Commentary: Why the New York Assemblyman Should Have Apologized Sooner

Commentary: Why the New York Assemblyman Should Have Apologized Sooner

After intense pressure, New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind finally apologizes for dressing in blackface and an Afro wig.

Published February 26, 2013

Anyone who has spent any time around the world of New York City politics knows the personality of New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a political chameleon who will endorse Republican candidates as swiftly as he will support his fellow Democrats. More than anything, however, Hikind is known for his intense sensitivity to anything that smacks of disrespect or insensitivity to Judaism.

Not long ago, Hikind, who represents a large population of Orthodox Jewish Brooklyn, took the New York Post to task for an article that hinted at a resemblance between an outfit of the fashion designer John Gallino and traditional Hasidic dress.

“Who is he mocking?" asked an outraged Hikind at the time. “My question is: Who's he laughing at?"

That strong sensitivity to perceived slights is at the centerpiece of what makes the current controversy Hikind finds himself in so strangely outrageous.

As many who pay attention to New York newspapers and broadcast media now well know, Hikind was embroiled in an overnight controversy for appearing at a party at his home in blackface and an Afro wig. When the news became viral and criticism of him started boiling he said that people were simply being too sensitive.

All he had done, he explained, was to innocently host a party to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim. On this traditional day of celebration marked by costume wearing, he had simply decided to dress as a Black basketball player, dark makeup and Afro wig to boot.

Yet, the criticism intensified and it was vehement and unrelenting. Still, Hikind seemed annoyed that anyone would find offense in his harmless and mirth-filled costume choice. Indeed, the assemblyman initially characterized the criticism against him as “political correctness to the absurd,” adding, “there is not a prejudiced bone in my body.”

For Dov Hikind, of all New Yorkers, to fail to understand how people might react to what is widely viewed as a vivid reproduction of a chapter in America’s racist history is as odd as it is a portrait in hypocrisy. He has seldom failed to point out what he considers slights against his own ethnic group. And to fail to understand that same characteristic in others is, well, implausible.

When the apology finally came, it was after passionate criticism from the firmament of New York’s political landscape, irrespective of party and ideology.

“I am sincerely sorry that I have hurt anyone,” Hikind said, in a statement his office made clear he was not speaking with the press on the subject. “I apologize for the pain that I have caused anyone by this incident, and by any remarks that I have made in connection with it. It genuinely pains me that I have pained any human being. That’s not who I am, not who I want to be. I sincerely hope that this note will soothe any hurt feelings.”

After the apology, Karim Camara, an African-American assemblyman from Brooklyn, was gracious, even beyond reason, saying in an interview with that he was pleased that Hikind had at long last issued an apology.

“He now seems to understand why his actions were offensive to some, to African-Americans in particular, and that he seems to understand the history of minstrel shows and the pain and anger it still causes in the African-American community,” said Camara, who is chairman of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus.

To say the least, it is an apology that should have come far earlier and with a little more sincerity and far less prompting by public pressure.

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(Photo: UPI Photo /Landov)

Written by Jonathan P. Hicks


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