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Megyn Kelly apologizes on air for blackface comments amid criticism

Megyn Kelly on the set of her show,

Megyn Kelly on the set of her show, "Megyn Kelly Today." Credit: AP / Invision / Charles Sykes

Megyn Kelly on Wednesday reiterated on air an apology she gave to colleagues Tuesday about her comments defending the use of blackface on Halloween. 

"I want to begin with two words: I'm sorry," the 47-year-old former Fox News anchor said as she opened "Megyn Kelly Today." "You may have heard that yesterday we had a discussion here about political correctness and Halloween costumes. And that conversation turned to whether it is ever OK for a person of one race to dress up as another, a black person making their face lighter or a white person making theirs darker, to make a costume complete. I defended the idea, saying as long as it was respectful and part of a Halloween costume it seemed OK. Well, I was wrong and I am sorry."

She said receiving "different points of view" from friends and colleagues plus a barrage of social-media criticism had caused her to "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. I have never been a 'PC' kind of person but I do understand the value in being sensitive to our history, particularly on race and ethnicity. This past year has been so painful for many people of color, the country feels so divided and I have no wish to add to that pain and offense. I believe this is a time for more understanding, more love, more sensitivity and honor and I want to be part of that," she said, her voice starting to break.

Earlier on the "Today" show, correspondents discussed Tuesday's controversial remarks. "While she apologized to the staff," noted weather anchor Al Roker, "she owes a bigger apology to folks of color around the country. Because this is a history going back to the 1830s, [when] minstrel shows [were used] to demean and denigrate a race.
NBC News correspondent Craig Melvin noted that some online comments that sided with Kelly bemoaned "political correctness" run amok. "That's silly," he said. "And it's disingenuous and it's just as ignorant and racist as the statement itself."

In a "Megyn Kelly Today" segment with two African-American guests, the journalists and commentators Amy Holmes and Roland Martin, Holmes noted jocularly, "I can play Diana Ross. I'm sorry, Megyn, you can’t!" Both women laughed. Martin, conversely, argued that Kelly could play the legendary pop star, "just like you could play any other character, but you just put on a gown, grab a fan, and then have big hair, you're fine. But that's the mistake that we make when we say, 'Oh, I wanna cross that line.' There are lines, and here's history and there's pain and when we acknowledge that, then we can learn and grow from it. But as long as we as Americans live in denial and act as if that stuff does not matter, then we will continue to have this problem in the next 400 years."

Also Wednesday, in a statement to Newsday, the NAACP addressed the Kelly controversy.

"During the slave trade, some people thought it was ok to treat human beings as property and less than animals," wrote NAACP representative Malik Russell. "Maybe in Megyn Kelly's world, offensive acts and racism are ok, but I assure you for individuals of color, blackface is always racist and never ok. According to most studies on implicit bias, many think they are less racist than they really are — and  regardless of whether Megyn's bias is intentional or just implicit, it's still wrong. As a national public figure, she has a responsibility to check herself — or get checked by those who are tired of racism and being disrespected by individuals who just don't get it."

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