Brooklyn Assemblyman and Orthodox Jewish power broker Dov Hikind threw an open-door Purim party over the weekend featuring elaborate costumes promptly posted to Facebook. The host described his own, with painful ignorance, to the New York Observer's Politicker: "I was just, I think, I was trying to emulate, you know, maybe some of these basketball players. Someone gave me a uniform, someone gave me the hair of the actual, you know, sort of a black basketball player," he said. Not a specific player, mind you. Just one of the black ones.
When it was pointed out that maybe a costume steeped in centuries of racism isn't the wisest choice, Hikind didn't buy it. "I can't imagine anyone getting offended," he told Politicker. "Purim, you know, everything goes and it's all done with respect. No one is laughing, no one is mocking. No one walked in today and said, 'Oh my God.'" That's what the Internet is for.
Hikind reiterated to WCBS reporter Alex Silverman that it "never crossed my mind for a second" that blackface is off-limits. "If I was black," Hikind said, "on Purim I would have made my face white."
Update: Hikind is not backing down. "It was Purim. People dress up," he wrote on his personal blog. "This is political correctness to the absurd. There is not a prejudiced bone in my body."
Fellow Assemblyman Karim Camara, meanwhile, took a moment to explain that "the history of the blackface minstrel show is something deeply painful in the African-American community" and that "the stereotypes embodied in blackface minstrels have played a significant role in cementing and proliferating racist images, attitudes and perceptions."
Update II: Now Hikind is "sorry people were offended," the Daily News reports. "In hindsight, I should have picked something else. It never crossed my mind for a split second that I was doing something wrong. It was as innocent as something can be," he said, adding, "People in the community were dressed up as Arabs. What was that about?" Good question.
Update III: In the comments on the Facebook page of Hikind's son Yoni, the original source of the offending photo, someone writes, "u needa figure out who showed this to the media and then let us deal with them." Yoni responded, "Lol.. I have my theories...," to which the commenter said, "if its a jewish person they should be hung....threw us all under the bus." Yoni added, "Of course its a Jewish person..." The page is still public.
In a subsequent post, Yoni wrote, "Absolutely nothing about his costume was meant to in any way offend anybody. Was with him all day and half the time he was acting as Kadhaffi. (which I actually think he looked allot more like than a black basketball player)."