It had to be an awkward morning around the Today Show studios in New York City, as cast and crew struggled with how to address the white elephant in the room, Megyn Kelly. Kelly’s deeply troubling comments on her Tuesday morning show, which seemed to defend the use of blackface in Halloween costumes, sparked outrage among viewers and fellow celebrities alike.
After the immediate and significant backlash, Kelly issued an emailed apology to her colleagues, saying, in part, “I realize now that such behavior is indeed wrong, and I am sorry.”
However, the Today show morning anchors addressed the issue themselves on Wednesday morning, using their opening segment as a teachable moment on the history of blackface and minstrelsy in America—including the fact that the country’s humiliating Jim Crow laws were named for a minstrel character. But in discussing their colleague, in what Savannah Guthrie called an “uncomfortable” moment, the show’s senior cast member, Al Roker, didn’t mince words when discussing Kelly.
“The fact is, while she apologized to the staff, she owes a bigger apology to folks of color around the country, because this is a history going back to the 1830s—minstrel shows. To demean and denigrate a race is not nice,” he said. Roker then referenced the deeply racist Amos ‘n’ Andy radio and television show, which was initially produced with white actors in blackface, “just magnifying the worse stereotypes about black people. And that’s what the big problem is,” he said.
Co-anchor Craig Melvin agreed, pointing out that online criticism calling the backlash a demonstration in “political correctness run amok” is “disingenuous and it’s just as ignorant and racist as the statement itself.”
“In addition to her being a colleague, she’s a friend,” Melvin continued. “She said something stupid, she said something indefensible. ... so I guess it was an opportunity for us to learn a little bit more about blackface, but I think a lot of people knew before yesterday.”
As for Kelly, she maintained that the incident was a learning experience for her, offering an apology at the open of her show Wednesday morning and paraphrasing much of the letter she sent to her colleagues, which was published by The Hollywood Reporter. She also admitted that she had defended the idea of changing one’s skin color for the sake of a costume, saying:
“Well, I was wrong, and I am sorry ... I learned that given the history of blackface being used in awful ways by racists in this country, it is not okay for that to be a part of any costume—Halloween, or otherwise.” She then reiterated that while she has never been a “PC kind of person,” she does understand the value of being sensitive to our collective history, “particularly on race and ethnicity.”
Kelly’s emotional apology received a standing ovation from her multi-ethnic studio audience. To further explore the topic and the history from a perspective while contrasting Tuesday’s all-white panel, she hosted Roland Martin and PBS’ Amy Holmes as guests for her first segment on Wednesday—and more “teachable moments” ensued.