Mayor Brandon Scott has come to expect overt and not-so-overt racism.

The latest example came in the aftermath of Tuesday morning’s Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse. Within hours, Scott said he started to notice social media posts labeling him as a “DEI Mayor.”

Scott immediately bristled at the dog whistle.

“We know what these folks really want to say when they say DEI mayor,” he told The Banner. “Whether it is DEI or clown. They really want to say the N-word. But there is nothing they can do and say to me that is worse than the treatment of my ancestors. I am proud of who I am and where I come from.”

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(Read full coverage of Key Bridge collapse)

DEI — shorthand for diversity, equity and inclusion — has become a weaponized term used by the conservative right. Some use the term on its face value to attack diversity efforts. But others use it more nefariously to mean “Didn’t Earn It.”

Scott is far from a “DEI mayor.” He wasn’t appointed; he was elected by voters in a city with one of the largest Black populations in the country. And Scott defeated several Black candidates to become Baltimore’s 52nd mayor.

Scott addressed the latest round of race-based rhetoric Wednesday evening on Joy Reid’s MSNBC show “The ReidOut.”

He clapped back at his critics, calling himself a “duly elected incumbent.”

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Former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake also battled racist rhetoric during her term, which included the Freddie Gray uprising in 2015. She said she was saddened to see Scott face “vicious and unwarranted attacks grounded not on policy but in race.”

She added: “This layered trauma is unique to Black public servants who dare to serve their communities, have the audacity to improve the communities they love. I am grateful that Mayor Scott has the benefit of working with Gov. Moore who truly loves all of Baltimore; not a governor who uses Baltimore’s challenges for political advantage and finger pointing.”

Scott, who has served as mayor of Baltimore since 2020, said he wants to speak out against these attacks to show people how not to be afraid of “bigots” and the belief that “white men should only be in control of things.”

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Scott said he has faced constant racism while in public office.

He recalled being repeatedly called the “N-word” for wearing a Colin Kaepernick jersey, the former 49ers quarterback who kneeled during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial inequality. Scott recalled another instance where a man threatened to rape his mother as a form of retaliation against him. In 2022, a Dundalk man admitted to threatening to hang Scott in a graffiti message on the side of an MTA bus. That man did not receive a jail sentence, Scott said.

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“That tells you what our systems think about folks who look like me. If he had have threatened anyone who didn’t look like me, he wouldn’t have gotten one day,” he said.

Last summer, the announcement that Scott was expecting a child with fiance Hana Pugh was met with racist tropes and sentiments from commenters referring to Scott as “just a thug” and someone having “one more Baltimore illegitimate black baby.”

He added that these instances should show that the country is not “post-racial.”

“We have come a long way, and we have a long way to go,” Scott said.

Watch: Video of Mayor Scott’s MSNBC interview

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Mayor Brandon Scott is the city’s 52nd mayor, and to correct when the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed.

John-John Williams IV is a diversity, equity and inclusion reporter at The Baltimore Banner. A native of Syracuse, N.Y. and a graduate of Howard University, he has lived in Baltimore for the past 17 years.

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