(NEW YORK) — A New York politician is under fire for wearing blackface for the Jewish holiday of Purim — in which people traditionally wear costumes — over the weekend.
Democrat and Orthodox Jewish power broker Dov Hikind wore blackface makeup and an Afro wig as part of a “basketball player” costume at a Purim party at his home.
At a press conference outside of his home Monday, the veteran assemblyman apologized if he offended anyone and promised to be “a little more careful, a little more sensitive.”
After the news was first reported by the New York Observer, Hikind defended the costume on his blog, saying most of the people at his Purim party “also wore costumes” and it is “political correctness to the absurd.”
“Everywhere that Purim was being celebrated, people wore costumes,” Hikind said. “It was Purim. People dress up. I am intrigued that anyone who understands Purim – or for that matter understands me – would have a problem with this…There is not a prejudiced bone in my body.”
Purim is a Jewish holiday during which those celebrating, both children and adults, regularly wear costumes. The holiday celebrates the Jewish people of the Persian Empire being saved from a murderous plot from the evil Haman in the biblical Book of Esther. Often those celebrating wear costumes from the story, but others dress up as members of popular culture. The holiday also requires those celebrating to donate money to charity and take part in a festive meal with family or friends.
Hikind told the Observer a professional makeup artist applied the makeup to help turn him into a basketball player. He also wore an orange jersey and sunglasses.
Hikind’s son posted the photograph on his Facebook page with the caption, “How cool are my folks…lol”
Not everyone thought the costume was cool.
Democratic Assemblyman Karim Camara of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus released a statement saying he was “deeply shocked and outraged by the insensitive actions of Assemblyman Hikind,” calling the blackface decision “callous and repugnant.”
“We, as leaders, have to be extremely careful that we foster understanding amongst our different cultural groups and not use the images of one as a tool for humor,” Camara said. “In speaking with many African Americans, both leaders and average citizens, the outrage is widespread. The history of the blackface minstrel show is something deeply painful in the African American community….The stereotypes embodied in blackface minstrels have played a significant role in cementing and proliferating racist images, attitudes and perceptions, which are still painful and offensive today.”
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