Florida state GOP lawmaker says high school blackface photo is 'decontextualized'

Florida state GOP lawmaker says high school blackface photo is 'decontextualized'
© Anthony Sabatini

A Florida state lawmaker is resisting calls to resign over a resurfaced high school photo showing him wearing blackface.

A photo of state Rep. Anthony Sabatini (R) surfaced last year before he was elected, but recent blackface scandals in Florida and Virginia have refreshed the scrutiny around the photo.

Sabatini told the Orlando Sentinel on Tuesday that the photo was "decontextualized," indicating it was not racist, and described it as a prank between him and a high school friend, who is black, to dress like each other. The friend also defended Sabatini.

“We thought at the time — looking back, it was immature — it would be funny to dress as each other,” Sabatini said. “None of us thought 14 years later any of us would be a public figure and the photo would be decontextualized.”

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Brandon Evans, Sabatini’s high school friend, backed the lawmaker’s claims and said he disagrees with the calls to resign. Evans says he and Sabatini dressed as each other for homecoming week.

“Every year at high school homecoming week, we had things like ‘80s days and celebrity days,” Evans told the Sentinel. “We said, ‘I’m going to be you and you’re going to be me.’ I don’t know how it got to be seen as racial. That’s all it was.”

Florida Democratic Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo and Cynthia Brown, Sabatini’s former Democratic opponent, have both called on the lawmaker to step down.

“I don’t care what age you are, where you grew up, what political party you belong in, this is not where we belong,” Brown wrote in a Facebook post, according to the paper. “Anthony, you cannot represent ALL of the people of our district, just as the Florida Secretary of State decided he couldn’t. Do what is right for once, step down and resign.”

Last month, Florida Secretary of State Michael Ertel resigned after a photos surfaced showing him wearing blackface and dressing as a “Hurricane Katrina victim.”

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is also facing calls to resign over a photo on his medical school yearbook page showing one man wearing blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan robes.

Northam, who initially apologized for the photo, now says he does not remember being in it.

On Wednesday, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) also admitted he wore blackface to a party in college.