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Archive for Saturday, October 4, 2008

Mayor’s skit in blackface concerns NAACP

October 4, 2008

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Arkansas City Mayor Mell Kuhn's recent performance in blackface crowned him the winner at a fundraiser for the Court Appointed Special Advocate program.

It also earned him criticism from members of the Wichita Branch NAACP, which covers Arkansas City.

Wednesday evening, Kuhn drove about an hour from Arkansas City to Wichita and met with NAACP leaders to discuss the performance.

"I understand their point of view as far as how they found it offensive," said Kuhn, who is in his 50s and has served as mayor for nearly two years. "I didn't find it offensive at all. It wasn't meant to be offensive.

"It was a mistake on my part, but I just didn't see it that way at the time."

Kevin Myles, president of the Wichita Branch NAACP, said he was satisfied with the discussion with Kuhn.

"We got as much as we hoped for from the meeting," Myles said. "It was clear that the mayor did not initially understand that his actions would be offensive."

Myles also plans to call a meeting with CASA.

Kuhn said male participants in CASA's "Men in Tights" fundraiser had to dress like women and perform funny skits.

Kuhn said he based his character on African-American comedian Eddie Murphy's movies such as "Norbit" and "The Nutty Professor."

Both Kuhn's stage name and his backup singers' name were based on a vulgar reference to female anatomy.

A picture posted on the NAACP's blog about the event shows Kuhn's face covered in brown makeup. He's wearing a dark, curly wig and sparkling red dress.

Kuhn said he and three background singers, performed the songs "It's Raining Men," "Respect" by Aretha Franklin and "Last Dance" by Donna Summer. He said he danced the Hustle with an audience member.

"I thought it was hilarious," Kuhn said. "I was doing it to win, to raise the most money."

Myles said Thursday: "What was clear is that he didn't have any historical context whatsoever" about blackface.

Historians note that white actors used blackface to negatively depict African-Americans, particularly during the 19th century.

"Our challenge was to impress upon him the depth of the insult, and the outrage that many people felt when they saw the mayor of their town seemingly mocking and ridiculing black folks," Myles said. "I don't believe that was his intent, but certainly, that was the outcome."

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