Friday, November 08, 2019

Bad Behavior, Overheated Response

Oh, good Lord, not again.

In mid-October, The Philadelphia Inquirer had reported

Photos of Westampton Township committee candidate Karl Eversmeyer dressed in blackface surfaced on Monday, igniting calls for his withdrawal from the November election and swaying the Burlington County GOP to pull its support for the Republican nominee.

The photos, which were found on Eversmeyer’s Facebook page and released to the media on Monday, show the 33-year-old wearing blackface makeup with a white button-down shirt, silver sunglasses, and a black flat-rim hat tilted sideways while holding a bottle of Hennessy.

Eversmeyer denies any racist intent and said he and his wife dressed up as Kanye West and Taylor Swift for his friend Phil’s Halloween party in 2009, which was one month after the notorious scandal between the rapper and the pop singer at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.

“It was a great party. My friend Phil — and I don’t like to label anyone or describe them by their ethnicity or color, but for this, I guess I have to — he’s African American,” Eversmeyer said in a phone interview. He said that the majority of people at the party were Phil’s friends and family, who are also African American.

“I mean the thought of me dressing up as a racist to go to an African American party never really crossed my mind. It doesn’t make sense to do that,” he said. “They voted me for best costume. They couldn’t believe I was white, to be honest. They had no idea.”

Eversmeyer, who grew up in Beverly and moved to Westampton four years ago, said that he recently talked with Phil, whose last name was not provided, about the photo, and that his friend of 12 years “could not believe” people were calling him a racist. A person identified as “Phil G.,” who could not be reached for comment, provided a statement through Eversmeyer’s Facebook page that said:

“We requested and held a contest for our guests to come dressed up as something unique. Karl and his wife came as Kanye West and Taylor Swift after the the incident happened at the awards. No one took it as racist that attended the party everyone took it as he thought outside the box and won the best costume contest. Thank you for you time in reading the full side of the story. - Phil G.”

Cultural appropriation. Eversmeyer (as shown in video above) recognizes "by today's standards, with the cultural appropriation, I understand why people are upset...."

This was ten years ago but that is not the issue. It was surely not "racism"- the belief that one race is inherently inferior to another- and was not even racially hostile.

It was instead a case of cultural appropriation, which is always inappropriate, and consistently condoned, even applauded. It is why "ghetto" became the "hood" and affluent white suburbanite kids picked up on rap, the musical expression of the perspective of many young blacks (particularly in the inner city).   It is why a quarter century ago whites, observing usage among African-Americans of "diss," began using the same term- until a few years after it fell out of favor among blacks.

The Halloween incident obviously was of a piece with those, and other instances, of cultural appropriation.  Karl and his wife came as Kanye West and Taylor Swift after the incident happened at the awards, "Phil G" wrote.  It was simply a bad idea at another bad idea, Halloween parties for people beyond the ear;y years of adolescence.

Having black friends, even at a party hosted by a black friend- as was this one- should not inoculate an individual against the charge of racial bigotry. However, it should absolve someone against the charge that what he did was offensive. If it were offensive, action of whatever kind or degree should have- and would have- been taken then.

The winning Democratic candidate, incumbent committeeman/mayor John Wisniewski stated “Mr. Eversmeyer has yet to apologize to anyone that may be offended by these photos. I understand that it be cool between him and his circle of friends, but outside of that, people are upset."

That it be cool... Having been a middle-aged white man myself, I can verify that "be cool" is a middle-aged white man's idea of African-American jargon. And yet, Wisniewski called on his opponent "to apologize to anyone that may be offended by these photos."  That is considerable gall or, as I'd be tempted to appropriate, "chutzpah."

Karl Eversmeyer is a Republican, so there probably were reasons to defeat him. The incident from 2009, though, was not among them.

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