The second lady of Pennsylvania was called the N-word in a grocery store parking lot over the weekend and posted a video of part of the attack on Twitter, saying it’s a reflection of how the nation is "so deeply divided.”
Gisele Barreto Fetterman, a nonprofit founder who works in food insecurity and is married to Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, was born in Brazil and immigrated to America when she was 8. She is outspoken about her experiences being formerly undocumented. The episode Sunday occurred in Braddock, the Western Pennsylvania town where she lives and where John Fetterman was formerly the mayor.
Barreto Fetterman, 38, said she went to the grocery store Sunday without her security detail — a quick trip to pick up kiwis while they were still on sale — when a woman recognized her and began yelling racist insults, including, she said: “There’s that N-word that Fetterman married” and “you don’t belong here.” Barreto Fetterman said she was stunned and froze. The woman returned to shopping, Barreto Fetterman paid for her fruit and went to her car.
That’s when, she said, the woman exited the grocery store and came toward Barreto Fetterman, who was sitting in her vehicle and had pulled out her phone to record. She said she captured the last few seconds of the interaction, and posted the video on Twitter. It shows a woman leaning toward the vehicle, pulling down her purple mask, and saying: “you’re a n—.”
Warning: The below video contains racist and offensive language.
After the episode, Barreto Fetterman said, she was shaking and crying, and pulled over to call her security team and apologize for leaving by herself.
“And then I called John after and I just cried for the rest of the night and allowed it to move through my system,” she said in an interview Monday. “But there is comfort in knowing this is not a majority feeling by any means.”
State Police, who provide security to the family, are investigating, Barreto Fetterman said. Police didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Since she tweeted the video, Barreto Fetterman said the response has been entirely positive and supportive. In a tweet about the episode, she wrote of the woman: “This behavior and this hatred is taught. If you know her, if she is your neighbor or relative, please, please teach her love instead.”
Gov. Tom Wolf condemned the attack in a statement, saying “the ethnic intimidation and racist speech spewed at the Second Lady of Pennsylvania is shameful and unacceptable.”
“Gisele Fetterman spends much of her time devoted to making our state and world a better place," he said, "and she — and every Pennsylvanian — deserves our respect, not the hatred too often displayed by people who seek only to further divide this country at a time when unity is so desperately needed.”
The Fettermans are particularly well-known in Pennsylvania Democratic circles for using social media to connect with constituents. Barreto Fetterman is no stranger to online attacks and harassment since her husband’s profile has been raised over the last five years. John Fetterman, a Harvard graduate who is 6-foot-8 and known for his tattoos and casual work style, gained national attention in 2015 when he unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate. He was elected lieutenant governor in 2018 and is now mulling a run for governor in 2022.
Earlier this year, Barreto Fetterman posted on Twitter that users should “stop trying to shame women" after her husband drew attention when he posted a photo of her in a sparkling outfit with a plunging neckline ahead of Carnival, the annual Brazilian festival that ushers in Lent and is marked by colorful costumes, parades, and dance.
But Sunday was the first time she was the target of a racist attack in person, something she believes could be the result of a politically fractured nation and a president who has himself hurled racist insults.
“We see folks in high positions acting a certain way, then maybe that emboldens,” she said. “I don’t know if there’s more of this now or it’s just more public now. The fact that people have such a blind hatred for what’s different is scary, and I’m raising three children in this world.”
She said that she hopes people in the woman’s circle help her “break the cycle of hate,” and that this episode has made her feel only more certain of her role in showing young undocumented immigrants what is possible.
“I love this country. It hasn’t changed that at all,” she said. “It makes me want to fight that much harder for my country.”