An open letter to Megyn Kelly:
I was sorry to hear you lost your job hosting NBC’s “Today” show, but, girl, you need to get woke.
I am honored to be the Greater Tacoma Peace Prize winner for 2018 – a local version of the Nobel Peace Prize – that recognized my work in racial reconciliation in the 253 area code.
From this platform, I feel obliged to offer insight about the history and dehumanization of blackface so you may deeper understand the impact of your words last week, when you used your platform to defend the use of blackface in Halloween costumes.
I viewed your comments through my lens as a black woman. In my mind, there is no acceptable reason ever to don blackface or condone it.
Because the painful history of blackface is not addressed in schools nor discussed intelligently in the mainstream media, your comments reflect a widespread ignorance about social, political and cultural implications of minstrelsy that needs fixing.
Blackface actors of the 19th century repeatedly engaged in portraying negative stereotypes, and their characterizations took such a firm hold on the American imagination that white audience members expected any person with dark skin to conform to these stereotypes.
The famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass said of blackface performers, “they are the filthy scum of white society, who have stolen from us a complexion denied them by nature, in which to make money and pander to the corrupt taste of their white fellow citizens.”
Although you later apologized, I am amazed that at your level you didn’t have anyone advising you that your thoughts were wrong and cautioned you not to say what you said. I think you need new friends or producers.
I frequently tell my friends, especially those who are white, that the best way to understand difference is to intentionally seek out people who are different from them and form new relationships.
I would like to invite you to my family Thanksgiving gathering or even Kwanzaa in December. We’ll have lots of great food and music, yet most of all we will share our culture and deep understanding of life and love.
We’ll play “bid whist” – a card game deeply rooted in African American culture, or even listen to my dad’s Vietnam War stories.
If you can’t make Thanksgiving or Kwanzaa, I invite you to attend an annual conference I developed here in Tacoma called “The People’s Gathering: A Revolution of Consciousness.”
At this gathering, we teach hundreds of people (mostly white) how to talk about race and deepen their understanding of cultural awareness and competency. It happens in the spring of 2019.
You say we need to be more sensitive in “this day and age.” I agree. You (still) hold a platform where millions of people adore you. You can turn this around, Megyn.
That is, if you wake up, learn from this mistake and lead with your new learning. I’m rooting for you, girlfriend!
Peace and blessings!
Melannie Denise Cunningham was named 2018 Greater Tacoma Peace Laureate last spring. She’s the director of multicultural outreach and engagement at Pacific Lutheran University, and she helped organize Tacoma's first citywide Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration in the 1980s.