NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Veteran New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) apologized Monday afternoon to anyone who may have been offended by his decision to show up to a Purim party dressed as a basketball player, with blackface makeup and Afro wig.
“It was not meant to hurt anyone,” Hikind said at a Monday afternoon news conference, “And to those who were? I’m sorry.”
“I understand people’s sensitivities, even though, like. Hey, come on – Purim. You know what Purim is? It’s not a big deal,” Hikind said outside his Midwood home. “Nobody meant anything.”
Purim is a Jewish holiday that is often celebrated with costumes. Hikind hosted a big Purim party at his home and hired a makeup artist to transform him for the occasion. He wore an orange jersey and sunglasses.
“If I had to do it over again, then I would just say ‘let me find something else that’s very, very exciting,'” Hikind said. “Looking at it now, there are a lot of different choices. But when I made the choice, the choice was as innocent as anything in this world.”
Hikind said that his life’s work demonstrates that he is no racist.
The Anti-Defamation League released a statement condemning Hikind’s costume choice.
“Assemblyman Dov Hikind showed terrible judgment in attending a Purim party in blackface. If blacks got dressed up as Hasidim, it would be seen as equally inappropriate,” said the group’s national director, Abraham Foxman.
“Public displays of racism are offensive, particularly when the perpetrators are elected officials, who should be role models and have the public trust,” Foxman added.
Other critics said Hikind, who recently blasted designer John Galliano for dressing up as a Hasidic person, should have known better.
“Not to be aware of the history of this country, where blackface had such a meaning during a period of racism and segregation, is troubling,” the ADL’s Ken Jacobson told CBS 2’s Dick Brennan.
“I’m not questioning his intentions, but I do think that anyone of good conscience would issue an apology for the people who were offended by it,” said fellow Assemblyman Karim Camara (D-Brooklyn), who told 1010 WINS’ Al Jones he wondered what Hikind was thinking.
Earlier, Hikind told WCBS 880 reporter Alex Silverman that it “never crossed my mind for a second” that the blackface costume might be offensive.
“If I was black, on Purim I would have made my face look like I was white,” he added.
Hikind posted the following statement on his blog on Monday: “Yes, I wore a costume on Purim and hosted a party. Most of the people who attended also wore costumes. Everywhere that Purim was being celebrated, people wore costumes. 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. This is political correctness to the absurd. There is not a prejudiced bone in my body.”
Hikind also told Silverman that the tradition on Purim is to look “strange, wild, crazy.”
His wife was dressed as the devil.
In retrospect, does he think it was in any way offensive? Earlier, he said no.
“I don’t see that at all. Absolutely not. It’s just not the way we are, not the way I am, and no,” he told Silverman.
“The idea was to look out-of-character, to look different, for people not to recognize me,” Hikind told 1010 WINS. “If I had to do it all over again I’d do exactly the same thing, without a doubt.”
Hikind said he is “flabbergasted” by the reaction his costume has received and said “everything was done in good taste.”
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver criticized the costume.
“I believe Assembly member Hikind’s actions were inappropriate and offensive,” Silver said in a statement.
Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz was a bit more understanding.
“While I have an enormous amount of respect for Assemblyman Hikind, his Purim costume displayed an unintentional lack of judgment. I know that he shares my pride in the important contributions of African Americans, Caribbean Americans and all people of color in Brooklyn and New York City. Blackface, regardless of the intent, cannot be used today. It is a tasteless perpetuation of our country’s unfortunate history of racial bias and has no place in our current culture,” Markowitz said.
Assemblyman Camara hopes the incident will lead to a discussion about race and culture.
“I’m hoping that it forces a dialogue on why the depiction was so offensive in the first place, the history of white caricaturing blacks for entertainment,” Camara told CBS 2’s John Slattery.
As CBS 2’s Slattery reported, supporters of Hikind, who celebrated Purim themselves, saw no problem.
“He didn’t mean for it to be bad. He didn’t mean to bother anybody,” Moishe Berkowitz said.
But on Flatbush Avenue, there was a different reaction to face paint and an afro wig.
“That he’s prejudiced is what it says to me,” said Brooklyn resident Elaine Hanson.
When asked if he would wear the costume next year, Hikind replied firmly, “No.”
Do you think the move was offensive? Sound off below.