The lengthy history of white politicians wearing blackface — and getting a passBreaking News
tags: racism, political history, Ku Klux Klan, Blackface, Ralph Northam
Before Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) was forced to issue a job-saving apology for a blackface photo on his 1984 yearbook page, state Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Brooklyn Democrat, took a different approach to his own controversy. The prominent member of New York’s Orthodox Jewish community defended his basketball-player costume of blackface and an Afro wig while celebrating the holiday of Purim in 2013, calling the criticism “political correctness to the absurd.”
A year later, Washington state mayoral candidate David Sponheim explained to outraged critics that he had to paint his face black to bring authenticity to his Barack Obama costume, arguing that black people can dress up as whites without backlash, such as in the 2004 comedy “White Chicks.” And in 2015, Bill Helton, a mayoral candidate in Oklahoma, responded to critics of his blackface drag performance as “Pollyester Kotton” by insisting that he isn’t racist.
"I’ve got great, great friends who are African American,” he said.
The history of blackface in American politics is wide and deep, frequently creating little more than a ripple of outrage for the mayors, state legislators and gubernatorial candidates caught on camera darkening their skin and caricaturing black people. These politicians — from the North and the South, from urban and rural areas, Democrats and Republicans — have defended their actions as benign parody and accused their critics of being humorless and hypersensitive. Most have not faced lasting — or any — political repercussions for engaging in the uniquely American form of racism.
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