UPDATE: After public pressure, Dov Hikind issued an official public apology, read it here.
Apparently some of my fellow New Yorkers are unclear on whether blackface is an acceptable costume choice. Among them is, shockingly, a member of the New York State Assembly, Dov Hikind, who impersonated a “black basketball player” by dressing in blackface and an afro at a costume party celebrating the Jewish holiday of Purim over the weekend.
Now good people can do dumb and offensive things, and sometimes do so by accident. And in America, we cherish our First Amendment rights to make fools out of ourselves for any reason. The proper response from someone of good conscience when they have inadvertently crossed a major red line is to sincerely apologize – which Hikind has manifestly failed to do. Hikind has offered the politician’s standard “I’m sorry if you were offended” non-apology, but has defended his decision to wear the costume in the first place. Instead, even late on Monday night Hikind continued to insist he did nothing wrong and wouldn’t even necessarily choose a different costume if he could do things over again.
Just as troubling, he’s used the holiday he was celebrating as a defense against public criticism. In Hikind’s own words, “It was Purim. People dress up. I am intrigued that anyone who understands Purim … would have a problem with this. This is political correctness to the absurd.” So let's be clear: celebrating Purim does not give him or anyone else free reign to gratuitously offend.
As a Jew and a New Yorker, I demand Assemblyman Hikind stop using my religion to try and excuse his incredibly poor judgment and offensive behavior. He must take responsibility for his own actions and stop trying to pass the buck for the offense he has caused on to the Jewish people as a whole. Our traditions did not cause this shameful incident – his poor judgment did.
I will not be drafted as a witness for Hikind’s defense. I celebrated Purim this weekend as well, and did so without using and abusing a tool of racial oppression and dehumanization. So when someone cites my people’s traditions and the holiday I just celebrated as a defense for the indefensible, then I and the overwhelming majority of Jews who share my disgust have a moral responsibility to stand up and speak out.
What’s more, unless Hikind sees the light – and quickly – at the end of the day his unapologetic defense of his remarks will serve to empower anti-Semites and bigots. Today, an odious anti-Semite running for NY City Council who I hesitate to even acknowledge is visiting Hikind’s offices to offer his own offensive parody of Jewish traditions in “response” to Hikind. There is no defense for that disgusting display, but as long as Hikind refuses to truly apologize for his decision he’ll be providing cover for anti-Semites and racists of every persuasion.
In my religion, there is never an appropriate day to traffic in ugly racial stereotypes. And there is something particularly cowardly and appalling about an individual inflaming racial tensions (regardless of his intent) and then blaming the resulting firestorm on his religion. The buck stops with you, Dov, not with the Jewish people.