina legislature is home to a supermajority of Republican lawmakers, thanks to a recent surprise defection by a Democratic lawmaker who blamed mistreatment from his colleagues on his ideological shift.
But the state is also governed by a Democratic governor and is often a purple state in presidential elections.
Mr McNeely’s remarks 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’ve worked hard to get where I am today. It’s sad that another member of our chamber would imply that I’m successful just because of the color of my skin, or because I’m an athlete. I thank the member apologizing for what he said.”