With Halloween fast approaching, Megyn Kelly on Tuesday gathered a panel of three other white people ― TV personality Melissa Rivers, journalist and former first daughter Jenna Bush Hager and MSNBC correspondent Jacob Soboroff ― on “Megyn Kelly Today” to discuss the boundaries of racial sensitivity in wearing costumes.
Kelly was fired up by a student union at the University of Kent, a college in England. Students at the school moved to ban certain Halloween costumes this year, including Native Americans and Mexicans, somehow stomping all over her First Amendment rights.
“What is racist?” Kelly asked her panel.
Photos of children in Native American and cowboy costumes provided the pensive conversation a backdrop. But Kelly and her associates spent very little time discussing Old West costumes. Instead, the host jumped right to one of the most incendiary costume ideas that exists: blackface.
She acknowledged that nowadays “you get in trouble” for being a white person who puts on blackface (her panel nodded in agreement) or the reverse (more nodding). But Kelly then seemed to defend people who put on blackface in the recent past.
“When I was a kid, that was OK, so long as you were dressing up as a character,” said Kelly, who was born in 1970.
None of the panelists challenged or added to that statement.
Attempting to bolster her point, the host argued during the segment that Halloween is always going to be “jarring” because “you have guys running around with fake axes coming out of their head.”
Still, everyone seemed to agree with Rivers when she said, “If you think it’s offensive, it probably is.”
“What ever happened to just manners and polite society?” floated Rivers, who for some reason also thought it pertinent to explain how her son really liked holding the plastic ax from his firefighter costume one year.
Bush Hager interjected to opine, “I think that there are limits in how far you want to go, because you’re making people feel bad.”
Kelly then eagerly defended “Real Housewives of New York” star Luanne de Lesseps for appearing to darken her skin to dress up as Diana Ross, as she did in an episode that aired over the summer. (De Lesseps apologized for the costume and said that she was not trying to darken her skin; she was just wearing bronzer.)
“I can’t keep up with the number of people we’re offending just by being normal people,” Kelly concluded.
She reportedly apologized in an email sent to her NBC colleagues afterward, admitting that others had made her rethink her views.
“The history of blackface in our culture is abhorrent; the wounds too deep,” Kelly wrote, according to The Wrap.
“I’ve never been a ‘pc’ kind of person — but I understand that we do need to be more sensitive in this day and age,” she continued.
A request for comment was not immediately returned.
In all, it was an unsurprising few minutes of television brought to screens nationwide by a woman who once wanted kids to know that Santa can only be white.
Kelly was chastised widely on social media. “Top Chef” host Padma Lakshmi was among those who slammed the “Today” host for her “ignorance.”
“You have a responsibility to educate yourself on social issues. This is so damaging,” Lakshmi wrote in a tweet, adding that “caricaturing another race perpetuates the dehumanization” of people of color.
The segment also caught the eye of comedian Patton Oswalt.
“Dear [Megyn Kelly],” he wrote on Twitter, “You and I are approximately the same age. Blackface was NOT okay when we were kids.” Oswalt also appeared to refer to backlash he once received for wanting to dress as black comedian Nipsey Russell.
This story has been updated with additional reactions and Megyn Kelly’s reported apology.