The mayor of Omaha, Nebraska, has apologized for calling a Korean American woman "a Facebook troll" and "a coward" because she displayed her name in Korean on social media.
The woman, Soyeon Sohn, commented on Facebook this week after the city imposed a curfew in response to protests over the death of George Floyd. She used the symbols of the Korean alphabet for her name, prompting the racially insensitive response from Mayor Jean Stothert, a Republican.
“A Facebook troll who hides behind symbols and doesn’t list their name, is a coward,” Stothert said on her Facebook page. She later apologized, saying she did not recognize the Korean alphabet.
Sohn, who was adopted when she was 4-months-old, was raised in Hastings, Nebraska, and says she struggled with her ethnicity and culture while growing up. She told NBC local affiliate WOWT 6 News that she was hurt by the mayor’s comments.
“I was caught off guard more than anything,” Sohn said. “A public official making that statement publicly on her own Facebook page degrading a citizen — that’s just uncalled for and unprofessional.”
The mayor's reply drew outrage and has since been deleted from her Facebook page. Many commenters noted the mayor’s ignorance of unknowingly insulting someone for their name.
When the mayor was initially asked if she would apologize on Tuesday, she said no, according to WOWT 6 News. However, she later said she didn't realize the characters were Sohn’s name and formally apologized to Sohn at the end of a news conference Wednesday afternoon about the end of the city’s curfew.
“On Facebook the other day, I made a comment that I shouldn’t have made. It was inappropriate, and I will apologize,” Stothert said.
She also explained her confusion: “I referred to her not using her name because I saw these symbols or letters, but they were Korean.”
Stothert did not immediately return a request for comment from NBC.
The Korean Association of Nebraska told NBC Asian America that an hour before the news conference, Stothert wrote a letter admitting her mistake and taking responsibility for her comments.
“I apologize to Ms. Sohn and all who were offended,” Stothert said in the letter. “It was not my intent to question her background or heritage.”
David Kang, president of the organization, said that he had accepted Stothert’s apology and that he will meet with her and Sohn at the mayor’s office on Friday morning.