Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D–Borough Park) turned a holiday into a national outrage after dressing up in blackface for Purim — and then defending it.
The Orthodox Jewish power broker posted a Facebook photo of himself celebrating the Jewish holiday dressed up, he said, as a basketball player in an orange jersey, an Afro wig, sunglasses, and brown makeup on his face — a costume more befitting a 19th century minstrel show than a politician’s holiday celebration.
“It was just a lot of fun,” Hikind told the New York Observer’s Hunter Walker, who first reported the story, about the costume for which he hired a make-up artist.
The pol’s antiquated behavior quickly drew the scorn of the city’s political establishment, drawing rebukes from mayoral candidates Bill DeBlasio, Bill Thompson, Christine Quinn, Sal Albanese, members of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus of the New York City Council and the Anti-Defamation League, among others.
“[T]he history of the blackface minstrel show is something deeply painful in the African-American community,” said Assemblyman Karim Camara (D–Crown Heights), the chairman of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, who told the New York Times he was “shocked and outraged,” by the Hikind’s actions. “[T]he stereotypes embodied in blackface minstrels have played a significant role in cementing and proliferating racist images, attitudes and perceptions.”
Making matters worse, the controversial politician doubled down on his dubious behavior in a blog post titled “It’s Purim. People dress up.”
“I am intrigued that anyone who understands Purim — or for that matter understands me — would have a problem with this,” wrote Hikind. “This is political correctness to the absurd.”
Hikind is be no stranger to the concept of ethnic insensitivity, real or perceived.
The politician regularly goes on morally outraged crusades against those he perceives as anti-Semitic, recently at Brooklyn College or two weeks ago, when he took to task a designer with a troubled history for dressing similarly to a Hasidic Jew for fashion week — a bit of hypocrisy not lost on his critics.
“On multiple occasions you have come out to loudly defend the Jewish community against real and perceived indignities. Now that the proverbial shoe is on the other foot, why should there be a different standard?” wrote Councilman Jumaane Williams (D–Flatbush) in a letter to the assemblyman, noting the history of racist stereotypes perpetuated against both blacks and Jews.
Some political pundits suggested that the insensitivity behind the costume gaffe was characteristic of the Borough Park pol.
“Dov Hikind wearing blackface comes as a surprise to all and only those unfamiliar with Dov Hikind,” wrote Slate writer Matt Yglesias on Twitter.
The “blackface” style of face makeup was pioneered in racist minstrel shows that began in the 1830’s, in which white actors would paint their faces with burnt cork and portray insulting stereotypes about African-Americans.
Hikind partially apologized at a press conference hastily put together at his Midwood home yesterday afternoon.
“[I]t was not meant to in any way hurt anyone,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “And those that were? I’m sorry. That was not my intention.”