Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) sparked mixed reactions this weekend after addressing the ongoing blackface controversy in Virginia by saying people of color should put themselves “in a white person’s position.”
Booker, one of many people vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, spoke Saturday at a campaign event in Des Moines, Iowa. He talked about the need for “honest conversations” about race and empathy, and said people often fear “talking to people about what they don’t understand.”
Booker said he’d had white friends come up to him recently and say “I don’t understand this blackface thing, can you explain it to me?” ― referring to the controversy with Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and a racist yearbook photo that resurfaced less than two weeks ago.
“Imagine, in this climate now, saying that publicly,” Booker said. “If you want to have more courageous empathy, put yourself in a white person’s position.”
But many on Twitter felt Booker missed the mark by, as one person put it, calling for the “coddling” of people of privilege. Others pointed out that in 2019, there’s really no excuse for white people not knowing about the racist, harmful history of blackface. (For example, any number of explainers have been published in recent years, including on HuffPost.)
The frustration with the presidential candidate’s comments only grew when he compared extending grace to people who are scared to ask about blackface to a time he himself was scared to ask a person about the struggles of coming out as LGBTQ.
“What grace he extended to me to ask stupid questions, of a guy that was not woke about LGBTQ issues,” Booker said. “But because of that honest conversation, I saw my ignorances and I grew. Thank God he gave me a pathway to redemption.”
Booker, like many people, has called for Northam’s resignation since the circulation of the 1984 medical school yearbook photo, which shows a person wearing blackface and a person wearing a Ku Klux Klan outfit standing side by side.
Northam, who appeared to indicate he was one of the people in the photo when it was first reported on, but who later claimed he wasn’t in the photo at all, has said he does not plan to resign.