A photo of a political candidate in blackface has two political parties at odds in Monroe.
NBC Connecticut reached out to Justin Orlando, a Republican who's up for the Board of Education in Monroe, and did not hear back. But in a lengthy Facebook post, he didn't back down from dressing up as a Black character for Halloween. And as that holiday approaches again, some say it's a reminder that changing your skin color isn't appropriate for a costume.
"Once you cross that line and color your face, you enter into that minstrel-ness era and the minstrel show depictions which were intended to be negative," Dr. Robert Sanders of the University of New Haven explained.
That is a core issue in Monroe, where a photo of Orlando has surfaced.
"When I saw the photo for the first time I had a very visceral reaction to it," Board of Education member Nicholas Kapoor said. "It was extremely upsetting to me."
Kapoor, a Democrat, is a current member of the board and came across the photo late this summer
"We have Black and brown students in Monroe. We have Latinx students in Monroe we have LGBTQIA plus students in Monroe," Kapoor said.
The Democratic Town Committee is calling on Orlando to withdraw from the race. In a statement on the Monroe Republicans' website, Orlando said, in part:
“To me, there is nothing racial about it…I dressed up as a favorite character of mine from one of my favorite tv shows and in doing so, was demonstrating respect for that character. Not once did I view it as a racial decision… but they have all deemed it as such.”
See his full statement below.
When asked about Orlando and others paying tribute by changing their skin color, Dr. Sanders said not so fast.
"There’s no honor in blackface. Let’s start there," he said. "It was originally done as part of a negative depiction of Black people to entertain white people through buffoonery or distortion."
"White entertainers would dress up in tattered clothes, put this cork and shoe polish on their faces and then do these distorted imitations of what they believed Black people acted like," he explained.
It's remnants of those portrayals that are the foundation of stereotypes of Black people that some carry today. The Monroe Republican Town Commitee released a statement not long ago that read in part, "it is clear that his intent was to portray a TV character that he admired, and nothing more."
Full Statement From Justin Orlando
"There is tremendous irony in being harshly accused of prejudice by folks who are actually exhibiting that very behavior when using photos to cast their pre-judgement. They are acting hypocritically by demonstrating their prejudice behaviors in pretending to know who I am or how I have lived my 42 years of life simply by a photo. Choosing to racialize a costume is exactly that…it’s a choice. To me, there is nothing racial about it…I dressed up as a favorite character of mine from one of my favorite tv shows and in doing so, was demonstrating respect for that character. Not once did I view it as a racial decision…but they have all deemed it as such. Not because they know me or have ever reached out to me to discuss any of these issues, but because they choose to racialize this issue to better their chances at this election. Where does it stop? I named 2 of my children after my favorite athletes growing up, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Is that “appropriation” or is that honoring them based on the impact they had on me? "
"Well, I believe that this has helped drive visibility to what the democrat party in Monroe has become under Nick Kapoor’s divisive leadership and I do not believe that most democrats in this town agree with the actions Monroe CT Dems fb page has taken and hope they consider this when in the voting booth on November 2nd.
"These actions show there is no civil discourse, just judgement. The accusations here are pretty severe, yet the individual or individuals behind this post have never in their lives spoken to me nor did they ever reach out to discuss these photos prior to publicizing their harsh accusations. Posting photos of me from over 8 years ago flashing a symbol commonly used in what’s known as “the circle game” and claiming that is a sign of white supremacy is both reckless and irresponsible. These are all attempts at a smear campaign and quite frankly, it is everything that is wrong with our political system. No discussion, just empty social media posts for people to hide behind.
"I know that in 35 years of living in Monroe, the one thing no one who knows me would ever accuse me of, is demonstrating any biases. I was raised to accept people by their merit and character…NEVER by race. Which is why I can take your criticism…I am confident that I have lived my life free of prejudice and have had a positive impact on this community.
"The real shame of this situation is that we have lost focus on what is most important and that is Monroe school children. I chose to run for this voluntary position because I saw the damage public policy has had on our children and wanted to be a part of the solution, especially for those parents who wanted their right to choose honored and respected. Rather than discuss how democrat positions differ from mine, they prefer to character assassinate.
"Although I do not expect anyone to take me up on this offer, I am open to discussing my position on any issue with anyone at any time. I take the opportunity to learn about opposing viewpoints and what drives them. Unlike the individual behind this post, I do not hide from my positions nor will I ever demonstrate the lack of integrity shown in their attempt at character assassination. My commitment to Monroe parents who believe their voices need to be heard remains and my resolve to deliver on that commitment has never been stronger. To all of those who have shown their tremendous support throughout this smear campaign, I cannot thank you enough. You are all very much appreciated!
"Ultimately the voters will decide on November 2nd. I hope I earn their vote based on the principles I stand for and what I am committed to delivering for Monroe’s parents and children."