Former Georgia state Rep. Stacey Evans praying inside Ebenezer Baptist Church (eoin higgins via YouTube screenshot)

Bless her heart; she’s trying.

Can we just begin by pointing out that Stacey Evans, the 39-year-old white lawyer and former Georgia state representative running to be the Democratic nominee for governor, is TRYING HER BEST [insert clap emojis]? She’s trying in that way your sister-in-law from Minnesota tried to make cornbread last Thanksgiving. She’s trying in the way your high school teacher thought it would be cool to rap about fractions after he saw Freedom Writers. 

It’s not Evans’ fault that her campaign may just be a stalking horse for white Georgia Democrats who fear a black gubernatorial nominee. It’s not her fault that she’s up against Stacey Abrams, who is running to be the first black female governor in America, who is a former legislator, lawyer and author who’s been praised on Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal and in Cosmopolitan and Glamour magazines.

Nope, Stacey Evans has every right to run her unseasoned campaign to the best of her ability. What she does NOT have the right to do is violate the black church during Martin Luther King Jr.’s holiday by putting herself in MLK blackface, then blaming her black opponent. In Georgia, we’ve officially moved from the “Bless your heart” stage to “What were you thinking?”

On the Sunday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, candidate Stacey Evans attended King’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church and filmed a campaign commercial that was posted on the campaign Instagram.

This is arguably the most tone-deaf and racially offensive commercial since Kendall Jenner solved racism with a Pepsi. The commercial has been roundly dragged, not just for being racially offensive but also for demonstrating the worst kind of Democratic white-progressive virtue signaling. Do white Democrats still think you can show up at black events, shake a few hands, clap out of rhythm and wrap up the black vote? You’re running against Stacey Abrams, not Roy Moore; you have to step your game up, Mrs. Evans. Heck, Ben Carson even spoke at Ebenezer that day, so clearly just showing up at church doesn’t mean you’re a first-round pick in the racial draft.

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Even worse, the campaign filmed the service without parishioners’ consent, and plenty of people were surprised to see that they’d been used like props. Of course, the film quality is so bad, they might’ve confused Evans’ campaign team for WorldStar. However, the crusted top of this mayonnaise sandwich is the final image, where MLK is superimposed onto Evans’ face like she downloaded the “MLK Me” app.

That’s political blackface. Who doesn’t know in 2018 that blackface isn’t OK? Yes, the video was quickly taken down, but where are Evans’ people? Because she clearly needs more of them.

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A gaffe like this is usually indicative of a campaign that either has no black people on staff or has ones there that nobody listens to. That is not the case with the Evans campaign. The videographer, Nick Nelson, is black; her main campaign manager, Candice Franklin, is black; and she has a few black surrogates. However, when I spoke to them, none of these people seemed to have any idea how this video got made. So either Evans’ Instagram has been hacked by a rogue supporter or somebody is lying.

“I didn’t have anything to do with the video,” state Rep. Dar’Shun Kendrick (D-Lithonia), a known surrogate of the Evans campaign, told The Root. “But it’s my understanding that the MLK image was photoshopped. I think there was some photoshopping going on.”

I then spoke to LaDawn Jones, former legislator and self-proclaimed “strong” Evans surrogate.

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“I found it inspiring and uplifting,” she said, then eventually admitted that she could see why some found the Evans-to-MLK image “upsetting.”

Even Jeff DiSantis, one of the top managers of the Evans campaign, wouldn’t speak on the record about the video, releasing a statement instead. The key sections are below:

The Abrams campaign has decided to distort a video made by the campaign’s digital company. As is usual in modern campaigns, they accompany Stacey to events so that the campaign can share our activities with the public. The digital company’s camera was one of many cameras recording the service. All images and sounds come from what happened during the service, including the music and the speakers. While the Abrams campaign is trying to divide our state, the Evans campaign will continue to seek the vote of every Georgian who wants to bring hope back to Georgia.

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In short, none of the African-American campaign surrogates seem to know how this video was magically made, but suggest some nefarious photoshopping, and the campaign itself blames Abrams for distorting the imagery. I guess we can add computer hacker to the accusations the Evans campaign has thrown at Abrams.

Evans’ merry band of enablers in the press have been bending over backward to paint this commercial in the most charitable way possible. Shilling is a tough job. Greg Bluestein of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tried to play the MLK commercial off like it was just a campaign “controversy,” conveniently neglecting to mention that it was Ebenezer Baptist Church itself that demanded the video be taken down. Lee Fang of The Intercept chimed in to lecture black people and cape for oppressed white progressives, completely and obtusely missing the point as usual (I wonder why—oh wait, NOW I remember).

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White candidates appropriating Martin Luther King Jr.’s image is not new or particularly rare. Catherine Templeton, a white Republican woman running for governor in South Carolina, is a Steve Bannon-loving, Charleston, S.C.-church-massacre-denying proud daughter of the Confederacy but had no problem superimposing her campaign logo over MLK. It’s disgusting but predictable. Every white Republican and many white Democrats have done it at some point.

In fact, I don’t think Evans had any ill intentions, but that’s part of the problem with wannabe white “progressives.” They still see African Americans as sheeple who can be bought with an afternoon of swaying and paying lip service to King’s ideals. Georgia deserves better, and the black folks in Evans’ campaign who enable this kind of thinking should have their cards revoked.

You can celebrate MLK any way you wish, but what you’re not gon’ do—without significant draggage, at least—is use MLK as blackface and then, when you get caught, blame black folks. Mistakes happen; take your L and keep it moving. The Evans campaign has every right to try to reach black voters with policy and speeches. No blackface required.