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The West Virginia nonprofit official who called Michelle Obama an “ape in heels” has been fired

No, really this time.

Michelle Obama at a White House event, ‘An Obama Celebration,” on October 21, 2016.
Bennett Raglin/BET/Getty Images for BET

A woman who was initially suspended from and then reinstated to her job after making a racist Facebook post about Michelle Obama in November was officially fired from her position as the director for a West Virginia nonprofit, Reuters reported Tuesday.

Pamela Ramsey Taylor, the now-former director of the Clay County Development Corp., sparked national outrage when she referred to the first lady as an “ape in heels.” In addition to her firing, West Virginia state officials say her former employer — which, with government funding, provides services to elderly and low-income residents — will now be managed by the state, according to Reuters.

The news comes after a series of developments that made it unclear what consequences Taylor would face for the Facebook post. November headlines claimed she “lost her job,” with the organization. But in December, the nonprofit clarified that she’d in fact just been suspended, and planned to be back at work before Christmas.

It was evident from the outset that there were practical concerns about having someone so comfortable making blatant racial attacks on the payroll of an organization tasked with serving the state’s elderly and disabled residents (and yes, comparing a black person to an ape is a classic racist attack). In light of Taylor’s comments, the commissioner of the West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services warned in November that any discrimination against customers could put the commission’s state funding at risk, according to the Gazette-Mail.

Her firing this week appears to be related to the concerns about whether she could carry out her duties in a fair manner.

"Following the state's request for specific assurances that the CCDC is following anti-discrimination policies, we have been assured that Pamela Taylor has been removed from her position as CCDC director," West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's office said in a Tuesday statement. In addition, he announced that the Appalachian Area Agency on Aging, a private nonprofit, will manage the CCDC for six months.

Racist, sexist attacks on Michelle Obama: a staple of criticism from political opponents

Unfortunately, this genre of vile attacks on the first lady was not unusual in the least. Taylor’s words, as disgusting as they were, were predictable. After all, Obama has been the victim of racist and sexist insults since her husband’s first campaign.

Just last week, Carl Paladino, the New York co-chair of President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign, responding to a survey by a Buffalo newspaper about what he wanted to see “go away in 2017,” replied about the first lady, “I’d like her to return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.” Paladino, who also said he hoped President Obama would die of mad cow disease, has since issued a quasi-apology — actually, more of a defense — saying, “I could not have made a worse choice in the words I used to express my feelings,” claiming that he only meant to share the sentiments with friends, and declaring, predictably, “I certainly am not a racist.”

The first lady alluded to this pattern of attacks against her during an October campaign appearance for Hillary Clinton in Manchester, New Hampshire, when she reflected on the sexual assault and misconduct allegations against Donald Trump and his degrading commentary about women.

“I have to tell you that I listened to all this. And I feel it so personally,” she said, adding, “It has shaken me to my core," she said.

That’s no wonder. She’s been the victim of sexist insults — more often than not intertwined with racist themes — since her husband’s first bid for the White House. In her emotional commentary in that speech about the “vulgar words” and “shameful comments” that equate women’s value with their physical appearances, she could just as easily be referring to things that have been said about her, often with a dose of racism mixed in to increase the insults. Just a few examples:

  • In 2010, discussing the first lady’s promotion of breastfeeding, radio host Rush Limbaugh said he wasn't surprised to see her "encouraging people to get on that teat."
  • In 2012, a California comedian joked that "Playboy is offering Ann Romney $250,000 to pose in the magazine, and the White House is upset about it because National Geographic only offered Michelle Obama $50 to pose for them."
  • In 2013, a Richmond, Virginia, school board member’s email captioned a photo of traditionally dressed African women with bare breasts “Michelle Obama’s high school reunion.”
  • In July 2015, Patrick Rushing, the mayor of Airway Heights, Washington, referred to her as “monkey man” and “gorilla face” in a Facebook post.
  • Just in July, a loan officer lost her job after calling the first lady an “ugly black bitch” on Twitter.

She didn’t speak out in response to any of these attacks, but it was hard not read her speech as partly catharsis about the pain she’s endured and what it says about how women — and black women in particular — are demeaned in this country. Whether or not the perpetrators face professional consequences like Taylor has or try to rationalize their words like Paladino, that’s a theme that will evidently continue through the Obamas’ last day in the White House and beyond.

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