Kansas Mayor & Youth Advocates think BlackFace is Fun

htp Kevin @ Slant Truth

So, just when I thought I was done writing about bigotry for the day, I went over to Kevin’s and read about Arkansas City Mayor Mel Kuhn who dressed in black face at a city fundraiser.

Kuhn, pictured above, arrived for a Wichita Kansas Beauty Pageant Fundraiser in black face the last weekend of September 2008. He entered the pageant as Smellishis Coon. He won amidst a cheering crowd. His prize, a Barbie.

The fundraiser is an annual “drag” Beauty Pageant that raises money for the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) legal volunteers who advocate for children in the court system, including those who are abused, homeless, in shelters, foster kids, etc. Among these youth, of course, there are black children, girls, and genderqueers all of whom in some way are demeaned by the basic premise of this fundraiser and the Mayor’s particular racist turn in it. His winning the pageant not only calls into question his leadership in Arkansas City but the ability of CASA volunteers to advocate for marginalized youth in the care in Wichita.

It took a meeting with the NAACP to make the Mayor issue a public apology, until then I am sure he was proudly displaying his trophy and cooing as he did in the photo about how he wished he looked like her. CASA has issued no similar apology for allowing his participation in the event nor awarding it with the highest honor of the night.

I am unable to offer analysis of this situation at this time as I have reported 2 racist incidents and commented on 1 homophobic one, the econ crisis, which in its own way is its own classist debacle intersecting every other oppression in its wake, as well as the debates, in the last two days and this blackface incident which demeans at the intersection of race and gender and possibly desire at the local government level is just one straw too many.

Racism is not a joke it is bigotry. Bigotry more often than not ultimately leads to psychic if not physical violence and it certainly makes space in the larger society for inequality and violence to unfold. While a certain segment of white society in N. America remains deeply amused by racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia and especially in the places where these intersect, one needs only look at the number of children and adults who were threatened, beaten, shot, or incarcerated for self-defense to see that these “jokes” lead to real and painful consequences, and sometimes death for targeted groups. While Mayors, ICE agents, police officers, DAs, and now even Youth Advocates laugh at the nooses, the blackfaces, the drag shows, etc. we are dying in the streets. A good person does not contribute to the death of innocent people. A good person does not make life unsafe, even for a moment, for innocent people just because they are different.

3 thoughts on “Kansas Mayor & Youth Advocates think BlackFace is Fun

  1. It has been days since I first read this story, I am still shocked and disturbed that people find this humorous. I just am incapable of wrapping my head around it. I suppose it is easier to joke about something if you are on the outside looking in – if you are not the object of the humor.

  2. You know what gets me about this incident, the idea that the Mayor could say that he didn’t know what he was doing was offensive. How is that even possible in the year 2008? He did the usual PC apology and the people that he "othered" by this little performance are just expected to grant him forgiveness. How many cheeks do we have to turn?

  3. Katherin – I think the problem is calling it humor at all. Once society says bigotry is akin to humor it makes room for people to do exactly what this Mayor did and think that there is nothing wrong. As astounding as it is to you and I, I’m sure there are people in Kansas right now saying "geez, get over it, it was a just a joke." Sooner or later, one of them will probably come on this blog and say it.Renee – welcome to the new spot. The "I didn’t know" and "I didn’t mean it" defenses are always the first two, followed by "it was just a joke" the bottom line is we live in a country in which certain oppressions are handed down like an inheritance with only the language changing. Both liberals and conservatives are guilty at one time or another because bigotry is woven into our culture and until the answer for those offenses is actual change versus a basic apology and 2 second of diversity training, whether we forgive or not, it isn’t going to change.I am actually more horrified at CASA for holding this event, allowing him to participate, and then rewarding him with the "crown." They are social justice advocates for marginalized children and they raised funds through the intersection of sexism and racism and likely classism and homophobia. If I were in charge of the NAACP down there, it is CASA I would have called in to my office and I would be reviewing their advocacy records for children of color, queer and genderqueer youth, and girls with a fine tooth comb. B/c part of reconciliation is the assurance that it will never happen again.

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