Assemblyman Defends Wearing Blackface to Party

A prominent state assemblyman from Brooklyn defended himself on Monday after wearing blackface to a party he hosted to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim, saying he did not mean to offend anyone.

The assemblyman, Dov Hikind, a Democrat and a longtime power broker in the Orthodox Jewish community, wore an Afro wig, brown makeup, an orange jersey and sunglasses as part of a costume that he said represented a “black basketball player.”

“The main objective that I have is not to be recognizable,” Mr. Hikind said in an interview. “Of course the intention was not to offend anyone. That’s the last thing that I ever imagined that would happen, to be very honest. It never crossed my mind.”

Mr. Hikind had hundreds of guests to his home on Sunday, and as he said he had done in past years, he enlisted a professional makeup artist to help him with his costume. When his grown son, Yoni, asked him if he could post a photograph of the outfit on Facebook, Mr. Hikind said he did not see a problem with it.

But on Monday morning, after The New York Observer published an article about the costume, Mr. Hikind found himself at the center of a firestorm. He initially brushed off the attention, writing on his blog that it was a product of “political correctness to the absurd” and adding, “There is not a prejudiced bone in my body.”

Over the course of the day, a parade of elected officials condemned Mr. Hikind. Several candidates for mayor of New York City demanded that he apologize, and the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, called his actions “inappropriate and offensive.”

Assemblyman Karim Camara, the chairman of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, said the outcry on Monday “wasn’t just about being politically correct,” and that he hoped Mr. Hikind realized that blackface “has a very painful history to many people.”

“A lot of black leaders and clergy — elected officials, everyday citizens — were very upset or offended, and had a lot of questions as to, from their point of view, how could someone be so insensitive,” he said.

In a letter to Mr. Hikind, the City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus wrote that his costume and his initial defense of it were “deeply disturbing,” and asked him to meet with community leaders.

Even the Anti-Defamation League weighed in, saying that Mr. Hikind “showed terrible judgment.” And State Senator Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who was once chief of staff to Mr. Hikind, and now represents many of the same constituents, said the costume was regrettable.

“Purim is a happy time, a happy day, and it should not be at anyone else’s expense,” Mr. Felder said.

In the interview, Mr. Hikind said that he was flabbergasted by the outcry, and that he suspected many did not understand the tradition of dressing up for Purim.

“My wife, you saw the picture, she was the devil,” Mr. Hikind said. “Believe me, she’s not the devil.”

“A lot of people just don’t realize, on Purim, in a sense, forgive me for saying this, you do crazy stuff,” he added. “It’s not done, God forbid, to laugh, to mock, to hurt, to pain anyone.”

But Mr. Hikind said he had learned a lesson from the blackface episode.

“Next year I was thinking I’d be an Indian,” he said. “But you know, I’ve changed my mind about that. I don’t think that’s a good idea. Somebody will be offended.”

23 Comments

  • 1. Miriam wrote:

    What an idiot! Blackface is nothing like dressing up Indian, or Asian, or Mexican. It has a very real, painful history to our neighbors. What in the world was Mr. Hikind thinking? And where were his PR people??? I’m not even American and I know how offensive this is!

  • 2. Just Sayin wrote:

    It was ok for Robert Downey Jr in Tropic Thunder in the name of humor…. Double standard by the arts-loving liberals?

  • 3. He is so wrong wrote:

    He criticized that fashion pervert for dressing up as a “Hasid” just last week. What’s good for the goose….You were wrong, Dov. Be gracious & be sincere in your apology. You were neither. Bad move.

  • 4. Shomrim Six wrote:

    I don’t like Dov Hikind for many good reasons, but I’m with his (out of principle and truth of the matter) on this one.

    Political Correctness is killing us!!!

  • 5. Milhouse wrote:

    This ridiculous “offense” scam has been going on for a long time, and someone like Hikind needs to stand up to it. He should stand his ground and not apologise, because there’s nothing to apologise for. Nobody objects if a black person dresses up as a white one, or if a Frenchman dresses up as a Russian, or any other variation, so how and when did blackface somehow become offensive? Are actors playing Othello not supposed to blacken their faces?! I guess now that’s “offensive” too.

    And all this talk about minstrel shows being offensive is also ridiculous. The reason white actors doing minstrel shows put on blackface was because it was primarily a black art form. Most actors doing minstrel shows were black, and it was they who pioneered it and set its forms. So to do that kind of humour you had to be at least symbolically black. People forget that Steppin Fetchit was a millionaire, someone blacks should celebrate and admire.

