Late night host Jimmy Kimmel finally addressed the mounting backlash against him tied to his old blackface sketches, saying Tuesday that it was a mistake to wait so long to speak on the matter.
Sketches of Kimmel in blackface date back to the late 90s, during which he said he continued on with radio impersonations he made of former NBA player Karl Malone on television using makeup. The late night host said in a statement Tuesday that he only ever saw the act as an “imitation of a fellow human being, one that had no more to do with Karl’s skin color.”
Kimmel said Tuesday that he saw impressions he made of other celebrities, such as Snoop Dogg and Eminem, in the same vein. He apologized to “those who were genuinely hurt or offended by the makeup I wore or the words I spoke.”
“Looking back, many of these sketches are embarrassing, and it is frustrating that these thoughtless moments have become a weapon used by some to diminish my criticisms of social and other injustices,” Kimmel said. “I believe that I have evolved and matured over the last twenty-plus years, and I hope that is evident to anyone who watches my show.”
The 52-year-old host of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” also said that he was reluctant to speak on the issue because of those who may celebrate his apology as a form of weakness. Kimmel, who has been outspoken against President Donald Trump in recent years, said he will not allow his blackface sketches to be used to silence him.
“I love this country too much to allow that,” Kimmel said. “I won’t be bullied into silence by those who feign outrage to advance their oppressive and genuinely racist agendas.”
Kimmel is not the first comedian to address problematic jokes as they resurface, particularly ones that perpetuate racist stereotypes or tropes.
Jimmy Fallon recently apologized for a 20-year-old sketch of him on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” impersonating Chris Rock in blackface. Fallon called the sketch a “terrible” decision in an address to fans on “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon” last month.
“There is no excuse for this,” Fallon said. “I am very sorry for making this unquestionably offensive decision and thank all of you for holding me accountable.”
Variety reported Monday that “30 Rock” show creator Tina Fey requested that four episodes of the series that included blackface be removed from streaming platforms.
“I understand now that ‘intent’ is not a free pass for white people to use these images,” Fey wrote in a statement obtained by Variety and later released by Fey. “I apologize for pain they have caused.”
Blackface in America began in the early 1800s when white performers darkened their skin to mock Black people in minstrel shows.
White performers, usually men, derided Black slaves by characterizing them as lazy and ignorant during their shows. One of the most famous blackface characters was “Jim Crow,” performed by Thomas Rice, that is often attributed to the naming of the Jim Crow laws used to deny Black Americans their civil rights after the end of slavery.