Tanner Sends Letter To Berry Apologizing For Racist Email

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January 15, 2009 8:31 a.m.

So you’ll remember that on Tuesday, a DOJ report found that John Tanner, the former chief of the department’s voting rights section, had told a colleague over email in 2004 that he liked his coffee “Mary Frances Berry style — black and bitter.” Berry, an African-American, was at the time the chair of the US Commission on Civil Rights.

Now Tanner is trying to make amends. Moments ago he forwarded to TPMmuckraker a letter of apology he sent to Berry dated January 13.

Tanner — who has a history of questionable racial remarks and appears still to be working on voting issues on DOJ’s payroll — explains that he only used the phrase because he had recently heard an African-American customer at a coffee shop order coffee “black and sweet — like me.”

Still, he says, it was “a very poor choice of words,” “flippant” and “ill-considered.”

Then — in kind of a stretch — he further explains: “The term bitter, of course, meant no sugar in the coffee, and was not meant as a reflection on you or your attitude towards a challenging situation.”

And Tanner adds: “I am well aware of your many significant contributions to our country’s racial equality and justice.”

See the full letter here.

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