  • 6. Webwright wrote:

    Mr. Hikind looks like he has a good tan. If anyone has ever seen photos of Al Jolson or Eddie Cantor in blackface, those were the real thing. No harm, no foul. Much ado about nothing.

  • 7. Mottel wrote:

    The issue here is that Hikinf (and you) seem blind to the HISTORICAL context of black-face. Would you be bothered by a hook-nosed Jew with a bag of money as a Halloween costume?
    Most here would, and while there are many Jews with large noses, and with money, the long association with anti-semitic caricature, is cause for offense.

    This is no different. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_face

    This has nothing to do with a Fox-News inspired tirade against the Liberal Media . . . it’s about ignorance (willful or otherwise) to offend others – all the more odious coming from someone who’s always the first to cry foul and offense.

    • 8. Mottel, grow up.. wrote:

      There are literally thousands of people dressed up as people that they are not walking around the streets, yet as soon as Hikind dresses up as a black person the termites come crawling out of the woodwork (especially the Jewish termites, who cannot fathom that frum people exist) to spew their idiocy.
      You have no problem with dressing Asians, Mexicans, Etc. Etc.

      Regarding ‘Blackface’, take a single look at him and you will see there is nothing ‘caricaturized’ about his costume, which was the hallmark of the offensive Blackface.
      If you want to compare this to someone dressing up as a Jew, then the equivalent of a hook-nosed Jew would be exaggerated features like a fat lip, Etc.

      I can almost guarantee that not a single one of these people – Including Mottel – has a problem with people dressing up as chassidic.

      The only valid point you have (and this is ignoring your infantile ‘fox-news’ garbage, is the fact that Hikind is always at the forefront of the I’m-offended-screamers (such as yourself).

      Your MSNBC-inspired childish and reactionary whining and generalizing is as ignorant as it gets. (see, we can do it too).

    • 9. Mottel wrote:

      To The Anonymous Coward Who Was Kind Enough To Respond To Me:

      It seems apparent that

      1. You failed to read my comment: THERE IS HISTORICAL PRECEDENT for blackface as an offensive act. In these hear United States, it is a painful reminder of an era when it was used to depict African Americans in a cruel an negative light. Perhaps you also consider public displays of flatulence and the restriction on public nudity to be legacies of a Puritanical past that we as a more intelligent nation should shed… Your views, however, are immaterial against the real offense and pain you call others.

      2. You obviously don’t know who I am: Because I would say someone with a fu manchu or the like to also, at best, being cultural insensitive… Just as I find Jewish caricature and stereotype to be offensive. I also don’t care for MSNBC.

      3. You don’t know what it means to call someone childish…

    • 10. mottel, grow up... wrote:

      To the equally Anonymous Mottel,

      Projecting much?

      I will just leave this as is instead of even bothering to respond, as a testament to the mental disorder that is liberalism.

    • 11. Milhouse wrote:

      Mottel, you’re a tool of the race hustlers. They cannot be allowed to dictate every Monday and Thursday what is now “offensive”. There is objectively nothing offensive about blackface, and that is all that matters. If they want to be offended over things that are not at all offensive, that’s their choice, but no sane person should pay them any attention.

      The association of Jews with love of money is antisemitic. The association of Jews with big noses is not. If someone uses a prosthetic nose to portray a Jew, that’s not offensive at all. If he carries a money bag, and appears dirty, that’s offensive.

    • 12. Mottel wrote:

      To the truly anonymous coward:

      I’m very easy to identify, I’ve written op-eds with this name, have a blog with it and more. Please.

      Again, if you think I’m a liberal, you only betray your own ignorance.

    • 13. Anonymous wrote:

      Mottel,

      See Milhouse’ reply – you can get offended at whatever you want, the world does not have to bend out of shape to accommodate.

      As an aside, there is practically nothing that is considered offensive or off limits anymore. Bash the President, bash a Rabbi, bash the Pope, bash whoever you want and the people who are most outraged at face paint will tell you how it is their right to say and offend whomever they want – and besides – they can because it’s funny!

      You answered about how offended you may get about an Asian stereotype, but what about a Jewish one?!

