Assemblyman Dov Hikind wore an Afro wig, an orange jersey and had his face painted brown by a professional makeup artist for a weekend party celebrating the Jewish holiday at his home. He told The New York Times that he was supposed to be “a black basketball player.”
The Brooklyn Democrat initially tried to dismiss complaints about his costume as “political correctness to the absurd,” but reversed himself by Monday afternoon in the face of mounting criticism.
“Anyone who was offended, I am sorry that they were offended,” Hikind told reporters at a news conference. “That was not the intention, and that is really all I can say. I just have to reiterate it was Purim. Purim is when people get dressed up.”
But Hikind’s fellow Brooklyn Democrat, Assemblyman Karim Camara, said the costume was “callous and repugnant.”
“I don’t think what he has said so far is sufficient,” Camara told CNN. “It is a beginning, but we need to have a dialogue with him.” He said the use of blackface “brings back the memories of African-Americans being reduced to buffoonery just to gain access to the entertainment industry.”
And Kenneth Jacobson, deputy national director of the Anti-Defamation League, told CNN that Hikind “didn’t take into account the history and context of what this is all about.”
“That is the most disturbing part — what he failed to think,” Jacobson said.
Earlier this month, Hikind criticized another public figure for a questionable outfit. During New York Fashion Week, designer John Galliano was photographed in a dress that Hikind said made Galliano look like “one of the Hasidic people I represent.” Galliano was convicted of making anti-Semitic comments in a Paris cafe in 2011, a crime under French law.
“Who is he mocking?” Hikind told the New York Post. “The way the socks look, the jacket, the peyos . . . My question is, who’s he laughing at? If it was just anyone else, I wouldn’t know what to say. But considering who this guy is, considering his background and what he’s said in the past, let him explain it to all of us: Are you mocking us?”
Jacobson said that given those comments, Hikind should have been more aware of how his costume would be perceived.
“Part about standing up for one group is to be more sensitive about other groups, especially as a public official,” he said.