A photo of a county council candidate in South Carolina posing in blackface at a college party appeared online this week, outraging some community members. But Brant Tomlinson, the Republican running for the Kershaw County Council District 5 seat, said he had no idea the photo would court controversy—and claims his getup was merely an homage to Cool Runnings.
Tomlinson insisted the photo, which shows him wearing black face paint and a black shirt bearing the colors of the Jamaican flag, was spread by “an antagonist” who was paid off by a rival candidate in an attempt to “misrepresent” his character. The 10-year-old photo first circulated on Facebook and was taken during a college Halloween party, WACH FOX reported Tuesday.
“It is unfortunate that local candidates have now resorted to the same type of toxic smear campaigns that have infected the political discourse at state and national level,” Tomlinson said in a statement to WACH FOX.
The University of South Carolina graduate also told The State that he intentionally chose not to delete the photo when scanning his social-media profiles prior to running for public office.
“I think that’s one thing wrong with politicians: They try to hide everything they do,” Tomlinson told the newspaper. “I never in a million years really thought that would get a negative connotation on it.”
The Camden native, who did not apologize for the photo, said in his statement that Cool Runnings, the cult classic about a Jamaican bobsled team, is one of his “all-time favorite movies.”
Tomlinson did not respond to requests for comment from The Daily Beast, but he told WACH FOX that he “wishes he would have known how his decision in the past would affect others.”
“It shows that you have a sense of privilege that doesn’t extend your consciousness level in thinking about who you’re offending,” Phyllis Lloyd-Harris, the head of the Kershaw County Democratic Party, told The Daily Beast. “It is not haha funny to me, as an African-American, to dress in blackface or any other stereotype of what you think black people are.”
The Kershaw County Council election is less than a month away, on June 12. There is no mention of the blackface photo on Tomlinson’s campaign Facebook account, but a local pastor endorses him in a video posted on Tuesday. “I know Brant’s convictions, his values, and most of all I know his heart,” Jed Bryant said in the video.