Topeka State Rep. Bill Otto, R-LeRoy, on Saturday said that he was sorry his YouTube video has offended some people, but he told members of the NAACP that he stood by it and would not remove it.
In the video, Otto offers a self-described “RedNeck Rap,” in which he criticizes President Barack Obama. During the video, he is wearing a hat that says, “OPOSSUM the Other Dark Meat.” The NAACP and several lawmakers have called the video racist and inflammatory.
Otto explained his position and took questions during an hour-long meeting set up by the Topeka branch of the NAACP. About 20 people attended the meeting at the Topeka library.
Otto said he meant nothing racial in the video. “I had absolutely no thought of anything racial whatsoever in it,” Otto said.
Otto said the reference to opossum was meant as a joke about what he called his hillbilly ancestry.
But Otto said that he now understood the reference to rednecks and opossum as the other dark meat could be offensive to some people, and that if he did it over again, he would change that part of the video. One person at the meeting pointed out that opossum is white meat.
“I’m here today because I want to unite and I want to move forward,” Otto said. He said that in the Legislature he has worked on several issues with African-American lawmakers, such as an increase in the state minimum wage, and attempts to regulate loan companies. And, he said, he has since posted other videos saying he is proud that the United States has elected an African-American president.
But when asked if he would take down the “RedNeck Rap” video, he said he wouldn’t because he has to stand up for who he is.
He also implied he could suffer politically in his southeast Kansas district if he removed the video. “To take it down would have serious ramifications for me,” he said.
Toward the end of the meeting, the Rev. Ben Scott, leader of the Topeka branch of the NAACP, said he appreciated Otto meeting with the group and hoped the discussion would “move us in the right direction.” But he added, “Racism exists. I see nothing here that is going to suggest that it is leaving anytime soon.”
Scott and others said the video, combined with several comments by elected officials that could be interpreted as racist, were concerning and distracting from the important issues confronting the country.
“We all got to be careful of what we say and how we say it, and as a state representative you have to be doubly careful,” he said. Otto said, “I’m sorry that I offended you. I wish I had made some choices of different things that were less offensive.”
William Richards, a longtime civil rights advocate who attended the meeting, said the discussion with Otto was constructive. “I’m satisfied to have had an open discussion. We need more of that in this country. People have to change and understand the nation has changed,” he said.
James Bolden of Topeka said he was concerned that remarks such as Otto’s distract from more important issues, such as education and the economy. “We all should be working together for the benefit of the whole community,” he said.