Dov Hikind wore blackface to a Purim celebration causing a storm of political outrage which seemed to first baffle him, then ultimately led to him reluctantly and lamely apologizing.
In the context of Purim, what Hikind did wasn't such a big deal. But in the context of Brooklyn politics it was intensely stupid and the fact that he was taken by surprise by the outrage is further proof of his stupidity.
Purim is the strangest of Jewish holidays. First of all, although it is supposed to represent historic events, unlike Judaism's other historical "they tried to kill us, we survived, now let's eat" holidays, there is no real evidence that the events took place. Set in the time of Xerxes I of Achaemenid Persia, the story claims a level of anti-Semitism in ancient Persia that is more appropriate for later periods of Persian history. Some try to place it during the time of Artaxerxes I or II but despite the interpretations of later Jews writing in Greek, the names Artaxerxes and Ahasuerus (the name in the Book of Esther) are distinct, so this equivalence is unlikely. The Achaemenids, including Xerxes and Artaxerxes, were famous for their religious tolerance, so the story of threatened genocide of the Jews makes no sense. The Book of Esther is considered to have been written around 3rd or 4th century BCE. Interestingly this was the period when the Greek Seleucid dynasty ruled the area, and the Greeks WERE known for religious intolerance (as the rise of the Maccabees against the Seleucids at a later time illustrates. Was the story of Purim a story of oppression during Seleucid rule projected back to Persian times? Unlike Hanukkah, there is no historical corroboration of the Purim story so I take it to be a work of fiction that is loosely based on real events that happened closer to 3rd or 4th century BCE rather than further back during the time it is set.
Regardless, Purim is an odd celebration. It is the only celebration in Judaism where drunkenness is actually encouraged...almost obligatory. Both Hanukkah and Purim celebrate the defeat of attempts to suppress Judaism (probably both by the Seleucids in different parts of their empire) yet Hanukkah focuses on the religious and military aspects of the events while Purim turns it into a sort of Carnival to celebrate the survival of Jews and blot out (by noisemakers and alcohol) the name and memory of the enemies of the Jews. They are very different celebrations of somewhat similar events. At Purim there is an overturning of convention, with dressing up in silly, often outrageous costumes, noisemaking and drunkenness. Interestingly, the closest relative of Purim at the time the Book of Esther was written was the Roman Saturnalia, a winter holiday celebrated in much the same way as Purim, with costumes and drunkenness and an overturning of convention. The modern celebration could easily have its roots among Roman Jews who adopted the story from their Persian cousins under the Seleucids and based their celebrations on Saturnalia. Interestingly, the other holiday commonly thought to be based on Saturnalia is the Christian Carnival which, like Purim, occurs around February. One flaw in all these connections is that Saturnalia was a December holiday, but the nature of the celebrations among Saturnalia, Purim and Carnival are surprisingly similar and I suspect this is not due to coincidence but to either divergent or convergent evolution of the holidays.
And it is in the context of this Saturnalia/Purim/Carnival style of celebration that Dov Hikind's blackface hijinks has to be
taken. Overturning convention and making fun of what is normally considered horrible is kind of the whole point of Purim. Purim is turning an attempted genocide into a mockery and the very person who advocated the genocide becomes a target of ridicule. Taken this way, Dov Hikind is treating the racism behind blackface the same way Purim is treating the anti-Semitism behind the genocide attempted in the Book of Esther. Was this his intention? I have no clue, but it is perfectly consistent with the spirit of Purim and how people masquerade during Purim.
However, when one enters the complex waters of Brooklyn politics, a certain degree of intelligence is required. When a Brooklyn politician dresses in blackface, they have GOT to expect a rather heated reaction and be prepared to explain it clearly in a way that isn't going to sound like they are taking lessons from a right wing Republican politician making watermelon jokes about Obama. The fact that Hikind seemed unprepared for the very predictable shitstorm of a response to his actions demonstrates an amazing stupidity on his part.
In fact, even when it seemed like Hikind WOULD take the opportunity to explain himself and maybe, JUST MAYBE, make an important political point, he decided to instead insult even MORE New Yorkers:
“If I was doing it all over again? I would look at, you know, additional alternatives,” he told Zev Brenner on WSNR, “because my real objective is — it’s not about being a black person or Indian, or maybe I would be a gay person . . . by the way, would that be okay, Zev? If I played a gay person next year?”
And even got himself condemned by the Anti-Defamation League:
Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL, said Hikind “showed terrible judgment.”
“There are so many myriad costumes available to Jewish kids and adults during Purim, but putting on blackface should not be one of them. . . . Public displays of racism are offensive, particularly when the perpetrators are elected officials, who should be role models and have the public trust.”
