A middle-aged white woman [went to Washington Post cartoonist Tom Toles’ 2018 Halloween party wearing] a conservative business suit and a name tag that said, “Hello, My Name is Megyn Kelly.” Her face was almost entirely blackened with makeup. Kelly, then an NBC morning show host, had just that week caused a stir by defending the use of blackface by white people: “When I was a kid, that was okay, as long as you were dressing up as, like, a character.”
Two other guests, one Hispanic and one black, confronted the woman and got into an argument with her (“You understand how offensive that could be to a person of color?”https://reason.com/”I’m Megyn Kelly — it’s funny!”) and on from there.
Nearly two years later, the incident, which has bothered some people ever since but which many guests remember only barely or not at all, has resurfaced in the nationwide reckoning over race ….
The Hispanic guest wrote in an e-mail that, “After the killing of George Floyd and the protests, I began reflecting more on this incident.” And of course, after the woman who wore the blackface “informed her employer, a government contractor, about the blackface incident and The Post’s forthcoming article, she was fired, she said.” Not even for what she did on the job, not even for what she did on television, but for a costume she wore at a party at a friend’s house; that, at least, is this incident, but next it will be for something someone said over dinner, or a joke in a conversation among acquaintances.
You might recall the circumstances of the famous “have you left no sense of decency?” response by Joseph Welch to Sen. McCarthy: McCarthy was trying to publicly damage the career of Welch’s associate (at the prominent Hale & Dorr law firm) for having been—about five years before—a member of the National Lawyers Guild, which had defended Communists, and which had Communists as some of its founding members. And that became, understandably, one of the great lines still remembered from the McCarthy era.
Also worth remembering from Welch’s response:
Little did I dream you could be so reckless and so cruel as to do an injury to that lad. It is true he is still with Hale & Dorr. It is true that he will continue to be with Hale & Dorr. It is, I regret to say, equally true that I fear he shall always bear a scar needlessly inflicted by you. If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty, I would do so. I like to think I’m a gentle man, but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me.
There’s no particular individual figure in this story like Sen. McCarthy. But there is a broad segment of a broad social movement happy to use personal destruction as a weapon—a segment that is so focused on the evil of its core enemies (Communism and racism both serve well here) that recklessness, cruelty, and loss of a sense of decency naturally emerge, and directed at far more than the true Communists and racists. And there aren’t a lot of Joseph Welches who will stand by the people who work for them, and thus risk themselves and their enterprises likewise being targeted.