When popular Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind had himself professionally made up this week for the annual open-house Purim party he hosts in his Midwood home, he was apparently intending to fulfill the spirit of Purim, which employs the wearing of costumes to highlight the fact that – as per the story in Megillat Esther showing how the evil Haman’s plans to destroy the Jewish people ultimately backfired to bring his downfall – things are not always as they seem.
But Hikind’s attempt to look totally different than he usually does – by appearing as a black man dressed as a basketball player – unfortunately created a media storm when his son posted a photo of his daring dad on Facebook. A number of Hikind’s fellow elected officials – including an African-American assemblyman – called his wearing of blackface makeup insensitive and insulting to blacks, and insisted that he apologize.
Upon contemplation, the Jewish Voice truly doubts that Assemblyman Hikind had any malevolent intentions with his outrageous costume. The sense of turnabout that Purim epitomizes generally gives observant Jews halachically sanctioned free reign to depart from normal standards of behavior and act with unconstrained merriment. According to Hikind, the countless guests who came through his home for the all-day Purim celebration uniformly (pardon the pun) took his disguise in stride, simply viewing it as an expression of fun and frivolity, something out of the ordinary designed to evoke benign amusement.
Moreover, the costume was worn within the confines of the assemblyman’s home, at an essentially private gathering. Surely one is allowed to look any way he wants on his own personal premises.
At the same time, though, we recognize that Dov Hikind is a public figure, a government official who represents a community that consists of diverse ethnic groups. Considering that his home was more or less open to the public throughout the duration of the Purim party, along with the fact that he apparently told his son it would be okay to place the photo of him in blackface on the Internet for all the world to see, Hikind should have been more judicious in his choice of a disguise. The assemblyman’s long tenure in public office should have made him realize that the actions of someone of his stature are quite likely to receive widespread scrutiny, and that his appearance in such a getup would be bound to incite offense along racial lines.
Anyone with even surface knowledge of Hikind’s record knows that he has gone out of his way over the years to forge alliances with African-American government officials, so any attempt to label him as a racist is obviously bogus. But calls for him to display greater sensitivity are well-taken. Surely the assemblyman will find a way to have fun next Purim that will not generate controversy.