KEVIN LEININGER: Now that liberals are ‘racists’ too, will the name-calling finally stop? What do you think?

Is wearing blackface racist? If so, what about the whiteface African-American Eddie Murphy wore in a 1984 Saturday Nigh Live skit? (Courtesy photo)
"The View" co-host Joy Behar hasn't been shy about accusing Donald Trump of racism but attended a Halloween party as a "beautiful African woman." (Courtesy photo)
Kevin Leininger

Comedians Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and Sarah Silverman have all tried to make people laugh by suggesting Donald Trump is a racist.

“The View” co-host Joy Behar has called the president a “racist demagogue” and accused Vice President Mike Pence of being mentally ill because he talks to God.

During the 2017 campaign, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam labeled Republican opponent Ed Gillespie and his supporters bigots.

Now, however, they share something beyond a sense of self-perceived moral superiority: As it turns out, liberals were wearing blackface long before a page from Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook included one photo of a person in blackface and another wearing a KKK hood.

For conservatives and others who have long had their character and motives slandered in the name of identity politics, these and other recent examples of liberals behaving badly no doubt evoke a sense of schadenfreude. But if conservatives do nothing more than gloat or allow their opponents to be destroyed by the very rules by which they demonized others, a great opportunity to restore sanity to American politics will have been lost.

Was Behar being racist when she masqueraded as “beautiful African woman” at a Halloween Party decades ago? Was Kimmel racist to impersonate professional basketball player Karl Malone in 1999? Were they, Northam and others simply clueless to the offensiveness of their actions, committing what progressives today might call a microaggression or “cultural appropriation”? Or are their actions being held to a contemporary standard that was not universally accepted the time?

It is true enough that 1984 wasn’t so long ago that blackface and white hoods should have been considered socially acceptable enough for publication in a yearbook. But for all his willingness to accuse others of racism, Northam seems genuinely oblivious on the subject, referring to slavery as “indentured servitude” in an interview — with a black journalist! — just this week.

I say this not to defend Northam or the others but to point out what should be obvious but is seldom acknowledged when political gain is at stake: Each case and individual is different, and deserves to be judged on the facts.

Unfortunately, today, facts too often get in the way of a good story. Opposition to President Obama could not have been based on policy differences; it had to be race. Only sexism could explain America’s failure to elect Hillary Clinton. Anyone who wants to protect America’s borders or prevent terrorism must hate Latinos and Muslims. Painting with such a broad brush works well enough when only your opponents are smeared, but what happens when it’s your friends wearing the blackface?

In matters of law, we all, deserve the presumption of innocence. Brett Kavanaugh was wrongly denied that during his confirmation to the Supreme Court by those who insisted the women who accused him of sexual assault had to be believed without question. Now that Virginia’s Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has been accused of sexual assault and outright rape, some are defending him while others are demanding his resignation even before the facts are known. He, too, deserves the presumption of innocence — a courtesy Fairfax did not immediately extend to Northam.

The bar is much lower in matters of humor and politics, of course. But even then some semblance of fairness, scrutiny and consistency should apply. Context and intent matter, or should, but you’ll never discern such nuances if you don’t look for them.

What, for example, should we make of Eddie Murphy? Movie stardom was still years away when the Saturday Nigh Live star appeared in a 1984 skit called “white like me.” Masquerading as a white businessman, the African-American Murphy “discovered” how white people give each other money and other free things and throw parties when the last black person gets off the public bus.

Is wearing white face and learning how to walk like an uptight white guy automatically racist? I didn’t think so then, and I don’t think so now. In fact, I thought the skit was hilarious.

True racism, on the other hand, isn’t funny at all. We all should take the time to know what we’re talking about before accusing others of it because, like all words, misuse or overuse will only weaken its power. Will Virginia Democrats’ serial embarrassments therefore foster introspection, self-control and the willingness to forgive that makes positive change and even redemption possible?

It would be nice to think so.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.

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