Florida state rep. says blackface was a ‘prank,’ won’t step down

Resurfaced images of politicians in blackface continue to be uncovered, this time it's a Florida state legislator who insists there was no racism intended


Yet another scandal involving elected officials caught wearing blackface has emerged. This time comes a case out of Florida in which a state representative refuses to step down despite the surfacing of a blackface photo.

Florida Rep. Anthony Sabatini, a Republican, has said that the photo of him in high school wearing blackface, gold chains and a doo-rag were only a prank and that one of his best friends back in those days was Black, the Orlando Sentinel is reporting.

“I’m 16-years-old, one of my best friends of the time was Black and we thought at the time – looking back, it was immature – it would be funny to dress as each other,” Sabatini, 30, told the Sentinel. “He dressed in my clothes – a Ralph Lauren polo shirt, shorts, Converse – and I dressed in his clothing.”

Sabatini told the news organization, “None of us thought 14 years later any of us would be a public figure and the photo would be decontextualized.”

Florida Democratic chair Terry Rizzo called on Sabatini to resign in the wake of the scandal, and said the photo was showed Sabatini “displaying racist behavior,” according to the Sentinel. 

In a statement, Rizzo made reference to former Florida Secretary of State Michael Ertel who resigned last month after a 2005 photo surfaced of him in blackface with a shirt that read “Katrina victim.”

“(Florida) Gov. (Ron) DeSantis did the right thing in accepting Michael Ertel’s resignation – and he and (Florida House) Leader Jose Oliva should do the right thing and ask for the resignation of Rep. Anthony Sabatini,” Rizzo wrote. “In calling out racist behavior Florida Democrats and Republicans should stand united.”

But Sabatini countered to the Sentinel that his situation has “zero” comparison to the case involving Ertel or another in which medical school yearbook photos of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam surfaced showing one person in blackface and someone next to that person wearing Ku Klux Klan robes.

The friend in the photo, Brandon Evans, told the Sentinel that there was no racial intent behind the photo.

“Every year at high school homecoming week, we had things like ‘80s days and celebrity days,” Evans said. “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.”