A man running for sheriff in South Carolina released a campaign video that includes a photo of himself wearing blackface at a Halloween party in 2009, which he called a “different time” when such attire wasn’t seen as “troubling to many.”
The campaign video shows Craig Stivender, 36, who is running for Colleton County Sheriff, wearing what appears to be a painted on goatee, an earring and a gold chain necklace while standing next to a Black woman.
“I want to tell you some things that politicians would try to hide, things that my opponents may try to use to tarnish my integrity,” he says in the video before rattling off details about his family life, driving history and issues at work. He then reveals the photo that he says shows him portraying Demetrius “Big Meech” Flenory, a convicted drug trafficker who co-founded the Black Mafia Family in Detroit.
“If I’m a police officer, the exact opposite would be a gang member,” Stivender said of his costume choice. “So that’s what I picked.”
In his video released last week, he acknowledges that his behavior could be upsetting to people, though he does not apologize or acknowledge his behavior as racist.
“I did it to disparage a criminal whose actions hurt our community and country. That was a different time. Today we understand that type of costume is troubling to many,” he said. “To those of you who may be upset, I understand your disappointment, but I value honesty.”
His campaign’s Facebook page, which had been featuring the video, had been removed by Monday. Attempts to reach Stivender for comment were not immediately successful.
Stivender faces at least five candidates in his bid for sheriff, none of whom responded to or agreed to a request for comment Monday.
Stivender, speaking to NPR, said there was no racial bias or motivation in his decision to darken his face. He emphasized that he attended the party with a Black woman, who is not named.
“To be honest with you, 10 years ago I had never heard of blackface,” he said. “I didn’t know it was a legitimate thing.”
Stivender says he’s a lifelong resident of Colleton County, which is roughly 60% white, 37% Black and 3% Hispanic or Latino, according to census data.
Wesley Donehue, a political consultant at the South Carolina-based agency Push Digital, told The Washington Post that he spent part of his childhood in Colleton, which he said struggled to accept and respect interracial couples.
“Colleton is really stuck a decade or two behind everybody else,” he said. “The beauty of the internet is it breaks down the barrier, and people in those areas are starting to wise up.”
Blackface is, of course, nothing new.
The practice goes back centuries, though it was particularly popular in the U.S. between the end of the Civil War and the turn of the 20th century in Northern and Midwestern cities, where there was limited regular interaction with Blacks, according to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
It was used to mock, objectify and ridicule Blacks as well as reduce them to stereotypes, such as being lazy or irresponsible.
“If white people accepted these stereotypes, it became that much easier to deny African Americans the full rights of citizenship,” the Smithsonian’s website notes.
Today, nearly 200 years later, it appears that there’s still a lot of work to be done.
A YouGov/HuffPost poll taken in 2015 found that 52% of white Americans polled think blackface for Halloween is acceptable, compared with 27% of Blacks and 38% of Latinos.
I did it to disparage a criminal whose actions hurt our community and country. That was a different time. Today we understand that type of costume is troubling to many.
Craig Stivender, candidate for sheriff in Colleton County, South Carolina
Earlier this year, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) apologized after his page in an old medical school yearbook showed a photo of a person wearing blackface. Northam has denied that he was the young man in the photo and has refused calls to resign.
Last month, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey also apologized after it was revealed that she participated in a skit that involved her and her sorority sisters wearing blackface at Auburn University in the 1960s.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also issued apologies after images of him donning blackface and brownface surfaced last month.
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