Bill Helton, a city commissioner for Elk City in Oklahoma and a mayoral candidate, is apologizing for a series of racially insensitive videos. Helton, who also works as a hair stylist, donned blackface and dressed as a Black woman named Pollyester Kotton.
Helton, who presides over Ward 2 in Elk City, says that the character was inspired by one of his former clients, a Black woman from Texas. According to a report from local NBC affiliate KFOR, Helton performed as the Kotton character at community charity events to raise funds for families in need and never intended to offend.
Despite Helton’s apology, local leaders understood that the character was satire but thought there was another way it could have been handled.
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Helton says the character was never intended to be offensive.
“Anyone that’s offended, I would sit down and talk to them. Because my heart is, I would never do that and want to help whoever I can help,” Helton said.
“I don’t find it offensive at all. He’s out to do some good,” Marisa Garcia said.
“Yeah, I kind of think it’s racist because why should a white man dress as a black woman?” Judy Wright asked.
“If they were offended, then I apologize because that was never my intent, never my heart, to set out to offend someone,” Helton said.
KFOR also spoke with state Representative Mike Shelton about the matter. Rep. Shelton, who is Black and a Democrat, said he realizes that Kotton was meant to be satirical but didn’t think it humorous. Local NAACP State Conference President Anthony R. Douglas took aim not at the character but at the fact Helton felt the need to use blackface makeup.
Let’s just say for the sake of argument that Helton really didn’t mean anything by dressing as Kotton. What about that name, given the history of Black people and cotton in the country? Why give the character rotten joke teeth and a church lady outfit? And most of all, why the blackface?
This is a character that could work extremely well without signifying race. Helton may very well feel that his act was harmless. However, it’s tough to believe that nobody with good sense in his corner didn’t say to him that blackface has the potential to offend. Also telling, Helton says he has “great friends” who are Black. These friends aren’t so great and part of the problem if they didn’t check him for the blackface.
If the people of Elk City are taking note, it appears that Helton will be doing a lot more hair in the future and doesn’t deserve to hold an elected post. It also goes without saying that Oklahoma is not having the banner year it hoped for in the arena of race relations.
Photo: KFOR/Screen Capture