Megyn Kelly’s Blackface Comments Are Just the Tip of the Racism Iceberg
Why the talk-show host’s apology for her appallingly ignorant comments rang particularly hollow.
This week, NBC host Megyn Kelly used her Today show platform to give two thumbs up to blackface Halloween costumes. Turns out, jumping ship from Fox News doesn’t make you any less of a racist white lady. Old habits—like talking to an all-white panel about your nostalgia for the good ol’ days—die hard.
“But what is racist?” Kelly asked. “You truly do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface at Halloween or a black person who puts on white face.” She complained, “That was OK when I was a kid, as long as you were dressing like a character,” and later opined on Countess Luann de Lesseps’ infamously offensive Diana Ross costume, “I don’t see how that is racist on Halloween.”
Predictably, Kelly got in trouble for her televised remarks, and was criticized by reporters, celebrities, and viewers who aren’t fans of influential figures advocating on behalf of modern-day minstrelsy. Kelly quickly attempted to temper the backlash with a written apology to her NBC colleagues, writing, “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,” Kelly conceded. “Particularly on race and ethnicity issues which, far from being healed, have been exacerbated in our politics over the past year.” She resolved to continue the conversation, saying, “This is a time for more understanding, love, sensitivity and honor, and I want to be part of that.”
The scandal culminated in an on-air mea culpa, in which Kelly spoke passionately about issues that she somehow hadn’t heard of until yesterday. “Sometimes I talk and sometimes I listen, and yesterday I learned. I learned that given the history of blackface being used in awful ways by racists in this country, it is not OK for that to be part of any costume, Halloween or otherwise.” As The Daily Beast’s Tim Teeman reported, Kelly’s apology, “Took place as part of a segment where an all-black panel—PBS’ Amy Holmes and Roland Martin—lectured her and the viewers on why blackface was racist, and then talked about racism and stereotyping more generally.”
“Kelly, who looked close to tears, was given a standing ovation, and the cameras panned to audience members, notably including people of color, applauding the remark,” Teeman wrote.
Of course, there are many people who think that Megyn Kelly deserves neither a standing ovation nor a gold star for deigning to educate herself after she made ignorant and harmful remarks.
Some of the Today show’s other hosts took Kelly to task on Wednesday. Al Roker explained, “She owes a bigger apology to folks of color around the country.” He continued, “I’m old enough to have lived through Amos ‘n’ Andy where you had white people in blackface playing two black characters magnifying the worst stereotypes about black people. That’s what the big problem is. That’s what the issue is.”
Journalist Craig Melvin, who described Kelly’s remarks as “indefensible,” added, “It was an opportunity for us to learn a bit more about blackface, but I think a lot of people knew about blackface.”
Having your stupid comments called out as such is an incredibly light punishment, and it remains to be seen whether Kelly, who is paid $18 million a year by NBC (which could literally fund an entire newsroom), will face other professional repercussions for her remarks. In an ideal world, she would learn and grow from this experience, but that’s not the world we live in. Anyone who knows anything about Megyn Kelly’s career knows that this is not the first time she’s said racist things on TV. Instead of educating herself in order to move forward, Kelly has maintained her upward professional trajectory in spite of her proven track record of fear-mongering and bigotry.
While it’s not shocking to see an attractive blonde white woman fail up, it’s worth noting just how many times Kelly has seriously messed up—and failed to face any consequences for it. In 2015, The Daily Beast’s Asawin Suebsaeng warned against the trend of liberals “falling for” Megyn Kelly.
“Much of the praise for her in mainstream or left-leaning outlets hinges on her supposed fearlessness in taking on Republicans and traditional conservative thought,” Suebsaeng wrote. “But in her own way and style, Fox News’ rising star is just as bad as the other horrific actors her network features.” He delved into Fox News’ coverage “of a widely disseminated right-wing, race-baiting meme that the New Black Panthers were destroying American democracy through voter intimidation during the 2008 election,” noting that Kelly was one of the “biggest cheerleaders” of this story.
Gawker and Media Matters have also written extensively on Kelly’s race-baiting tactics. In a 2014 segment on the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown at the hands of police officers, Kelly asked, “What is the evidence that what happened to Eric Garner and what happened to Michael Brown has anything to do with race?” She later doubled down, saying, “I’d like to know the proof.”
But Kelly is perhaps best known for another festive bout of racism, when she insisted that both Jesus and Santa Claus—who is a fictional character—are white.
Kelly used the momentum of her debate question to Donald Trump to attempt a rebrand at a new network, her racist past seemingly forgotten. Given her lucrative NBC contract, it’s safe to say that the network had high hopes for Kelly—and that, given her frequent screw-ups and poor ratings, she’s been a huge disappointment.
In January 2017, The New York Times reported that Kelly was eyeing a morning slot, and that, “The current iteration of the third hour of Today, hosted by Tamron Hall and Al Roker, will be a thing of the past once Ms. Kelly’s show begins.” Less than a week later, Hall, who was the first African-American woman to co-anchor the Today show, announced that she would be leaving NBC altogether.
In April, Business Insider pointed out that, “Kelly’s ratings are low in every regard: compared to her own viewership at Fox, compared to her competitors in the same time spot, and compared to her predecessors at NBC.”
In her new position, fresh off the complete failure of Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly, Kelly has also managed to piss off Jane Fonda, offend the LGBTQ community, and reportedly scare off a number of would-be celebrity guests. And according to reports, Kelly has somehow found the time to sabotage her show while simultaneously pissing off her colleagues. In February, a “high-ranking NBC veteran” told Page Six that Kelly is “hated inside the Today show and is seen as tarnishing the brand, out of control and selfish.” An October Page Six report featured a source accusing the host of “milking the #MeToo movement.” Kelly has featured many sexual-misconduct accusers on her show, but has also used her platform to ask if #MeToo is “too big,” opining that the movement has been “expanded to the point of ridiculousness by some.”
“Feminist icon,” indeed.