Megyn Kelly and NBC

Alright, so I don’t really like Megyn Kelly, but I’m gonna at least half defend her.  Last Thursday, Megyn was fired from her show after saying “Truly, you do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface for Halloween, or a black person who put on whiteface for Halloween? When I was a kid, it was OK as long as you were dressing up as, like, a character.”

What she said stirred up a ton of controversy, and was probably not the smartest thing to say, but did she deserve to be fired over it?  So there is some speculation that her ratings were low, and that NBC was looking for an excuse.  I’m going to assume for this blog, that she was let go solely based on the statement above.

I don’t think she should have been fired for it.  Let me explain.  Blackface, initially wasn’t just the act of painting your face black and pretending to be black, it was specifically that with the intention of mocking/stereotyping the race.  CBS did a great piece about the history of blackface, but unfortunately they did drop the ball when mentioning Megyn Kelly’s case.  You see, they bring up their piece in regards to her remarks, and say so explicitly, however there is a bit of a gap that isn’t bridged.

Megyn, said “As long as you’re dressing up as, like, a character,” and that’s something that is missing from this conversation.  Now, I would personally say, it’s in bad form to do so, even with this caveat, and I think it stems from that initial history of blackface, but to conflate the two, which it seems her words did accidentally, while her intention was pretty clear doesn’t do, is dishonest.  The case that Megyn Kelly was talking about was a Real Housewife, who had dressed up and darkened her skin in order to play Diana Ross, and an example that’s been given a lot of attention over the last several years is Juliana Hough dressing up like the character of Suzanne ‘Crazy Eyes’ Warren.  In both of these Halloween costumes, white women seemed to admire the people they were dressing as, and it didn’t seem an attempt to mock, or stereotype, but were going for some form of authenticity in their costume.  So their intention is about as far as possible from say, when a sorority or frat have a ‘blackface’ party.

Intention isn’t everything, and so we can definitely make the argument, that these are still bad ideas for costumes, and should be discouraged, but intention should bare some weight in how we as a society handle the situations.  Now, perhaps Megyn Kelly would argue that intention should make or break whether or not it is an acceptable costume, and I don’t agree with that, but I do think it’s an discussion worth having.

People are acting like Megyn Kelly was endorsing or ok with Blackface in it’s traditional sense, but now that the term has come to encompass much more, it’s important to realize that, and weigh that.  Should she have apologized?  Yeah, because it seems like she genuinely misspoke, but the intention of what she mean is there, this isn’t a case of her saying “um… that’s not what I meant” when it clearly was, if you look at the words that she said, she meant something different.

The last thing that I want to mention, is that on Thursday night, NBC aired their Halloween episode of Superstore.  Now, I love Superstore, so I’m not trying to throw them under the bus, but if you go watch Superstore from Thursday, you’ll hopefully see that NBC clearly screwed up with Megyn Kelly.  You see that episode, is about cultural appropriation, and PC culture, and deals with the nuance of whether or not something is intended to be celebratory or derogatory.  Now, they don’t have anyone in makeup to appear to be other cultures, but they show a white man dressed as a ‘rasta guy’ and when he learns where the line is, he becomes ‘Bob Marley’ so that everything is ok.

If you were completely unaware of the Megyn Kelly situation watching Superstore, you’d see no issue, but I watched it fully aware it was the same network, and fully aware of what she’d been fired for, and it didn’t take away from the episode, but it did show a huge amount of hypocrisy, on the network’s behalf.

Did she deserve to get canceled, or fired, or whatever word they’re using for this?  If her ratings weren’t good enough, absolutely.  Did she deserve to have this used as the reason, and painted as a racist?  I don’t think so.

Cultural Appropriation, and a Couple of Things I Don’t Get

Alright, before I get started, I want to frame this for you correctly.  First of all, if you’re not aware, I’m a white/straight/cis/male, and so I don’t claim to be an expert on any of this, and what I’m bringing up here, is hopefully to start a conversation in which I may learn more about the subject.  Second, if something in this offends you, please know that it is not my intention, and just let me know.

