Megyn Kelly’s Defense of Blackface Wasn’t a Mistake, It Was Her Entire Point
Even George W. Bush's daughter was beside herself.
When it comes to Christmas, Megyn Kelly once infamously argued that Santa Claus absolutely had to be portrayed as white under all circumstances. But when it comes to Halloween, well, Kelly came on her NBC show this morning to defend Real Housewives of New York‘s Countess Luann de Lesseps right to be black if she wants to be. Yes, Kelly asked why blackface on Halloween is so offensive during a truly bizarre segment in which her views were a little too extreme even for the daughters of noted non-P.C. icons Joan Rivers and George W. Bush (never mind the fact that Kelly and her producers felt that an all-white panel featuring Melissa Rivers and Jenna Hager Bush was the best they could come up with for a discussion of sensitive racial topics in the first place).
This is not some case of a misunderstood sound bite, either. No, it all came in the middle of a segment that also saw Kelly cracking jokes about what an Anne Frank costume would look like (“You got the diary, I guess”) and one with little actual news value that seemed entirely written and produced just so Kelly could specifically attempt to devil’s advocate the generally accepted idea that blackface is offensive. This wasn’t an off-the-cuff comment. Like, Megyn Kelly literally woke up this morning and designed a segment specifically so she could argue that Halloween blackface isn’t that big of a deal.
Here’s the clip that’s making its way around Twitter:
But in case you think viewing the full segment is going to somehow clear up any confusion, well, you’re out of luck. This is a case where having the full context makes it even worse.
The problem with Kelly’s remarks are obvious, but in case you need it broken down for you, let’s just break it down.
The jumping-off point is misunderstood old news.
“I have to give you fair warning. I’m a little fired up about Halloween costumes this morning. Truly, political correctness has gone amok,” is how Kelly begins the segment, which should tip you off that she’s less interested in any actual news item or the opinions of others and more just about to double down on her own viewpoints.
Kelly pegs the segment to a story about the University of Kent supposedly “banning” cowboy uniforms and other potentially offensive costumes. The whole story actually played itself out weeks ago in the British press, and you’d assume that if Kelly were going to reheat these leftovers for American viewers she’d at least have time to get the facts right. In fact, the University of Kent is not banning any costumes. What actually happened is that the school’s democratically elected student government drafted up suggested guidelines to pass on to other student organizations that might be hosting Halloween gatherings to help students understand what might constitute an offensive costume. The list may have been a little overzealous (these are college kids we’re talking about here, but to be fair, the inclusion of cowboys appears to be in reference to cowboy-and-Indian-themed group costumes), but the group wasn’t “banning” costumes, nor was it proposing any university-sanctioned punishments. Indeed, the group issued a statement an entire 11 days ago, pointing out that the document that made its way to the British press was just a working draft and not the final set of guidelines anyway. “The guidelines that are being reported on are a working document in its draft stages and one which we will be continually reviewing,” claimed the group. This ought to have put to bed a story that concerns no one outside of the University of Kent in Canterbury, England, to begin with.
But the actual facts are of little concern to Kelly. Pulling a trick she surely honed during her days at Fox News, she quickly drops the specifics of the story about a powerless Google Drive document at an English university and obfuscates it with shadowy, unseen forces and “PC police” who are out to get Kelly and people just like her. She claims she “doesn’t want the University of Kent to tell me I can’t” dress as Harvey Weinstein (yes, literally, Harvey Weinstein). Well, good news for Kelly: They aren’t. Kelly and most likely her entire audience are not students at the University of Kent and therefore will remain in no way affected by this weeks-old nonstory.
The worst panel possible was assembled.
One would think when discussing sensitive racial topics on a program that purports to be of the news variety, Kelly would at least try to assemble a diverse panel. Nope. Instead she has Melissa Rivers (daughter of late comedian Joan Rivers), Jenna Bush Hager (daughter of former president George W. Bush), and Jacob Soboroff (son of the current president of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners). Not just an all-white panel, but indeed a panel of white children of more important white parents. Is this supposed to be a news discussion panel or the front row at a Dolce & Gabbana show?
To their credit, each and every one of them seems besides themselves when Kelly defends blackface, but none of them actually calls Kelly out directly. Instead they do those things that too many white people do when they’re confronted with other white people who clearly get their news from the Drudge Report: They try to deflate it with humor, attempt to change the subject, or play a game of dignifying Kelly’s ridiculous point by validating it with attempts at civil and ultimately spineless debate that ignores the central issue. Rivers bemoans the loss of “polite society” and how polite people wouldn’t wear certain types of offensive costumes to begin with. Soboroff says that if you’re going to dress up as something offensive, then other people have the right to call you out on it. Bush Hager says you shouldn’t make people feel bad. To be fair, we’re sure none of them sat in their NBC News makeup chairs thinking, “Megyn Kelly is probably going to defend blackface today and I should be prepared for that,” but it really shouldn’t be hard to even bother sputtering out something as basic as pointing out that blackface can’t be disconnected from centuries of systemic racism. The woman of color in the audience over Kelly’s shoulder literally does a better job at rebutting Kelly with her sudden change of facial expression than any of the people miked up on set do.
Kelly, incredibly, doubles down.
Seemingly desperate to move on, Rivers brings up the fact that her son once had a toy axe on Halloween. Producers had a picture of it all ready to go. It was cute. Kelly, however, just wants to get right back to the topic of blackface (specifically!) by bringing up a Real Housewives Diana Ross costume. She just couldn’t let it go. She was so fixated on the issue that she tried to defend the decision of Countess Luann, a person who is notorious for making bad decisions.
It’s obvious that there was never any attempt at all to have a nuanced, good-faith discussion about suggested Halloween guidelines at a university of 16,000 students over in the United Kingdom. Kelly went out there specifically to defend blackface, and she assembled the notes and talking points to do it and assembled a panel who wouldn’t push back too hard. It’s difficult to pretend there was any other reason for the whole charade. Her comments weren’t a flaw. They were part of the design.
She then seamlessly transitioned into a segment about the benefits of waking up early, but, you know, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea for NBC to let Kelly get a few more hours of sleep each morning.
Related: Charlize Theron Will Play Megyn Kelly in a New Film About Fox News’s Roger Ailes