The best-known person to suffer serious adverse consequences pertaining to the wearing of blackface makeup is, as far as I can tell, Megyn Kelly. Kelly has not worn blackface recently. No one has claimed that she ever wore blackface at all. Yet she was shown the door at NBC two years ago after casually remarking that when she was a kid — 35, maybe even 40, years ago — many people thought it was okay to wear blackface. Kelly drew a distinction between wearing blackface in a respectful manner and wearing it to disparage.
That second point — blackface can be worn without mockery of black people — is perfectly obvious. No one thought Laurence Olivier or Orson Welles was doing a demeaning minstrel act when they wore blackface as Othello. If darkening one’s skin is an unspeakable insult, then we should all consider it egregious that the light-skinned Ben Kingsley put on makeup to play the brown-skinned Mohandas Gandhi in Gandhi. No, it’s not the object per se — the makeup — that is offensive; it is the item’s usage as part of a nasty satiric putdown of black people that makes it a racist insult.
As for Kelly’s first point, that wearing blackface used to be considered acceptable, well. Liberal Hollywood comic Jimmy Kimmel wore blackface in 2003, while lampooning black speech, in a skit in which he played NBA star Karl Malone. Liberal Hollywood actor David Cross wore blackface, in a 2015 sketch on episode three of the show W/ Bob & David. (Netflix pulled the entire episode this week.) Liberal Hollywood actor Ben Stiller wore blackface in Zoolander in 2001. Liberal Hollywood actor Billy Crystal wore blackface at the 2012 Oscars while mimicking the late Sammy Davis Jr.
Liberal Hollywood actor Sarah Silverman wore blackface in a 2007 Comedy Central sketch. Liberal Hollywood comic Jimmy Fallon wore blackface, imitating Chris Rock, in a 2000 Saturday Night Live skit. After liberal Hollywood actor Ted Danson wore blackface while doing a sort of parody of minstrelsy at a 1993 Friars Club roast — he had been dating Whoopi Goldberg — Howard Stern did a parody of Danson’s act in blackface. Most notably, Robert Downey Jr. scored an Academy Award nomination for wearing blackface in Tropic Thunder in 2008. Even Tom Hanks, in 2004, yukked it up in a skit with a guy who wore blackface (and African garb, and an afro) during a school fundraiser. All of these incidents are much more recent than Kelly’s childhood.
As for political figures, worldwide liberal icon Justin Trudeau wore blackface so many times he can’t even remember them all, and the liberal governor Ralph Northam of Virginia may have worn blackface, or perhaps it was a Klan hood, who knows? Journalists never bothered to find out.
Some of these people apologized for being racist, while others insisted anyone who took umbrage was missing the joke. “In my defense, Tropic Thunder is about how wrong [blackface] is, so I take exception,” Downey recently told Joe Rogan on the latter’s podcast. You’ll note that the list of names doesn’t carry a lot of right-leaning personalities, though Stern in 1994 ran for governor of New York as a libertarian and Downey seems to have some conservative tendencies, even if he starred in a campaign video to promote the presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton. Fallon, formerly considered apolitical, shed that label when, after he was deemed insufficiently antagonistic toward Donald Trump on his TV show, he apologized and made a donation in Trump’s name to a group that defends illegal immigrants. Wearing blackface seems to be largely a liberal pastime. Still, Downey’s defense is correct: The joke is usually not, “Black people are ridiculous,” as in the old vaudeville acts.
That’s a validation of Kelly’s point: Blackface can be worn for purposes other than racist ones. Blackface can even be anti-racist; the point of the David Cross sketch that Netflix will no longer let you see is that a white motorist (played by Cross) who antagonizes a cop is treated calmly but a black motorist (played by Cross in makeup) who behaves perfectly normally may cause a cop to panic and reach for his pepper spray. The sketch depends on makeup because it’s the same guy in both situations. People won’t be able to judge for themselves, though, since the sketch has been yanked, and Cross will now have to deal with being forever linked to blackface in news stories that suggest he did something so egregiously wrong that his work had to be removed by its distributor.
Why, though, are so many liberals so fascinated with wearing blackface that they’re willing to take a gamble on it, all these years later? What would Freud say? This brings us to a bizarre Washington Post story about a 54-year-old party guest (I’ll omit her name) who wore blackface to political cartoonist Tom Toles’s Halloween party in 2018. The woman who wore blackface is not a public figure, so what she wore to a Halloween party two years ago does not rise to the level of news, yet the Post this week devoted several thousand words to this incident, making the person in question a public figure, getting her fired, and, perhaps, ruining her life.
The female partygoer is a liberal who often participates in marches for progressive causes. And the intent of her blackface getup was to ridicule . . . Megyn Kelly. She wore a button that read, “Hello, I’m Megyn Kelly.” The joke was obviously that Kelly had been insensitive to the blackface issue, but the woman apologized to the host of the party the next day and said she’d made a mistake. Still, years later her employer dropped her when it got wind of the Post expose.
So that makes two people who have lost jobs over blackface: Megyn Kelly, and a random woman who mocked Megyn Kelly. The lesson seems to be: Liberals will generally suffer no grave consequences for proving Megyn Kelly was correct about blackface, unless they bring up Megyn Kelly.