On Friday, June 28, the New York Times published an op-ed entitled “Want To Be Less Racist? Move To Hawaii.”

NOTE: pick the correct link

And yet, on Monday, July 1, the local and national headlines were “Hawaii Man Shows Up To Court Wearing Blackface.”

The unfortunate incident in our courts suggests that Hawaii still has some distance to go in becoming a society unmarred by racism.

A jury convicted Mark Char last March of attempted murder and two counts of assault for stabbing the driver and passenger of one car and stabbing a bystander on the H-1 freeway in Waipahu in 2016. On July 1, of last week, Char appeared in Honolulu Circuit Court for sentencing.

To protest what he perceived to be unfair treatment by the court and his lawyer, Char used a marker to paint his face black. Char, in his blackface, told the judge (while at times looking at the news camera) that “this kangaroo court has given me a life sentence for me trying to protect and defend myself against attack from three guys, in essence treating me like a black man so today I’m going to be a black man.”

In other words, Char was saying, “black folks are supposed to be mistreated in court, not me.”

The First Circuit Court in Honolulu where Mark Char donned blackface.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Many people in Hawaii have written off this incident as the unfortunate antics of a misguided and imbalanced individual. What I find more disturbing is the failure of the officers of the court, including the sheriffs, the prosecutors, the defendant’s lawyer and the judge, to act to prevent Char from using the court as a platform to engage in a racist performance that echoes and reinforces historic defamatory images, ideologies and beliefs asserting the inferiority of African-Americans.

By now it should be clear to all of us that this is not behavior we should allow or condone. Over the last couple of years, we have seen far too many cases in the national news of persons wearing blackface or making insensitive statements about it.

Harsh Treatment Of African-Americans

Megan Kelly thought it was okay to wear blackface on Halloween. The governor of Virginia denied he was the individual wearing blackface in his yearbook picture but admitted to wearing blackface at a party where he came as Michael Jackson. Two Marines, in uniform, wore blackface in a video that went viral.

The history of blackface began in the 1830s when white vaudevillians began painting their faces black and performing comedy routines known as minstrel shows. One of the most popular blackface characters created during that time was named Jim Crow. Blackface minstrel shows became more popular after the Civil War.

Hollywood movies, cartoons, and theaters used blackface actors to entertain whites and at the same time, condition white people to accept these stereotypes as a way to justify the harsh and unequal treatment of black folks.

Let me make this clear, I’m not saying that the judge, defense attorney or assistant prosecutor involved in the Mark Char sentencing hearing are racists, including Char. I am saying it’s insensitive and hurtful and if we wish to live in a place where we can respect and honor our distinct cultures and races, we should be able to discuss honestly, openly and with respect, certain customs that offend, demean and insult an entire race of people.

Because the American courtroom represents the idea of justice and equality, it demands respect and honor.

I, like many others, was appalled when I saw how the defense attorney, the assistant prosecutor, and the judge allowed themselves to become unwilling co-conspirators in Char’s blackface performance. Rather than sending Char back to jail and postponing the sentencing until Char took that mess off his face, the judge, prosecutor and defense continued with the sentencing hearing, giving me and many other blacks the impression that, although it was distasteful, it didn’t warrant a contempt finding or a continuance.

Because the American courtroom represents the idea of justice and equality, it demands respect and honor.

Week in and week out, across our great nation, court administrators and judges enforce dress codes, regulate speech and control behavior inside our courtrooms. One reason for this is to make sure that people of all races, religions, sexual orientation are treated as equals and respected as human beings when in a court of law.

There’s not a large population of black people in Hawaii and maybe that’s why the lawyers and judge in the Char case did not immediately stop the hearing and hold Char in contempt of court.

Perhaps they did not understand how allowing the sentencing hearing to proceed would signal to many black people the court’s lack of understanding or concern about the meaning and impact of permitting this behavior in a court of law. Maybe they were caught off guard and didn’t know what to do.

In any event, I write this for those who didn’t know about why wearing blackface is hugely demeaning and offensive to black people. Now, those that didn’t know can no longer offer that excuse.

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