On Dov Hikind, Black Face and Jews

Dov Hikind
Assemblyman Hikind and Family

Is this Guy Really that Stupid?

I bet Dov Hikind is pissed with his son for putting this picture on the internet so the whole world can see it; otherwise it would have remained and inside joke between Hikind – a Brooklyn  Democrat who is New York State Assemblyman – and his constituents.  Did he learn nothing about the perils of the web from the fall of Congressman Andy Weiner, a brilliant politician who was forced to resign his office when he got busted flashing his weenie in cyberspace.  Did he not warn his son about the consequences of putting the wrong stuff out there?  Evidently he did not.

But to dress up in black face, put on a basketball jersey and say that he was just choosing a costume to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim, is dumber .  And Hikind’s response to complaints that his actions are offensive is dumber still.  For a smart Jew this guy does some really dumb things. Consider his initial reaction.

“I was just, I think, I was trying to emulate, you know, maybe some of these basketball players. Someone gave me a uniform, someone gave me the hair of the actual, you know, sort of a black basketball player…I can’t imagine anyone getting offended. You know, anyone who knows anything about Purim knows that if you walk throughout the community, whether it’s Williamsburg, Boro Park, Flatbush, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens Hills, people get dressed up in, you name it, you know, in every kind of dress-up imaginable. Purim, you know, everything goes and it’s all done with respect. No one is laughing, no one is mocking. It’s all just in good fun with respect always, whatever anyone does it’s done with tremendous amounts of respect and with dignity, of course.”

Really Dovie?  Are you really that clueless?  For a guy who is a super Jewish Nationalist who was once a follower of the rabid racist Rabbi Mier Khane, founder of the Jewish Defense League, a militant Zionist organization here in the US, then immigrated to Israel.  After settling in Israel Kahane advocated openly racist policies.  The late great Jewish investigative reporter with the Village Voice, Robert I. Freedman, pulled the covers off the Hikind-Kahane relationship in penetrating articles a couple of decades ago.  But Hikind’s tawdry past has now been forgotten in a country with a short memory that disdains the study of history.

For a Jewish Nationalist of Hikind’s vintage to claim that he does not understand why black people are offended by his black face get up exposes him as a duplicitous fraud.  And he has been called to task on this by thoughtful honest Jewish critics – he even offended the Anti-Defamation League, who rarely criticizes Jews about anything.  But given the experience of the Jews and their tradition of criticism and debate, as well as their long tradition of speaking out for social justice, it is not surprising.  One of the most penetrating critiques comes from Ehav Ever, an Israeli who lives in Jerusalem.  Writing on the comment thread of the Politicker, Ehav observes:

 

There are a lot of Jews who are offended by non-Jews doing things, as a joke against Jews. Especially, when said joke has a long history of use by Anti-Semites. There are Jews who get offended by xian missionaries who started pretending to be Jewish in order to get Jews to convert.
Blackface jokes have a long and racist history behind them and for a Jew to claim to be connected to Torah and first take part in a tradition derived from Avodah Zara and then to take on a custom, blackface, started by those who used it as a part of systematic social degradation is anti-Torah to begin with. It is what the Torah warned against about taking on the practices of the nations.  
The choice is simple a Jew can either cast his/her lot with the Ovdei Avodah Zara who created the blackface fad or a Jew can cast her/her lot with Hashem, Torah, and Halakha.”

Isn’t it incredible that a Jew living in faraway Israel can see the issue so clearly, who is aware of the pernicious racist history of whites “blacking up,” as it was called during the era in American history when black faced minstrel shows parodying black American life and culture was the most popular form of mass entertainment in the nation, but a politician representing a borough with hundreds of thousands of black people does not?  What does it say about the educational system in this country?

It tells us that the system has failed in teaching Americans their true history. This of course comes as no revelation to those of us who have been fighting for decades to get the complete story of American race relations properly taught in our public schools.  The problem lies in the fact that the history of Afro-Americans and Native Americans contradict the great American myth of “the home of the brave and land of the free,” which is the central theme in the master narrative of American civilization upon which the American Exceptionalists based their claims that Americans are morally superior to all the other nations.

Hence this is a willful ignorance designed to avoid unpleasant truths; psychologists call it “living in denial.”  This is the most generous explanation for Assemblyman Hikind’s behavior.  But given his history one cannot truly know what motivates him, so I won’t venture further into an attempt at psychoanalysis, a task for which I am unqualified.  Rather I shall remind Mr. Hikind that there is a long history of his racist role playing by whites in black face who defamed Black Americans for the entertainment of fellow whites.  And although this tradition was started by white Christians Jews, would play a major role in projecting it around the world.

In 1991 I was invited to present a lecture at Harvard on the relationship between blacks and Jews.  The lecture was sponsored by the WEB DuBois Institute, which was headed by Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., who extended the invitation.  At the time there is a big uproar over a skit held at the exclusive Friar’s Club in which a Roast was held for the black comedienne who goes by the stage name Whoopi Goldberg.  It is customary for the honoree to become the object of derisive but good natured jokes told by friends and colleagues.  It’s a showbiz thing.

