Warsaw Councilman Faron Hamblin has put Warsaw in the spotlight, although it’s probably not the sort of attention the town wants.
Last week, Hamblin posted a picture of himself on Facebook in a blackface costume that impersonated Randy Watson, a character from the movie “Coming to America,” which was played by Eddie Murphy.
“In honor of my late friend Marcus Pitts, I went out as the legendary Randy Watson tonight,” Hamblin wrote. “Give it up for my band Sexual Chocolate, ” he added referencing the movie. However, the councilman is a musician in real life, the lead for the HonkyTonk Heroes.
Hamblin’s blackface story has been picked up by regional and national news outlets. Not to mention, it’s plastered on the internet on sites like YouTube.
The backlash that Hamblin received delivered a message that past examples of white men in blackface clearly had not. In less than 24 hours, I “realized” it offended many people, and I took the post down, he said.
Was that an apology?
To address the backlash Hamblin again took to Facebook with a post The Daily Beast described as “a bizarre non-apology.” According to screenshots, the ill-received explanation attempts to school the public about Randy Watson and Eddie Murphy.
“For those of you who know the movie, Randy is a black man. So I dressed the part. Suit, hair and yes my makeup was brown. Many saw it as degrading, which I did not. I did it to show my love for the character and the movie,” he wrote. “But since I’m white, it’s considered offensive to dress as a black person. I think that’s ridiculous,” he added.
He went on to explain that in the movie Eddie Murphy portrayed a white Jewish man “and it was funny as hell. Did he know at the time it would offend some people, probably. Like Eddie or Dave Chappelle I don’t go around walking on egg shells worried about hurting someone’s feelings,” Hamblin continued in his “apology.”
Hamblin continued seemingly toeing the line between acting as if he was caught off guard by the reactions but knowing it would make a statement.
He said he “never intended it to be a racist issue” yet said he posted the picture “because I think everyone should have the freedom of expression.”
However, Hamblin acknowledged, “I made a post that hurt a lot of folks and that was not my intention. I try to be a good person and help others regardless of who they are. I’m here to say I love everyone on this planet, we should all feel the same. Sorry to those folks I offended today includ[ing] my family.”
The councilman confirmed that the deceased friend he was paying tribute to by wearing the costume was a black man. “He and I worked together and spent much time discussing the comedy movie. It was one of his favorite movies. He enjoyed singing the lyrics to the song,” said Hamblin.
Although he says the “intention was not to inflict harm on anybody but to honor a late friend,” he added, that he decided to remove the photo because “[he] realized the picture upset some in the black community.’
‘I removed the photo since some people thought it was offensive. It was only causing more division. The comment section was getting very negative, and it was not in the community’s best interest to keep the post online.”
But if the explanation post that came afterward were Hamblin’s sincere feelings and he really wanted the public to know his intent wasn’t to offend anyone, why did he also remove that post?
“After two days of [that] post being online, I witnessed the numerous comments that were causing enough community anguish,” he further explained.
In the now-deleted apology post, Hamblin appeared caught off guard by people’s view of him. “You know I’ve been called many names in my life. A lot I deserve. None of those names really cut. But today I was called a racist. Yeah that cuts pretty deep,” he wrote.
However, despite other cases of backlash to blackface, it was only about two years ago that a story involving Virginia Governor Ralph Northam offered an example for how people would feel and the type of response Hamblin would get. Even one of the supporters on a Facebook post he put up after the apology saw the connection. “Just deny you did it and move on. Worked for Northam,” Mike Hinrichs wrote.
Hamblin said he can’t speak on any of Governor Northam’s intent, but “it’s time to heal and to begin to talk about our issues and ways we can come together as a community.”
With regards to any loss of confidence in his position as a public official, Hamblin said, “I have been fortunate to have been on the town council for over four years and have been a very active member in the many town projects that have taken place during that time. My positive impact on the town council has been productive as the town has seen much growth during that time period.’
‘After reflection on this unfortunate incident that I caused, I hope to bring a more positive impact to my council seat. The Richmond County NAACP sent me and the town council a letter that they were disappointed in the incident. I sent them an apology letter in hopes of building a better relationship.’
‘It’s an opportunity to try to make things right and I would like the chance to show how I have learned from my mistake.”
But claiming a lesson learned and moving on may not be so easy.
Richmond County NAACP is demanding county officials and law enforcement take mandatory diversity and inclusion training, according to a report by USA Today. And the chapter plans to address the issue at the Warsaw Town Council and Richmond County Board of Supervisors meetings next week.
USA Today said the reason the chapter’s President Samantha Cain has stopped short of calling for Hamblin’s resignation is because the town council, not the public, would be responsible for choosing his replacement.