At a Halloween party in 2005, two months after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, killing an estimated 1,836 people and leaving tens of thousands of people homeless, Mike Ertel wore blackface, earrings, red lipstick, a New Orleans Saints bandana and large fake breasts under a purple T-shirt that said ‘Katrina Victim” in an attempt to mock the African-American victims of the storm.
Those photos didn’t surface until Governor Ron DeSantis chose Ertel to be secretary of state for his new administration in January. Ertel quickly resigned but just a couple of months later, he is back working at the Seminole County supervisor of elections office, where he had worked since 2005 as Seminole’s supervisor of elections.
Chris Anderson, Seminole’s new supervisor of elections, is the first African-American constitutional to serve in Seminole County. Anderson is the one who hired Ertel back, citing his years of experience. He awarded Ertel “a three-month contract for a total of $15,000 as a consultant and to help his office prepare for the November elections for Lake Mary, Altamonte Springs and Oviedo,” according to the Orlando Sentinel.
In a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center, about a third of Americans say blackface in a Halloween costume is acceptable at least sometimes. White people are about twice as likely as Black people to say the use of blackface as part of a Halloween costume can be acceptable. 39% of whites think it’s okay versus only 19% of Blacks.
The study also found that acceptance of blackface is more common among whites without a college degree. 44% of whites with some college or less education say this is always or sometimes acceptable while only 28% of whites with at least a bachelor’s degree say the same.
However, the majority of Black people, regardless of election level, say blackface is “rarely or never acceptable.”
The divide on whether or not blackface is acceptable is especially stark along partisan lines. The Pew survey found that 51 percent of Republicans say blackface is acceptable at least sometimes, with 24% saying it’s always acceptable; 37% of Republicans say this is rarely or never acceptable.
67% of Democrats say blackface is not acceptable, with about half saying it’s never acceptable; 21% of Democrats say this is always or sometimes acceptable.
Blackface appeared for the first time in the early 1800s, rooted in racism, Jim Crow was the first blackface character.
Like Ertel and the numerous other politicians and public figures who’ve been connected to blackface incidents, the usual excuse is that there was no racial hatred intended, completely ignoring the very reason blackface was first created.
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