MILWAUKEE — A radio talk show host drew criticism Thursday after calling Condoleezza Rice an “Aunt Jemima” and saying she isn’t competent to be secretary of state.
John Sylvester, the program director and morning personality on WTDY-AM in Madison, said in a phone interview Thursday that he used the term on Wednesday’s show to describe Rice and other blacks as having only a subservient role in the Bush administration.
Rice has served as President Bush’s national security adviser and was named this week to replace the departing Colin Powell as secretary of state.
Sylvester, who is white, also referred to Powell as an “Uncle Tom” — a contemptuous term for a black whose behavior toward whites is regarded as fawning or servile.
He said Thursday night that he was referring to remarks by singer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte that the price of admittance for blacks to the Bush White House was subservience.
As for Rice, “they’re using her for an illusion of inclusion,” he said, adding that he feels her history as national security adviser showed a lack of competence.
Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz called the remarks “racially insensitive,” while Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., said in a statement he joined “all Wisconsinites in rejecting” the statements.
Linda Hoskins of the NAACP’s Madison branch said she could not comment on Sylvester’s remarks until she had heard them in their entirety.
The station’s corporate office received about 100 calls about his comments, Sylvester said.
He added that he has a long history of commitment to civil rights and has supported Madison’s black community.
He said he was planning a giveaway on Friday’s show of Aunt Jemima pancake mix and syrup. “I will apologize to Aunt Jemima,” he said.
The incident came after a radio host in Milwaukee had his talk show taken off the air all of last week after he used the word “wetback” to refer to undocumented Mexican immigrants, sparking protests from Hispanics.
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