Dov Hikind is a New York assemblyman who is known for his staunch defense of Jewish causes and his outspoken vigilance against anti-Semitism.
Hikind found himself embroiled in a controversy when he hosted a party at his home and dressed as a basketball player, wearing blackface makeup and an Afro wig.
He said he dressed that way for the celebration of the Jewish holiday, Purim. The tradition, he said, was to observe the holiday by dressing in a manner considered “strange, wild, crazy.”
"I am intrigued that anyone who understands Purim — or for that matter understands me — would have a problem with this," Hikind told the New York Daily News. "This is political correctness to the absurd. There is not a prejudiced bone in my body."
Purim commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire from destruction. It is widely celebrated by giving gifts of food and drink and by events that include wearing masks and costumes.
“The idea was to look out-of-character, to look different, for people not to recognize me,” Hikind said, in a radio interview. “If I had to do it all over again, I’d do exactly the same thing, without a doubt.” He added that he is “flabbergasted” by the public reaction to his costume.
But Hikind has been harshly criticized by a number of his colleagues in elective office, who complain that a man who has shown so much sensitivity to anti-Semitism would dress in a way that many find offensive.
“I am deeply shocked and outraged by the insensitive actions of Assemblyman Hikind, to dress as a black basketball player complete with tanned skin and an Afro wig,” said Assemblyman Karim Camara, a Brooklyn Democrat and the chairman of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus.
Camara explained that “the history of the blackface minstrel show is something deeply painful in the African-American community," adding that “the stereotypes embodied in blackface minstrels have played a significant role in cementing and proliferating racist images, attitudes and perceptions.”
Some were more pointed in their criticism.
“It is racist,” said Charles Barron, a city councilman from Brooklyn. Barron said the assemblyman’s defense of wearing the costume was “a bunch of crap. He is trying to justify his racism. If he wanted to find somebody who [looked] strange, wild and crazy, he should look in the mirror. He didn’t have to pick on us.”
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