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Megyn Kelly, fired J.B. Pritzker staffers just didn’t get it

Megyn Kelly is catching heat for her comments about blackface

Megyn Kelly's apology for her comments about blackface wasn't enough to save her show. | AP photo

Help me out here because I just don’t get it.

What is the fascination with blackface?

By now, it ought to be clear that the practice of white people putting on black makeup and flaunting that publicly is racist.

It doesn’t matter whether the person is using shoe polish or a skin product, the result is the same. It is a grotesque caricature of African-Americans.


Period. End of discussion.

But every Halloween, some white person gets caught up in the stupidity of this throwback to America’s Jim Crow past. This time it is NBC’s golden girl, Megyn Kelly.

Her namesake show, “Megyn Kelly Today,” was canceled Friday after Kelly defended the use of blackface as part of a Halloween costume.

After enduring a fierce backlash from viewers and colleagues, Kelly gave an emotional on-air apology for her comments.

“I want to begin with two words: I’m sorry,” Kelly said.

“I learned that given the history of blackface being used in awful ways by racists in this country, it is not OK for that to be part of any costume Halloween or otherwise. I was wrong and I am sorry,” she said.

Kelly even brought on Roland Martin, one of the leading voices on African-American politics and culture, to explain what blackface is and why it is offensive to African-Americans.

But Kelly’s mea culpa was not enough to save her job. NBC announced Friday afternoon that other anchors would fill Kelly’s time slot.

But before you give the network kudos for doing the right thing, consider the reality. Kelly had disappointing ratings and there are reports of behind-the-scenes tensions at the show. NBC’s executives probably saw the blackface controversy as a lucky break.

Additionally, Kelly’s uninformed comment wasn’t the only thing wrong with the segment.

There was no black voice on the panel. How do you even begin to have a serious discussion about whether it is racist to use blackface as part of a Halloween costume without having someone black on the panel?

Inviting a black commentator after the fact doesn’t cut it.

That brings me to the latest racial misstep by Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker’s campaign.

Two Pritzker staffers embarrassed the candidate on Friday after a white staffer was photographed with his face covered in a charcoal skin care product. The image was part of an “Instagram story” put up Oct. 21. Instagram stories feature photos or videos and last just 24 hours but can be preserved or copied. The Sun-Times obtained the image Thursday night.

J.B. Pritzker campaign

A J.B. Pritzker campaign worker posted an Instagram story showing another campaign worker wearing a charcoal face mask which resembles blackface. | Provided screenshot

Campaign officials insisted the incident was not racial in nature and initially said the person wearing the substance and the person who posted the image would be suspended without pay for exercising “poor judgment.” After the Chicago Sun-Times published a story on the incident, the two were fired.

“The individual in the photo had applied and was wearing a charcoal face mask after work hours on the weekend. A fellow employee took a video and posted it on Instagram,” Pritzker campaign spokeswoman Galia Slayen said in a statement.

“While it showed poor judgment, neither employee intended to take part in offensive behavior,” she said.

Say what?

This is after 10 African-American and Latino campaign workers claimed they were subjected to discriminatory and racist behavior while working on Pritzker’s campaign. Pritzker dismissed those allegations as “untrue” and part of last-minute campaign “craziness.”

But come on.

The campaign worker who posted the image on Instagram was identified as Carolyn Mehta, the campaign’s deputy Get Out The Vote director. She was also a field organizer for President Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign in Virginia, according to LinkedIn.

So she should really ought to know that a photograph posted anywhere of a Pritzker campaign worker in anything resembling blackface would be criticized as racist.

But instead of the campaign directly acknowledging the racial insensitivity on display when a white person smears a black substance on his or her face and grins for the camera, it insisted the incident was not racial in nature.

That’s adding insult to injury.

At least Megyn Kelly had the decency to try and turn her “poor judgment” into a teachable moment.


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