A professor at the State University of New York at New Paltz apologized on Wednesday for some eyebrow-raising comments he made in a New York Times story about the congressional race in New York’s 19th district.
Described as a friend of incumbent Rep. John Faso (R-NY), Professor Gerald Benjamin bashed Democratic candidate Antonio Delgado—a black Rhodes scholar, Harvard Law School graduate, and hall-of-fame high-school basketball player—for the sin of releasing a rap album in 2007.
“Is a guy who makes a rap album the kind of guy who lives here in rural New York and reflects our lifestyle and values?” Benjamin was quoted as saying, adding that he doesn't consider the genre “real music.”
Additionally, Benjamin told the Times: “People like us, people in rural New York, we are not people who respond to this part of American culture."
In a Wednesday morning memo to SUNY colleagues, obtained exclusively by The Daily Beast, Benjamin expressed remorse for those remarks.
“I have worked at SUNY New Paltz for fifty years in several capacities, and have a deep attachment to the school and the diverse community we have built here,” he wrote, according to the copy provided to The Daily Beast. “I am therefore very sorry for any unintended distress caused by my remarks.”
“These remarks have been condemned as racist,” Benjamin continued. “I had no racist intent but understand the impact of those remarks, and regret having made them.”
The political-science professor went on to explain that he was trying to make two points in the interview: that “race is never irrelevant to American politics, and that this is especially the case when an African American candidate is running against a white candidate in a largely white district,” and that “the Republican use of his background as a rap artist was an attempt to open a cultural gap between Mr. Delgado and the majority of the district’s population.”
Faso, meanwhile, told the Times that “Mr. Delgado’s lyrics are offensive” and are “inconsistent with the views of the people of the 19th District and America.”
And the Congressional Leadership Fund, which is closely aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), released a radio ad including some of the lyrics, calling the raps “vile” and a “sonic blast of hateful rhetoric and anti-American views.”
Benjamin, in his apologetic memo, conceded that his comments could be seen as having racial undertones.
“I made these points badly,” he wrote. “My remarks were insufficiently precise, my points poorly articulated and my language very insensitive and therefore subject to multiple interpretations. I particularly regret the casual use of the phrase ‘people like us’ to describe rural upstate New Yorkers. This language is over general, exclusionary and, I see in retrospect, evokes racist connotations.”
Benjamin’s note comes after a separate email sent from the school’s president Donald P. Christian, addressed to the “SUNY New Paltz Community.”
“The quotes raise the specter of racism and marginalize members of our community, both of which are antithetical to our institutional values of inclusivity and respect,” Christian wrote. “We spoke with the administrator who offered these quotes. He regrets these comments and their impact on the institution and our community and recognizes that language matters. We are disappointed that such language would come from a campus leader and ambassador of the College and reaffirm that the quotes do not reflect our institutional values of inclusivity and respect.”
Benjamin acknowledged to The Daily Beast that he sent the memo and declined to comment further.
UPDATE, 3:32 p.m. ET: This article was updated to include Benjamin's response.