Jimmy Kimmel apologised for his 1990s blackface impressions of NBA player Karl Malone and other Black celebrities but said his delay in addressing the subject came in part to avoid handing a victory to his foes.
“I apologise to those who were genuinely hurt or offended by the make-up I wore or the words I spoke,” the ABC late-night star said in a statement.
It’s part of the entertainment world’s continuing reckoning triggered by the protests against police treatment of Black Americans. This week, four episodes of the comedy ‘30 Rock’ were pulled from circulation because they featured characters performing in blackface.
Kimmel’s impersonation of Malone, which he started on radio and then brought to television on Comedy Central, was criticised by Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity, among others. The two men feuded on air and online two years ago when Hannity objected to a Kimmel joke about Melania Trump’s accent.
Fox News’ website had a story about Kimmel using a common slur against Black people on a 1996 comedy song, and about times Kimmel had imitated the voices of Black personalities.
Kimmel said that he had never considered his Malone skits would be seen as anything other than an imitation of a fellow human being, “one that had no more to do with Karl’s skin colour than it did his bulging muscles and bald head.”
He also said he didn’t consider his impersonations of Black people in racial terms.
“Looking back, many of these sketches are embarrassing, and it is frustrating that these thoughtless moments have become a weapon used by some to diminish my criticisms of social and other injustices,” Kimmel said.
He said he had long been reluctant to address the subject, “as I knew doing so would be celebrated as a victory by those who equate apologies with weakness and cheer for leaders who use prejudice to divide us.
“That delay was a mistake,” he said.
Kimmel also had a warning for critics who might use his past against him.
“I know that this will not be the last I hear of this and that it will be used again to try to quiet me,” he said. “I love this country too much to allow that. I won’t be bullied into silence by those who feign outrage to advance their oppressive and genuinely racist agendas.”
Kimmel made his announcement as he is beginning a summer-long vacation. He’s an important figure at ABC; he was just named host of this fall’s Emmy Awards and he has taken over Regis Philbin’s role for the network’s summertime remake of ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’.