2:35 pm Mar. 5, 20131
One lesson to take from the Dov Hikind blackface incident is that New York City, despite its diversity, can be a very insular place.
When a number of black lawmakers, many from Brooklyn districts not far from Hikind's own, denounced the costume as racially insensitive, the reaction seemed genuinely to baffle Hikind, and many of his supporters.
The longtime assemblyman eventually apologized for hiring a professional make-up artist to make him look like a "black basketball player" for a Purim party, but his initial reaction was to dismiss the criticism as "political correctness to the aburd."
Hikind's son, who posted the image on his Facebook page, later expressed wonderment at the firestorm that followed, and a significant number of callers to Zev Brenner's show afterward agreed with Hikind's analogy that wearing blackface at Purim was on par with dressing up as a Hassidic rabbi on Halloween.
Hikind's heavily Orthodox-Jewish district, for what it's worth, is 1.38 percent black, or 1.74 percent of residents 18 years or older. Hispanics make up 8.22 percent of adults there, and Asians are almost 10 percent. Whites account for 79.15 percent of the adult population.
That makes it the least black Assembly district in New York City represented by a Democrat, according to demographic information provided by New York Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment, with the single largest disparity of any district between white and black residents.
There are two Assembly districts in New York City with a higher overall percentage of whites. One is the Staten Island district represented by Joseph Borelli, a Republican. The other district with a greater percentage of white adults than Hikind's is on the East Side of Manhattan, represented by Dan Quart, a Democrat. But Quart's district has a greater overall percentage of black adults than Hikind's, and a smaller gap between the percentages of white and black adults.
The two districts in Brooklyn that come closest to matching Hikind's in whiteness are represented by Joseph Lentol (District 50), in Williamsburg, and Steve Cymbrowitz (District 45), in Sheepshead Bay.
Lentol's district, accounting for adult residents, is 71.31 percent white and 4.7 percent black.
Cymbrowitz's is 71.48 percent white and just over 2 percent black adults.
Those are Hikind's immediate neighbors.
Here's a chart showing the disparities between the number of white and black adults in six Assembly districts. The district numbers are 48 (Hikind), 62 (Joseph Borelli, R-Staten Island), 64 (Nicole Malliotakis, R-Staten Island), 66 (Deborah Glick, D-Manhattan), 73 (Dan Quart, D-Manhattan) and 76 (Micah Kellner, D-Manhattan).
"The real lesson [of the Hikind blackface episode] is we can't do enough, meaning New Yorkers and others, in trying to expose each other to one another," said William Rapfogel, the chief executive officer of the Met Council on Jewish Poverty.
Zev Brenner, the radio host, said that simply being in New York didn't guarantee anyone a lesson in diversity.
"You can live in the same neighborhood, side by side, and still be separate," he said.
One political operative, who asked me to withhold his name, said, "When you don't have diverse districts, politicans don't have to learn about the diversity in New York."
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