As I say, I actually DO see a context in which wearing blackface on Purim can be used to make an excellent point...but that point HAS to be articulated. Bottom line is, dressing in blackface on Purim, given the context of Purim and its celebration, is in no way a sign of racism and could easily be done as a protest to racism just as dressing as Hamen is a protest and mockery of the anti-Semitism whose defeat Purim celebrates. But Hikind failed to articulate this in any clear way. Rather than carefully explain the context and use it as an excellent political opportunity to equate the struggles of the black and Jewish communities (something that has real resonance) he instead whined like Teabagger about "political correctness," which I find to usually be the last refuge of a scoundrel who has seriously stuck his foot in his mouth after previously stepping in dog doo. Hikind could have used the event to his political advantage within both black and Jewish communities. Instead he merely shoved his own foot even deeper into his gullet. Whatever Hikind's motivation for dressing in blackface, ultimately he comes out of it looking foolish, not politically savvy.
I will give one thing for Hikind...he has managed to unite the ADL and Charles Barron in denouncing him. THAT, my friend, is an amazing accomplishment. Just not amazing in a way that makes Hikind look good.
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Or this one?
"It's been ten short years. Everyone remembers," the ad says, with dreary music playing over images of smoke billowing from the World Trade Center. "Some, though, want to commemorate the tragedy by building a mosque on Ground Zero."
This is not just a partisan thing, though I'm obviously a Democrat. It's a question of values. And my values tell me that trying to skate into Congress in a low-turnout special election based on (deceptively) bashing a vulnerable minority, in this case Muslims, is reprehensible. New Yorkers deserve better than this.
Go vote on 9/13. read more »
I mean SERIOUSLY? Paladino? Horse Sex Paladino? Is Rick Lazio such a loser that he can be so soundly beaten by blatant and proud racist and bestiality admirer Paladino?
Last night the New York Republican Party nominated one of the most disgusting teabagger candidates for Governor. Carl "Palomino" Paladino, the darling of the teabaggers, makes former Republican Congressman Vito "Two Family Values" Fossella look moral by comparison.
Back in April, Republican Paladino was caught gleefully forwarding emails that included racist pictures, called blacks "niggers," and had bestiality videos.
The new "morality" of the teabagger Republican Party in NY State is racism, pornography and bestiality. This is what Republicans nominated in NY State last night.
Remember when Republicans wanted to impeach President Clinton because he had consensual sex with a woman other than his wife? They portrayed themselves as champions of morality. Well, that facade is long shot away by people like Newt Gingrich (abandoning his wife for a younger woman while his wife was ill with cancer), Congressman Don Sherwood (abusing and attempting to choke the woman he was having an extra-marital affair with), Congressman Mark Foley (soliciting sex with a 16-year old man), well...need I continue? For the strong of stomach, here is a list of Republican sex scandals, almost all of which make Bill Clinton's consensual affair look very tame by comparison.
Well, here in NY State Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino was in the habit of emailing racist emails and videos as well as videos of bestiality and pornography. (as well as an email I saw this morning), Paladino has sent emails that include: read more »
One of my favorite things about NYC is the diversity and considerable (if sometimes reluctant) tolerance for that diversity. But there is a very disturbing trend in Staten Island that seems to reflect the growing intolerance across the country. This comes from BBC News:
Since April there have been 10 reported incidents of violence against Hispanic immigrants on Staten Island, a borough of New York City.
The attacks have all occurred on the island's North Shore, principally in the community of Port Richmond.
The most recent attack came on Saturday, when an 18-year-old student was beaten and robbed by a group of young African-American men while on his way home from working at a late-night restaurant...
Today the fastest growing minority group in Port Richmond is Mexican.
Mexico's Consul General in New York, Ruben Beltran, says he is "angry and frustrated" at the string of attacks.
Earlier this week, he sent a consular representative to support Mexican immigrants in the neighbourhood. read more »
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles.
By now, any sentient being in North America has likely heard of Arizona's draconian new immigration law. Briefly, the new law allows state police to challenge anyone they see fit to produce papers establishing that they are in the country legally.
There's a lot that is wrong with that, not least that in a practically all-white state like Arizona, the only reasonable target population is almost exclusively Latino. There's also the likely fact that the law is prima facie unconstitutional, certainly if you take a look at the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. And if you dig even deeper, the idea that officers of the state can subject random individuals to search without probable cause violates Anglo-American legal bedrock, namely the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 and the Magna Carta of 1215.
For the citizens of a City that would not exist were it not for immigrants - we have a statue in the harbor about that - Arizona's law shouldn't be something that just happens in flyover country, out of sight, out of mind.
So here's what you can do. Email Arizona's governor Jan Brewer here, and let her know what you think. If you're on Facebook, join this group. Another online campaign is here. Let the Latino New York legislators planning to travel tto Arizona for some civil disobedience know you support them.
This is America. We're better than this.