Wikipedia defines Cultural Appropriation as “the adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of another culture.”

Right now there is a lot of talk about cultural appropriation in a negative way. Given the historical context, it makes sense that there is controversy around cultural appropriation.  For all of modern history, specifically the age of mass media, in the United States, there has been a history of white people taking different cultural elements, and repurposing them, making it appear as if they were the originators.  Music is probably the most clear example of this, jazz, blues, and rock music all originated with black musicians, but were quickly adopted and in large part taken over by white people. Rap/Hip-Hop has to some extent been the exception (other than the Beastie Boys, and Eminem, there hasn’t been enough longevity by white artist in the genre to say it’s white dominated).

It is obviously bad when cultural identity, and history are taken from a culture, but I wonder where the line between this occurring, and genuine love/adaptation of culture is drawn.  Last month Demi Lovato received negative internet feedback when it came to her hair being dreadlocked. I didn’t fully understand why this was controversial, as far as I can tell, it didn’t appear as if it was some kind of mockery of dreadlocks, and certainly no one is going to be confused and think that white people started them because she had them—or regardless of how many white people have them at this point. Now there are a whole bunch of pieces that I could be missing, if she had said been critical of black culture in the past, or thought this granted her license to say racial slurs, then I would understand.  I’ve read a few articles that pointed at tweets telling her what she did wrong, and I must say that in 140 characters I didn’t get it, perhaps a longer form response is appropriate when it comes to a delicate issue like this.

On the other hand, this past week, I saw an article about two women forced to close their burrito restaurant due to cultural appropriation—together with the Demi Lovato story, I thought to write about this.  With the burrito women, all of the headlines made the argument against them sound ridiculous, but upon further investigation, I found out a major part of the issue, was that these two women went and found a place where they really liked the burritos, got the cook to give them the recipe and went home and began using it.  This seems a little more like a flagrant example, and while I’d be hard pressed to call it straight out theft, it does appear to be douche-y.

What I’ve been wondering with all this talk about cultural appropriation is, where is the line?  If we stick with the food example for a minute, I personally love food of many different cultures (I used to joke that fat people have a harder time being bigoted).  Personally, I don’t want to eat Italian food every night, or any other food every night, I want variety, and cultures cook different, and use different ingredients, and have created a large rainbow.  As I’ve grown up, my tastes have expanded, and I’ve learned about fusion foods (I’ve had tacos, and pizzas that have been heavily influenced by an array of different cultural identities).  Food isn’t the only way this works, music too, and I’m sure more subtle cultural practices can really make our lives fuller, and begin to blend together.

Obviously, there is a line between mockery or theft and appreciation.  Black face is the most obvious example. It should be clear to us all that black face—for the purposes of humiliation/separation/dehumanization—is not acceptable.  But what about if someone where’s black make up in an attempt to emulate—in a manner of adoration— a black person.  Take for example Juliana Hough, who, a couple of years ago, dressed up as the character of Crazy Eyes from Orange is the New Black.  It appeared that it was done to play a character she liked, not to mock, and yet the reaction was essentially the same. Now, I think that her dressing up with black make up was a bad idea, and clearly she didn’t understand the effect it would have on people’s feelings, but I don’t think she intended to do any harm.  To some extent shouldn’t intention come into play?  It doesn’t mean we don’t as a society say “woah!  Stop doing that,” but there should be some level of difference in backlash depending on malice or not.

I do understand that identity is a very important concept, and that we all need to have an identity, and more importantly I get that we have a history of people stealing cultural identity markers from others, but there must be a way that we can embrace each other’s cultural differences and grow and expand together, while retaining some form of identity.  So, the two examples, that of Demi Lovato, and the other with the two burrito women seem to be on opposite ends of the same line, and I’m not entirely sure the people complaining know where the line is, nor where it should be.

Please, if you have insight into any of this let me know.  I want to understand better, and obviously I’m missing something.