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News Opinion Editorial

Unhappy Halloween, Hon

Given the trouble she's gotten into in recent years (think: trying to trademark the word "Hon"), one might presume Cafe Hon owner Denise Whiting would take special care to avoid unforced errors that cast her establishment in a less than flattering light.

One might presume so. But one would be wrong.

The Sun's Jill Rosen reported this week that Cafe Hon posted on its Facebook page a photo of one of its staff members in blackface for Halloween. That's right: a white person, in blackface, "dressing up" as a black person (in this case, the singer Whitney Houston). After an absolutely predictable outcry, the cafe took down the photo and posted the following kinda-sorta apology: "We humbly apologize for our misjudgment in posting a Halloween picture, we have removed the picture."

Note the mealy-mouthed nature of this response, which sought to justify itself in the very act of apologizing. Here's the translation: "Hey, it was just a Halloween picture! Everyone dresses up crazy for Halloween. What's the big deal, you oversensitive party poopers?"

Perhaps realizing the inadequacy of this first effort, Ms. Whiting released the following statement later in the day: "One of the photos spontaneously and hastily posted was of a Caucasian woman who dressed up as Whitney Houston with a microphone as her prop. In hindsight, we realized the photo was offensive so we deleted the post within several hours and apologized for doing so."

Better? Somewhat. But it's clear that the writer of that statement simply doesn't get it. It is, therefore, worth reviewing just how many things went badly wrong in this sorry episode. Let us count the ways:

First, someone thought it would be cute and clever for a white person to portray a black person by darkening her face for Halloween. (And how much funnier to portray this well-liked celebrity — who died tragically this year at age 48 — with white powder on her nose. Ms. Houston died from a drug overdose. White powder. Get it? Ha, ha!)

Next, someone thought it OK to post this photo on Facebook. Meaning, they considered this image appropriate for the world to see, and to associate with Cafe Hon.

Finally, when the inevitable statements of regret came, they were the usual non-apology apology of the type we have become so accustomed to these days. "We're sorry if people were offended" — that sort of thing.

The level of ignorance, stupidity and downright classlessness revealed in this incident leaves the mind reeling. For the ten-thousandth time, can we please all agree that blackface performance, a relic of the minstrel shows and vaudeville acts of the viciously racist Jim Crow era, has no place anywhere in a civilized society (never mind a city that is almost two-thirds African-American)?

Here's what Ms. Whiting's next statement should say: "My previous comments on this matter were insufficient, so let me be unambiguous this time. It is never OK for a white person to wear blackface, even at a Halloween party. Doing so is insulting to anyone with a scrap of decency, but especially to the black residents of this city and nation, who continue to face discrimination based on their skin color. To be clear, the problem here is not that a photo was posted 'spontaneously and hastily' on our website. Nor is the problem that some touchy people who can't take a joke were offended. The problem, rather, is that we allowed ourselves to be associated with something monumentally ignorant, blindingly stupid and racially provocative. It was inexcusable, and we sincerely apologize. It does not reflect the values of our business, and we will never let such a thing happen again."

Michael Cross-Barnet

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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