      P.S. If you think ‘Mottel’ is any less anonymous then ‘Jack’, I have a Nigerian prince’s inheritance to sell you :).
      Also, your point of view is on par with the boilerplate liberal one, so you should excuse the guy for thinking that.

  • 14. PR at its worst wrote:

    The only reason blacks would be offended by this is if they are embarrassed of their own color.If they where proud to be black they would not care , for as the saying goes “imitation is the greatest form of flattery”.

    • 15. Anonymous wrote:

      I’m pretty sure it isn’t blacks getting offended, it is white liberals and Jews, who always know better then the minorities what is best for them.

    • 16. To Pr wrote:

      Black people are the not ones bashing Hikind.

      It’s his fellow lawmakers and they are white.

    • 18. Milhouse wrote:

      And why is that? Only because fools like you give in to the grievance industry. There is nothing objectively offensive about blackface, any more than whiteface. If some claim to be offended, too bad for them; their feelings can’t dictate reality.

  • 19. TO NUMBER 1 ETC, wrote:

    YOU ARE RIGHT! HIKIND IS AN IDIOT FOR APOLOGIZING! HE DID NOTHING WRONG, AND ALL THOSE ‘POLITICALLY CORRECT” IDIOTS SHOULD WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE. IT STINKS!!!! FIRST OF ALL ABSOLUTELY NONE OF THESE YO YO’S ARE AFRICAN AMERICANS. THEY ARE JUST A BUNCH OF PEOPLE WHO WOULD RATHER CASH IN ON SELF PITY AND USING THE RACIAL CARD RATHER THAN GO OUT THERE AND WORK LIKE DOGS TO EARN THEIR WAY AND THEIR KEEP, THE WAY THE “MINORITY GROUP” OF HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS DID AFTER SURVIVING A HELL OF ALOT WORSE THAN SIMPLE SLAVERY. AND JUST FOR THE RECORD, I SAW A NUMBER OF PEOPLE IN CROWN HEIGHTS -LUBAVITCHERS DRESSED UP WITH SHTREIMEL AND WHITE SOCKS ETC. AND IT NEVER ENTERED MY MIND NOR THAT OF ANY SATMAR PERSON THAT HE WAS TRYING TO RIDICULE OR DEGRADE THEM. AS A MATTER OF FACT, MY OWN GRAND DAUGHTER DRESSED UP AS A BARBIE DOLL, SHOULD THE COMPANY BE SUEING HER FOR THAT? ANYONE WHO THINKS HIKIND (AND I’M BY NO MEANS A FAN OF HIS) SHOULD APOLOGIZE SHOULD HAVE A MENTAL REFUAH SHLAIMA FOR THE BENEFIT OF THEIR SOUL AND SAFETY.

  • 20. Smh wrote:

    Good grief… some people are just too sensitive.

    People get so offended about the littlest things now.

    There are more important issues in the world to deal with? Sheesh

  • 21. Sick of Liberals wrote:

    Liberals are just so stupid. To them, almost everything is “offensive” and “racist.” Criticize Obama – you’re a racist. Criticize Susan Rice – you’re not only a racist, but also a sexist. Dress up for Purim as a “black basketball player” – all of a sudden you’re a racist, and now the Anti-Defamation League is onto you. If you think about it, liberals are the racist ones; they go around treating African Americans like they are victims, defending them when there was no offense that needed defending. It honestly makes me sick to watch.
    Political correctness has got to stop. Dr. Ben Carson said it well: “PC is dangerous, because you see, this country, one of the founding principles was freedom of thought and freedom of expression. And it [PC] muffles people. It puts a muzzle on them.”

  • 22. Leah wrote:

    I think Dov Hikind did nothing wrong, maybe not best choice for a costume but its PURIM people put on random things just to have fun. I had teachers in school dress with an afro and makeup for purim, i wore tiny braids all over my head.

    I think people look for any reason to scream racism!

  • 23. blt wrote:

    I suppose that blacks have sensitivity with this. However, to me it seems that since Mr. Hikind is
    “out there” in the secular world, and fluidly communicates with non Jews including blacks, that he was comfortable just “being a brother” in the spirit. I am sure he didnt mean any insult at all, as that is NOT who he is. I think however, that blacks are sensitive, and feel that it is their identity in calling someone on that. He made a mistake, because African-Americans can’t (as a general rule), take any such issue as a joke. So I just think that it was not great planning on his part. There are so many other things he could have been!

×

Comments are closed.