Florida Secretary Of State Quits Just For A Tiny Bit Of Katrina Victim Cosplay

Post-Racial America
Florida Secretary Of State Quits Just For A Tiny Bit Of Katrina Victim Cosplay

Michael Ertel was Florida Secretary of State for just a few weeks before he abruptly resigned after photos emerged of him in blackface at a private Halloween party.

Time now for a quick PSA: Adults of grown-up age, please just stop dressing up for Halloween. Stay home and watch Bride of Frankenstein while eating fun-sized Snickers and drinking Dawn of the Red. It's good enough for us. It's good enough for you. Kids somehow manage uncomplicated costumes like ghost, Disney princess, superhero, superhero ghost, and so on. Once people hit college, they feel this compulsion to be "clever" and wind up wearing incredibly offensive costumes that later ruin their careers. Why? Are there house prizes for "Most Racist Costume"? Is that coupon for a free appetizer at Sizzler worth all the trouble?

Oh well, it was back in 2005, long before Megyn Kelly discovered blackface was bad after an exhaustive investigation that involved actually listening to black people. Maybe we can let this one pass. It was probably just a misguided attempt to look like a rapper.

After the [Tallahassee] Democrat texted the photos to him last week, Ertel, 49, identified himself as the white man in blackface and red lipstick, wearing earrings and a New Orleans Saints bandanna, and falsies under a purple T-shirt that had "Katrina Victim" written on it

Holy crap! No, his career must be killed by fire! This was two months after the levees broke in New Orleans. A major American city was underwater when Ertel decided to base his Halloween costume on the people still suffering from the hurricane that devastated the Gulf Coast.

An estimated 1833 people died in Katrina, more than a dozen in Florida. Of the 1577 fatalities in Louisiana, almost half were over the age of 74. Mocking the dead is bad. Mocking the dead who were primarily poor and elderly is repulsive. What the hell was on his mind? We'll never know because Ertel won't offer any explanation.

Over the phone and in person, Ertel would not comment on the record about the circumstances surrounding the photo.

"There's nothing I can say," Ertel said.

"I'm sorry" is a start. What happened to apologies? We mean full-blown, unqualified expressions of remorse? None of that "I regret if anyone was offended by my grotesque mockery of human suffering." No, we're talking an actual, "Yeah, there's no excuse. I suck. I have carved a 'A' for asshole into my chest."

It's possible Ertel dressed this way to save a life. Some terrorist had threatened to blow up a children's hospital and would only turn over the detonator if Ertel allowed himself to be photographed in a racist costume. if so, he should tell us. We'd understand. Unless, the threat is ongoing and Ertel must continue to sacrifice for the well-being of those kids. It's quite touching even if it's probably not at all what happened.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, speaking at a news conference for hurricane relief (no, really), said he thinks Ertel regrets what happened 14 years ago. There's more compelling evidence for our "terrorist blackmail" theory. We're sure Ertel regrets that the photos went public. Regardless, he was a full-grown man who was also a Florida county supervisor of elections at the time. Maybe the suffering of black people just doesn't resonate with him.

Even now there's significant racial disparity regarding Katrina's impact. Ten years after the storm, 78 percent of white people said Louisiana was "mostly recovered." Yet 59 percent of black residents believed it was "mostly not recovered." Similarly, 50 percent of white residents claimed the quality of life in their community had improved post-Katrina, but 45 percent of black residents said their quality of life had gotten worse.

People from the same state experiencing two separate but hardly equal realities. It's an ongoing issue. We noticed how concerned certain folks were when the FBI showed up in riot gear before dawn to arrest Roger Stone. Why, it was the most disgusting, atrocious thing ever to happen in America! People of color who haven't lied to Congress have been killed when the cops raided the wrong house, but that normally elicits shrugs from the "law and order" crowd. Newt Gingrich was horrified that Paul Manafort was arrested in the middle of the night in his pajamas. These were "Gestapo tactics." Meanwhile, Donald Trump has encouraged the good-natured abuse of (brown) suspects to a laughing audience of police officers.

Black people think Manafort and Stone were treated fairly well. Manafort's spine didn't mysteriously sever itself on the way to the court house. Stone was also released within hours on bail without mysteriously dying in custody. Whenever rich, white people break the law, conservatives become temporary members of the ACLU.

Laura Ingraham lamented that Trumpists couldn't wear the MAGA hats that racists wear without people assuming they are also racists. Conservatives however insisted black teens run errands in dinner jackets instead of hoodies so racists won't think they're gangsters and kill them.

DeSantis referred to Ertel's blackface snafu as a "distraction," but it's more aptly defined as a symptom of the ongoing dehumanization of minorities. Even our personal tragedies are considered worthy of mockery, a good laugh at a private gathering of the like-minded.

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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