Virginia town councilman apologizes after wearing blackface for Coming to America costume – USA TODAY

An elected official in Virginia has apologized after sharing a photo of himself in blackface on social media.

Faron Hamblin, a member of the Warsaw town council, wore a curly wig and dark make up to resemble Randy Watson, a character played by Eddie Murphy in the 1988 film “Coming to America,” according to a screenshot of an Oct. 24 Facebook post obtained by TV station WWBT that has since been deleted.

After getting negative comments, Hamblin deleted the post as well as an apology he wrote on Facebook. He later sent a letter to the local NAACP chapter saying he will use this incident as a “learning opportunity.”

“I understand this has caused grief and disappointment and I’m sorry for the pain and anguish I may have caused to any members of our local community and to any members of the far reaching social media community,” he wrote in the letter shared with USA TODAY by town manager Joseph Quesenberry. “This is not who I am, nor do I espouse any views associated with the negative aspects of this error in judgement.”

He said he deleted the first apology because he believed it was in his and the community’s “best interest to remove the post in order for all parties involved to move forward and to learn from this incident.”

In his original apology, Hamblin said he dressed up “to show my love for the character and the movie,” according to screenshots of the post shared by WWBT. 

Hamblin did not immediately return a request for comment from USA TODAY.

Blackface in Virginia:These incidents show how deeply rooted anti-Black racism is in America

Blackface traces its origins to minstrelsy, a popular form of 19th century entertainment that mocked plantation slaves. The performances have been condemned as offensive by members of the Black community, including abolitionist Frederick Douglass, since they began.

Civil rights organizations have also publicly condemned the practice for decades, saying it dehumanizes African Americans by reinforcing racial stereotypes.

The conversation about blackface as part of Halloween costumes became mainstream about six years ago when Yale University asked its students not to wear racially insensitive costumes, Susan Scafidi, author of “Who Owns Culture: Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law,” previously told USA TODAY. 

Eddie Murphy plays Randy Watson, singer in the fictional band Sexual Chocolate, in the film "Coming to America." An elected official in Warsaw, Virginia, recently came under fire for dressing up as Murphy's character and wearing blackface.

About half of Americans (53%) think it is generally unacceptable for a white person to darken their skin to appear to be a different race as part of a Halloween costume, but nearly a third said doing so is always or sometimes OK, according to a Pew Research Center survey from 2019.

Wearing the costume of a character that’s a different race can be fine, but adding features like blackface, different hair or putting on tattoos can be insensitive, said Mia Moody-Ramirez, director of graduate studies and American studies at Baylor University.

Is my Halloween costume offensive? What to know about cultural appropriation

The Richmond County NAACP sent a letter demanding Hamblin publicly apologize but stopped short of calling for his resignation because the council, not the public, would be responsible for choosing his replacement, said chapter President Samantha Cain.

Cain said the incident has sparked division in the community and many white residents don’t understand why blackface is harmful.

“We’re in a rural community but that’s no excuse to be ignorant or uneducated,” she said. “These are conversations that we’ve been having. We are just in disbelief that people are this ignorant at this time.”

Warsaw is about 50 miles northeast from Richmond with a population of 1,800, according to the U.S. Census. 

In his original apology that was deleted, Hamblin compared his actions to Murphy, who portrayed a Jewish character in the film, and comedian Dave Chappelle, who recently has been under fire for making transphobic comments in his sixth stand-up special “The Closer.” He had called Murphy’s actions “freedom of expression.”

Cain said Hamblin’s case is different because he’s an elected council member and hasconstituents to answer to for his actions.

“I do not feel like the apology is sufficient. That’s comedy, that’s Hollywood,” Cain said, referring to Chappelle and Murphy. “You are an elected official.”

The NAACP is demanding county officials and law enforcement take mandatory diversity and inclusion training and plans to address the issue at town and county meetings next week. Town officials have not returned a request for comment.

Several high-ranking Virginia politicians faced backlash in 2019 for wearing blackface in the past.

Gov. Ralph Northam said he wore blackface as part of a Michael Jackson costume in 1984 and Attorney General Mark Herring admitted he darkened his face to look like an African-American performer in college.

“We do have issues with race,” she said. “I don’t think this took anybody by surprise. We’re just accustomed to the behaviors.”

Contributing: Jordan Mendoza, Jessica Guynn and Monica Rhor, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

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