Blackface's origins can be traced to minstrel shows from the nineteenth century, where white actors used black grease paint on their faces to depict and mock plantation slaves and free blacks on stage. In recent years, the issue has resurfaced and made headlines in cases where white people − from college students to celebrities − have emulated black actors, singers and athletes by using makeup to appear darker.
During Kelly’s panel discussion Tuesday, she brought up one such instance of that, referencing a scene from “The Real Housewives of New York,” where one of the white cast mates Luann de Lesseps dressed up as Diana Ross by applying darker make-up and sporting an afro wig.
“There was a controversy on 'The Real Housewives of New York' with Luann (de Lesseps). She dressed as Diana Ross, and she made her skin look darker than it really is. And people said that that was racist. And I don’t know,” she continued. “I thought like, who doesn’t love Diana Ross? She wants to look like Diana Ross for one day, and I don’t know how that got racist on Halloween.”
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Soon after the segment aired, folks on social media sent a barrage of tweets condemning her. Many disagreed with her remarks about blackface being OK when they were children.
Others called her opinions problematic, stating she was “ignorant” and “racist.”
And a few attempted to school her on the history of blackface and how to portray African-American figures without darkening their skin.
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Amid the backlash, Kelly issued an apology by sending an internal email to her colleagues and friends.
“One of the wonderful things about my job is that I get the chance to express and hear a lot of opinions. Today is one of those days where listening carefully to other points of view, including from friends and colleagues, is leading me to rethink my own views,” she wrote. “I realize now that such behavior is indeed wrong, and I am sorry. The history of blackface in our culture is abhorrent; the wounds too deep.”
She also apologized on air Wednesday during her show.
“I want to begin with two words: I'm sorry,” she said. “You may have heard that yesterday we had a conversation about political correctness and Halloween costumes... I defended the idea (of blackface), saying that as long it was respectful and part of a Halloween costume, that it seemed OK. Well, I was wrong, and I am sorry.”