VERONA — An Augusta County supervisor complaining about news coverage referred to an African-American reporter as “boy,” a usage many people consider racially charged.
At a staff briefing Monday, Augusta Supervisor Tracy Pyles, who is white, told News Leader government reporter Calvin Trice, “You got it wrong, boy — uh, son.”
Four other supervisors at the meeting either said they didn’t hear Pyles or wouldn’t comment. However, Pyles admitted to referring to Trice as “boy” and called it an “error.”
“That has bothered me,” said Pyles, who has served on the board since 1996. “It certainly came out, and then I went to ‘son.’ ”
Trice, 43, worked for the Richmond Times-Dispatch from 1999 to 2008.
The Rev. Mildred Middlebrooks, a Waynesboro NAACP president for 27 years, said the slur by Pyles was an example of how racism is still alive.
“The term ‘boy’ has been in usage for such a long time,” she said. “There are some things that die, and there are some things that seem to be like the phoenix bird that have a rebirth whenever the person using the term … has a sense of big-headedness, power.”
Middlebrooks said that for a black man to be called “boy” in 2015 begs the question of how far we’ve come in racial relationships. “Especially if an elected official is harboring these kinds of thoughts,” she said.
Pyles said he addressed the board and Trice about an article about a closed meeting he said “defamed him” and that he was reacting to being called improper and having his picture on the front page.
“Made it seem as if I’m unethical, and I’m trying to tell them that they shouldn’t have done that,” Pyles said of his reaction. “So, it came out and it was immediately followed by ‘son.’ ”
Pyles said he talks to everyone like his sons, including colleagues and reporters.
“It’s the way I talk to my sons here and say that,” Pyles said. “That was, as soon as it left my mouth, I knew it was going to be misinterpreted.”
Pyles said that even as an elected official he has no problem talking to people the same he way as he would his children.
“I have boys. ‘Listen boy, you can’t do that,’ ” Pyles said. “That’s the way I talk to them. The fact that I think of Calvin no differently than I do anybody else, it came out, but I know the world looks at things differently.”
Trice, who has covered the board for four years, was expecting a reaction from Pyles, but it was “the first time it got uncomfortably personal.”
Trice said that “boy” is a racially charged word and that he was offended by the use of it by Pyles.
“The context was obviously angry and that’s a term that when it’s been used against me was a racial slur, a put down,” he said.
Pyles called Trice the next day and apologized.