Megyn Kelly sparked social-media backlash Monday in a discussion on her “Megyn Kelly Today” about Halloween celebrants wearing black or white face makeup. Later in the day, she sent an email to NBC News co-workers apologizing for her on-air comments.
Kelly wondered aloud during a conversation about universities putting pressure on students not to wear costumes that might be deemed offensive. “What is racist?” she asked a panel that included Jenna Bush Hager, Jacob Soboroff and Melissa Rivers. “You do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface for Halloween, or a black person who puts on whiteface for Halloween. Back when I was a kid, that was okay just as long as you were dressing as a character.”
In her email to colleagues, Kelly said the backlash made her reconsider her opinion.
“Today is one of those days where listening carefully to other points of view, including from friends and colleagues, is leading me to rethink my own views,” she wrote. “I’ve never been a ‘pc’ kind of person — but I understand that we do need to be more sensitive in this day and age. Particularly on race and ethnicity issues which, far from being healed, have been exacerbated in our politics over the past year. This is a time for more understanding, love, sensitivity and honor, and I want to be part of that. I look forward to continuing that discussion.”
On the show, Kelly suggested that some people who get in costume are simply trying to get into character, as in a case she cited the example of Luann de Lesseps, who once generated debate by dressing as Diana Ross for Halloween.
“There was a controversy on ‘The Real Housewives of New York’ with Luann, as she dressed as Diana Ross and she made her skin look darker than it really is,” Kelly said. “People said that was racist! And I don’t know, like, I thought, like, ‘Who doesn’t love Diana Ross?’ She wants to look like Diana Ross for one day. I don’t know how that got racist on Halloween.”
Kelly has waded into racial matters before and generated controversy by doing so. In 2013, while anchoring on Fox News Channel, she told viewers that “Santa is just white.”
On Twitter, some celebrities took her to task.
Because @megynkelly: minstrelsy is the basis for the coining of the term "Jim Crow" laws which served to humiliate & target Black Americans. Because caricaturing another race perpetuates the dehumanization of POC who are being killed & jailed at a disproportionate rate in the US https://t.co/xk2RAr2Kxq
— Padma Lakshmi (@PadmaLakshmi) October 23, 2018
Dear @megynkelly — you and I are approximately the same age. Blackface was NOT okay when we were kids. Take it from a big-hearted boy who just wanted to show his love for Nipsey Russell on the worst Halloween of my life. https://t.co/pnsk0WmuTw
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) October 23, 2018
Here is the full memo Kelly sent to NBC News colleagues:
Dear friends & teammates-
One of the wonderful things about my job is that I get the chance to express and hear a lot of opinions. Today is one of those days where listening carefully to other points of view, including from friends and colleagues, is leading me to rethink my own views.
When we had the roundtable discussion earlier today about the controversy of making your face look like a different race as part of a Halloween costume, I suggested that this seemed okay if done as part of this holiday where people have the chance to make themselves look like others. The iconic Diana Ross came up as an example. To me, I thought, why would it be controversial for someone dressing up as Diana Ross to make herself look like this amazing woman as a way of honoring and respecting her?
I realize now that such behavior is indeed wrong, and I am sorry. The history of blackface in our culture is abhorrent; the wounds too deep.
I’ve never been a “pc” kind of person — but I understand that we do need to be more sensitive in this day and age. Particularly on race and ethnicity issues which, far from being healed, have been exacerbated in our politics over the past year. This is a time for more understanding, love, sensitivity and honor, and I want to be part of that. I look forward to continuing that discussion.
I’m honored to work with all of you every day.