Let’s put aside the question of whether NBC was looking for an excuse to dump Megyn Kelly because of low ratings and controversies. And let’s put aside whether she had a history of racially insensitive remarks. Instead, let’s ask one question only: Was her “blackface” comment racist or insensitive?
These were her exact words, words which ultimately cost her a lucrative job. They were spoken during a roundtable discussion about racism and Halloween costumes.
She asked, “But what is racist? Because you do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface on Halloween, or a black person who puts on whiteface for Halloween. Back when I was a kid that was OK, as long as you were dressing up as, like, a character.”
Writing for CNN, Roxanne Jones, who felt Kelly’s comments exposed her true, racist face, noted that, “The backlash was swift. Kelly was roasted across social media and more importantly her colleagues and bosses were appalled by her comments. NBC executives forced Kelly to apologize first, internally to her colleagues, and then to the viewers.”
Personally, I didn’t watch any of Kelly’s shows on NBC (other than a YouTube clip here and there when relevant). So I’m neither a Kelly fan nor a Kelly defender.
More importantly, I don’t claim to be the arbiter of what is racist or not. We each have our own perspective, based on our life experiences and the lessons we have learned from others. That means that what I consider acceptable, since I see nothing offensive about it, might be deeply offensive to someone else. And I mean legitimately offensive.
So I asked my Facebook and Twitter family to give me their perspective, asking, “What's your opinion? Was Megyn Kelly's ‘blackface’ comment innocent? (People dress up in different ways for Halloween, including black faces and white faces.) Or was it racist and/or insensitive?”
The results? On Twitter, 80 percent said “innocent,” 14 percent “racist or insensitive,” and 6 percent “other.” On Facebook (which allows only two options), a whopping 90 percent said “innocent” and only 10 percent said “racist or insensitive.”
Many pointed out they were not fans of Kelly. Yet they still felt she was a victim of our extreme PC culture.
Some were also people of color. One wrote, “. . . I'm not a megyn fan but I see nothing wrong in anything she said. My humble opinion.” He added, “We as a society have become to sensitive to certain things and not sensitive enough to more important stuff. If she can show that there was no malicious intention her comment, which she did, I dont see what's the big deal. It's Halloween ppl dress all sorts of ways. . . .”
A colleague of mine asked, “Could a white kid go as Black Panther? What's interesting is NBC canned a woman for talking about going in blackface, but happy has in its prime time lineup a man who once showed up at an event in blackface. (Ted Danson)”
So, would it be racist today for a white person to go to a Halloween party dressed as the Black Panther? (I believe some today would say yes!)
A few of the more “liked” comments in response to my Facebook poll included, “I read the entire text of the conversation and listened to the video, and I found nothing wrong with what she said. In no way whatsoever was she being racist. P.S.: While I'm not a huge fan of Megyn Kelly, I surely come to her support in this. There wasn't anything that she needed to apologize for.”
And, “I don’t care for her, and would love to chastise her for this. However, it was totally innocent, absolutely not racist, and something I would have said as well given the total statement. The only people who would find this racist are racists or Megyn haters.”
And, “wow...years ago, I dressed up like Aunt Jamima at work....what is next?...are they going to ban the pancake mix?.....this world has lost it's mind.”
But not everyone shared this perspective.
One man, himself a person of color, opined, “White privilege=ignore the history of something racist and be completely shocked when those effect say they are offended.”
This was reinforced by another person of color, this time a woman.
She wrote, “In our country, black face is racist and insensitive. Period! Would you go to Germany and dress up as a Nazi??? Would that been seen as fun and just having a good time? You can dress up as any one you like without painting your face black!”
In other words, Megyn Kelly should have known more about the history of “blackface” minstrel performers and what the term would mean to many African Americans.
But would all Americans today make that association? Wouldn’t a lot of Halloween participants simply think of dressing up or getting made up as something silly rather than malicious? (For the record, I do not like Halloween and do not participate it.)
If, in fact, she knew the history of blackface performers in America, then her comments, however innocently intended, would have been tone deaf. If she was not aware of this history, then they were really quite innocent.
To paraphrase: “You could dress up with a white face or a black face or a yellow face or a red face or a brown face. What makes this racist? It’s just Halloween fun.”
The other day, someone was describing a religious Jewish man she met, and she used a term that would be considered antisemitic. She was absolutely shocked to learn this, as there was not the slightest malice in her heart.
When it comes to Megyn Kelly, one could argue that someone with that big an audience (and that big a contract) cannot afford to be ignorant of these racial sensitivities. But shouldn’t she then be forgiven if, upon learning of her error, she apologized? All that can be debated.
My perspective is this: First, I would ask my closest African American friends if they felt her comments were racist. (For the record, none of them are PC.) And I would be guided by their response. Second, even if they informed me that the comments were racist – or, at the least, unacceptably ignorant – I would still say that her being fired was the result of today’s unforgiving, hyper-PC culture.
What’s your take?