Dov Hikind is the asshole New York assemblyman representing District 48, a swath of concrete in Brooklyn that includes Midwood and Borough Park, a famous Orthodox Jewish enclave in the borough's southwest quadrant. Hikind is an Orthodox Jew himself. To celebrate Purim this year, marking the deliverance of the Jewish people from extermination in ancient Persia, Hikind threw an elaborate costume party. Hikind's wife dressed as a red-faced demon and his son painted a yin-yang symbol on his face, reportedly to look like an "angel." And Hikind himself, the 62-year-old elected representative from one of the world's most diverse cities? Why, he went as a basketball player, in Afro and blackface, of course.
Reports the Observer's Hunter Walker, Hikind had "a lot of fun" turning what could have been a totally innocent holiday party into a minstrel show:
"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," Mr. Hikind explained. "It was just a lot of fun. Everybody just had a very, very good time and every year I do something else. … The fun for me is when people come in and don't recognize me."
Hikind went on to say that his costume, which draws on centuries-old blackface performances designed to undergird white supremacy, was done "all just in good fun with respect."
Despite the efforts of white folks who should know better, blackface has been unable to convey fun or respect for quite a while now. And Hikind's career to this point has not been a particularly inspiring study in how to live with difference. Brooklynites may remember some of his other greatest hits:
In both 2005 and 2009, Hikind introduced a failed "anti-terrorism" fearmongering bill in the assembly that would have allowed police officers to stop and search citizens based on their ethnicity, a law one might think a Jewish person would find a bit unsettling when put in historical context, but alas. Besides that, New York City police already stop people all the time based on their race, which makes codifying that sort of behavior seem like a particularly bad idea.
In 2006, when a group of Orthodox Jewish teenagers swarmed on a Pakistani Muslim man, calling him a "terrorist motherfucker" and beating him with their limbs and brass knuckles, Hikind publicly condemned the Pakistani man saying it was he who had provoked the Jewish boys. A few weeks later, four out of the five boys charged in the attack would plead guilty to assault.
In 2007, Hikind said this of gay marriage: "If we authorize gay marriage in the state of New York, those who want to live and love incestuously will be five steps closer to achieving their goals as well."
In 2009, Hikind fought to exclude the five million people besides Jews killed by the Nazi regime from Brooklyn's Holocaust memorial. "These people are not in the same category as Jewish people with regards to the Holocaust," Hikind told the New York Post at the time. "It is so vastly different. You cannot compare political prisoners with Jewish victims."
In 2010, Hikind spoke at one of three New York memorials to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the murder of Meir Kahane, the American-Israeli political activist who founded the Jewish Defense League. Kahane advocated the forceful removal of all non-Jews from Israel and the barring of Jew-gentile intermarriages and sexual relationships. At one of his memorial rallies, attendee Josh Davis was quoted as saying, "Had we paid heed to Rabbi Kahane's message of expelling the malignant Arab population back in the early 80s, we would not be at the verge of extinction." The Southern Poverty Law Center now includes the Jewish Defense League on its list of hate groups.
But Hikind isn't totally insensitive to ethnic slights. Earlier this month, when the New York Post decided to gin up outrage about the supposed resemblance between fashion designer John Galliano's outfit and Hasidic dress, the assemblyman obliged:
"Who is he mocking?" added Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind. "The way the socks look, the jacket, the peyos ... My question is, who's he laughing at?"
Jeez, great question, Dov. Now, on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of black people who live in Brooklyn, here's the same question: The way the black facepaint looks and the Afro wig, my question is, who the fuck are you laughing at?
And why haven't you quit your job yet?
Update: Hikind has offered an apology along the lines of the classic "sorry you were offended" defense, according to the New York Daily News:
"My wife was dressed as the devil. And she's not a devil. It was to look different on Purim without deep intentions. I just wanted to look different and unrecognizable," Hikind said.
"I understand people's sensitivities. Nobody meant anything. It was not meant to offend you or hurt you in any fashion. I'm sorry people were offended. It was not meant that way."
[Images via Getty/Facebook.]