The Megyn Kelly Situation

Megyn Kelly, a wildly successful female in journalism with her high-paid position at NBC News as a broadcast journalist and the host of her own show "Megyn Kelly Today," shattered her reputation and status as a role model to aspiring young women along with it when she expressed her opinion on "The Today Show" last Tuesday that 'blackface' isn't necessarily racist or culturally appropriative. 

These comments immediately sparked a great deal of controversy across social media platforms and from Kelly's peers across networks, which ultimately led to the network's decision to remove Kelly from scheduled segments and play reruns rather than live showings of "Megyn Kelly Today" for the next three days amid the withdrawal of multiple scheduled guests for the show following the backlash. When it was revealed Friday morning that Kelly and NBC executives were in preliminary negotiations for her exit from the network, there was a lot of debate surrounding the network's decision and whether or not it might be over reactive.

Before I weigh in on that though, I think it's important to provide some background on the history of 'blackface' and why it is, in fact, extremely inflammatory and culturally appropriative for those who might not be aware of what it is and how it has evolved.

"Minstrelsy," a form of comedic entertainment in which white actors would darken their skin and exaggerate their features in order to stereotypically portray the black community, was an industry started in 1830 by a man named Thomas Dartmouth Rice with his character Jim Crow.

After the Civil War, minstrels had more stereotypes to develop their material on with the abolition of slavery and the beginnings of black and white integration, so the industry continued to grow. Moving into the twentieth century, as technology developed and entertainment became a core American value, minstrelsy reached new heights and became a staple of the American entertainment industry.

It should go without saying, but apparently in many cases it doesn't, that minstrel shows were the epitome of post Civil War and pre Civil Rights racism and harmful stereotyping that stigmatized the black community and made their culture into a joke for the amusement of the white population seeking distractions from their own lives, seeking to use the difficulties faced by black Americans to make them feel better about their own (white privilege filled) difficulties.

Although minstrelsy is certainly no longer a dominant subset of the entertainment industry, it is evidently still a major presence in American society today as the use of 'blackface' that started with the minstrels is still a cause for racism debates across the country. 

So, here's the thing about Megyn Kelly. Megyn Kelly did exactly what every white person accused of racism for using blackface has ever done, which is that she justified another person's use of blackface by saying if it's for a costume or for a character it can't be racist.

Let me start by saying this: white people do not under any circumstances get to decide what people of color are allowed to find as offensive or racist. That's just all there is to it. I myself am a white woman, and I make sure to recognize and check my white privilege on a daily basis because I believe in the importance of every subculture in this country and that each and every one of them should be advocated for, supported, and given equal opportunity by those who care to get educated and ask genuine, thoughtful questions about different people's experiences and backgrounds.

Kelly saying what is and isn't racist to people of color with no regard whatsoever to what people of color among her peers in the broadcast journalism industry have to say (considering that the conversation in question was at a table of four white people) diminishes the experiences of entire cultures of people within our borders which is, in a word, inexcusable.

"Okay, sure," say a bunch of white people on social media. "So maybe it was a little, tiny bit racist. But she apologized, should they really fire her for that? It seems a little extreme."

Yes, it is extreme, and yes, they should fire her. Here's why: this is not the first incident of racism in her career. According to USA Today, back when Kelly worked for Fox News, she made all kinds of claims which included that Jesus and Santa are white, along with countless justifications of police brutality accompanied by consultant Mark Fuhrman (that's right, if you've seen American Crime Story: The People v. OJ Simpson, you'll remember him as the racist police officer who was caught on tape admitting to purposeful police brutality against black people in Los Angeles in the 1980's and 90's). 

On top of that, regardless of your politics (even though racism shouldn't be a question of politics), Kelly's $50 million contract was riding on the stipulation that she be an educated and informed member of the NBC team and represent the network in a positive light, both of which she monumentally failed at this past week.

All of that information I provided earlier on the history of minstrelsy and blackface in the United States, by the way? I learned about it in high school and again in my freshman year of college, but when researching to write a synopsis for this article, I found all of that in one Google search, in the first article that appeared (https://nmaahc.si.edu/blog-post/blackface-birth-american-stereotype). If I could manage that, there's no reason that one of the highest paid female journalists in the country couldn't have done the same when preparing for a planned segment on blackface in Halloween costumes.

Don't get me wrong, NBC should absolutely be held accountable for hiring her in the first place based on her history, and the industry should be held equally accountable for systematically turning a blind eye to racism until massive social media controversies arise, there's no question about that.

Firing Megyn Kelly is the first of what I'm sure is several steps that this and other networks have to take to change the way the system lets such unacceptable biases through the cracks.