However there is an understanding that the jokes told are designed for the audience to laugh with the object of the roast not at them, which is the difference between good humor and ridicule.  It is a thin line that all comedians who use personal insult as a subject of jokes must be aware of; crossing it can result in real offense.  This is what happened when Whoopi’s Jewish boyfriend Ted Danson appeared in black face and Afro-wig then proceeded to call her a bunch of “niggers.”  The black people in the room were shocked and outraged; television host and former Naval Intelligence Officer Montel Williams said he felt like he was at a Ku Klux Klan meeting and New York Mayor David Dinkins said it was way over the top.

I wrote a column about it in the Daily News and I began my Harvard speech, “Strange Bedfellows: On blacks and Jews in America,” by reading it.  The point was to show how Jews, enjoying the racial privilege bequeathed by white skin in America, were given license  to exploit the Afro-American image in public venues that Afro-Americans were not allowed to do with the Jewish image without being labeled “anti-Semitic” and paying a big price.  Yet the Sambo image represented by burnt cork faces and Afro-wigs is an offensive a symbol to Afro-Americans as the Swastika is to Jews.

Titled “Dear Whoppi & Ted: Sambo is Still Not Funny,” I offered the following observations.   “Like Jim Crow Sambo has had a strange career.  He was last seen in black tux and tails, high hat, burnt cork face and grotesquely large lips professing his love for his Whoopi at the Friars Club.  Not everyone at the party was amused….This incident raises serious issues and poses fundamental questions about how the Afro-American image is exploited in the public arena.”

Danson had offered an apology, just as Dov Hikind has now done, only much faster.  “Words by themselves are not racist; racism is a matter of intent” he said.  My response was “No matter how well intended, Danson’s apologia is sophistry.  Negative images of African Americans are deeply embedded in the national culture, collective memory and imagination of Euro-Americans.”

I went on to review the history of the Sambo figure, quoting Professor Joseph Botkin’s authoritative study, Sambo: the Rise and Demise of an American Jester.  ‘The life of Sambo began with the early colonization efforts of the 17th century…Sambo’s existence gradually evolved as western Europeans directed the energies of blacks on the Sugar plantations in the West Indies and the Tobacco fields of Virginia and Maryland.  Sambo was born during the infancy of the American Republic and over a period of time, Sambo became an integral part of the colonial family…Sambo was the first truly indigenous American humor character throughout the culture.”

By the middle of the 19th century the Sambo figure reached the height of popularity in the Blackface Minstrle show, when it was first Anglo-Saxon performers like Thomas “Daddy Dan” Rice who “blacked up,” then the role was dominated by Irishman, and by the early twentieth century the major black face stars were the Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor, both Jews.   And their acts were a big hit; Jolson was the biggest act of his time after he made the first “Talkie” movie with sound: “The Jazz Singer.”  It was a complete rip off of Afro-American culture that the world witnessed first as a parody of the real thing.

The movie was a big hit, grossing almost four million and almost two million in profits.  With the great success of Al Jolson the Jewish movie Moguls who built Hollywood made many movies with the Sambo figure, even when they began to employ real black  actors  – like Stepin  Fetchin, Willie Best, Mantan Moreland, Eddie Rochester Anderson, etc. – which froze the black actor in that role for decades.

Hence Jews in Blackface is no joke, it is a tawdry tale that cost the black community dearly.  When the sensational song/dance/comedy team Bert Williams and George Walker formed their act in San Francisco during 1893, there were so many white acts performing in blackface the billed themselves as “Two Real Coons.”  George Walker, a handsome dark skinned man who sometimes billed himself as “Mr. Chocolate Drop,” refused to black up, but Bert Williams was forced to paint his face with burnt cork in order to work in the Ziegfeld Follies – which was then the greatest show in the country…if not the world!

This is the painful history that Dov Hikind has conjured up.  And if he doesn’t know it, then he should study the history of this country more carefully instead of just the Jewish experience.  But I don’t think he really wanted to know.  If he did he need only reference the  big blow-up in this city after former Mayor “Crazy Eddie” Kotch performed a blackface routine with Afro-wig while he was serving as the Mayor.  And that’s unacceptable for an elected official in a city with a large Afro-American population.  And we won’t stand for it!

Like Crazy Eddie, “Dumb Dovie” is an ultra-nationalist Jew, and they guard the Jewish image very carefully; ever ready to do battle with anyone who insults the Jewish community.  Hence he should understand that Afro-Americans are as jealous of our image as American Jews are of theirs.  Furthermore this is the 21st century, not the 19th or 20th, and we will not stand for racist insults by public officials.

That’s why Hikind ended up apologizing profusely after first doubling down. His “wrong and strong” routine sparked a fury from the Black community who were joined by anti-racist from all communities including the Jewish community, and he was roundly rebuked. A bit of free advice Dovie: You better Check yo self before yo wreck yoself!  ”

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 Al Jolson

Al Jolson

This Jew Became the Biggest Star in Show business Blacking Up

Eddie Cantor

WhiteEddie_Cantor

A Major Jewish Star All Blacked Up

Bert Williams

Bert 

Forced to Black Up to work in the Ziegfeld Follies

 

Stepin Fetchit and will Rogers 

 Stepin-Fetchit-and-Will-Rogers

Jewish Movie Moguls ferred the Sambo Image to real Black Actors!

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(Double click to view)

Al Jolson In “The Jazz Singer”

http://youtu.be/PIaj7FNHnjQ

Eddie Cantor On Stage

http://youtu.be/AfaVanFZA_o

Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
February 27, 2913

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