Facing a torrent of criticism from other politicians for his choice of Purim costume, Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn on Monday insisted that coloring his skin and wearing an afro wig to look like a black basketball player should not be taken as offensive.
He later said he was sorry if people were offended and said he should have picked another masquerade.
“Yes, I wore a costume on Purim and hosted a party,” Hikind wrote on his personal blog. “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.”
Holding a press conference in front of his home Monday afternoon, Hikind told reporters “In hindsight, I should have picked something else” and “I’m sorry people were offended. It was not meant that way,” according to The Daily News. He still seemed to defend his choice, though, noting that other people in his Borough Park neighborhood dressed as Arabs and his wife, Shani, dressed as the devil. “It was to look different on Purim without deep intentions,” he said.
The story appears to have broken after Hikind’s 32-year-old son, Yoni, posted a photo of himself and his parents in Purim regalia on Facebook. Shani Hikind appears with horns and her face painted red. Yoni Hikind’s face is painted both black and white. The New York Observer broke the story at 7:33 a.m.
Hikind told the Observer’s Azi Paybarah he had difficulty washing off the make-up, which was applied by a professional artist. “But it’s all worth it, I would do it again in a minute,” he said in the early interview.
Earlier this month Hikind criticized fashion designer John Galliano for dressing up in a costume that some took as a satire of chasidic garb.
“If it was just anyone else, I wouldn’t know what to say,” Hikind told the NY Post on Feb. 13. “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?”
Galliano had been fined by the French government in 2011 for a rant recorded on amateur video in which he seemed to praise Hitler in an altercation with tourists.
In a statement to the Observer and New York Daily News, Assemblyman Karim Cammara of Brooklyn said he was “deeply shocked and outraged”by the costume, adding that “The history of the blackface minstrel show is something deeply painful in the African American community. It brings back the memories of African Americans being reduced to ‘buffoonery’ just to gain access to the entertainment industry. The stereotypes embodied in blackface minstrels have played a significant role in cementing and proliferating racist images, attitudes and perceptions, which are still painful and offensive today.”
Cammara, whose district includes Crown Heights and adjoining Brooklyn neighborhoods, chairs the state’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus.
Councilman Charles Barron of Brooklyn also condemned Hikind telling the Observer “If he wanted to find somebody who [looked] strange, wild and crazy, he should look in the mirror.”
Even Hikind’s Jewish colleagues criticized his judgment. “I would have never chosen this as a Purim costume,” State Senator Simcha Felder, a former Hikind aide, told The Jewish Week. “Purim is supposed to be a happy day, not at the expense of others.”
Councilman David Greenfield, who represents Borough Park and part of Flatbush, told the Observer Hikind “should have known better.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who also represents part of Borough park, said on Twitter “Blackface is ALWAYS offensive — on Purim or any other occasion.”
In a statement sent to The Jewish Week, Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, wrote “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.
“There are so many myriad costumes available to Jewish kids and adults during Purim, but putting on blackface should not be one of them. This is especially true for a politician living in an environment where ridicule and prejudice of African-Americans has a long and sad history.”