Filed under: Commentary
To Speaker of the NYS Assembly, Sheldon Silver:
People make mistakes – we all make mistakes. We can’t expect to know everything; we can’t expect our elected officials to know everything about every issue.
But when someone gets called out for being racist (or sexist, or homophobic, or transphobic, or anti-Semitic!) it is that person’s job, as a decent human being, to take a step back and think. Dressing in blackface has a long complicated history that I don’t need to enlighten you about. Assemblymember Hikind did something with “pure intention” that had a racist result. The effect didn’t match the cause – this sometimes happens. Yes, an assemblyman dressing in blackface is despicable and racist and probably warrants some action on your part. But what me more was Hikind’s refusal to accept any wrongdoing.
When someone gets called out, it’s important to step back and think about the effects of your actions. The intention can sometimes be important too – but pure intention doesn’t always equate to pure consequence. Someone got hurt, someone got offended – that is Hikind’s fault, and that’s the part that he doesn’t grasp. It’s not about black people learning about Jewish culture; black people know about the racist history that blackface has. It’s not about Hikind not having “a prejudiced bone in his body;” clearly some people feel that he did something prejudiced, and it’s his job to own up to that – not tell them they must be mistaken and they just don’t understand what he meant. And it doesn’t matter that his intentions are pure. It Doesn’t Matter. He did something racist and is refusing to respect the people that were kind enough to let him know.
We need politicians that can own up to their mistakes, and can be willing to learn. It worries me that the assemblymember refuses to take responsibility and admit that what he did had racist consequences. It’s good that he feels he isn’t racist, and therefore could never accidentally do something racist – but he’s wrong. Good people do bad and stupid things sometimes. And that has to be OK; what matters is how you learn and grow after someone alerts you to your folly. And that’s where Assemblyman Hikind has failed.
New York State Resident
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