Q100’s Bert Weiss allowed his nine-year-old son Hayden to wear brown makeup to portray boxing legend Muhammad Ali as part of a school assignment.
Weiss himself said he “flinched” when Hayden told him what he wanted to do.
When Weiss first posed this topic in February to the radio audience, the conversation became heated. Some listeners felt this was a bad idea, that the repercussions would be quite negative given the history of “black face” and minstrel shows in American culture, especially in the 19th century. The practice was to stereotype and mock black people to entertain white people at the time.
But others felt like it was okay because Hayden’s intent was “pure,” that he merely wanted to honor the legacy of Ali, who fought for equal rights in the 1960s and 1970s. “He was a great American because he stood up for what he believed in,” Weiss noted. “He believed he was treated poorly because of the color of his skin.”
Hayden would first do an oral essay as Ali in first person, then dress up as Ali. Weiss, unsure what to do, wrote a letter to Ali and his wife Yolanda, which reached the boxer through a mutual friend. They heard through that friend that Ali was okay with it, that they found it offensive anybody would be offended by what Hayden wanted to do. “I literally cried,” Weiss said. After Weiss did thorough research on “black face,” he decided to allow Hayden to wear the brown make up.
At the school, Weiss said on air this morning, there was no backlash, not even from black families. In fact, a white girl also wore makeup to portray Rosa Parks. He decided not to talk about it on air for a few weeks, to give it some distance from the initial brouhaha. Recently, he heard that Ali wanted to meet Hayden.
Two days ago, when Ali was in Atlanta with his wife, the Weiss family met Ali for 30 minutes in his hotel room. Ali, who is nearing 70 and sufferieng from Parkinson’s Disease, was not faring well, Weiss said. But when Ali saw Weiss’ two sons, including Hayden, he brightened.
Hayden read his essay to Ali. Ali was visibly affected. He hugged Hayden. He held onto the essay and wouldn’t let go. Weiss said Ali wanted the essay in his museum.
On air, Hayden called the experience “awesome.” Stacy tearfully said this was one of the most touching days of her life, after marrying Bert and the birth of her two sons.
Weiss said he was at peace with his decision, even though a lot of people will not like it.
“If it offends you,” Weiss said on air, “we’ll have to agree to disagree.”
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk