Surprised, no. Sickened, yes.
2/8/2019, 6 a.m.
Is it white privilege, white hubris or just plain arrogance that keeps Gov. Ralph S. Northam in office well after most reasonable Virginians — and people across the nation — believe it is time for him to exit?
Last Friday, Gov. Northam apologized for appearing in either blackface or in full KKK regalia in a photo published on his 1984 medical school yearbook page. But at a press conference on Saturday, Gov. Northam expected us to believe his disjointed explanation that the photo wasn’t him, even as he confessed that he had blackened his cheeks with shoe polish to moonwalk and win a Michael Jackson dance contest later in 1984 during his Army medical residency in San Antonio.
Despite the voices from within his own Democratic Party and from people across Virginia and the nation, Gov. Northam refuses to resign from office. He said while both blackface episodes were wrong, he says that’s not the man he is now.
Adding to the sheer ridiculousness of the moment, Gov. Northam, in response to a reporter’s question, momentarily considered showing the roomful of reporters and a live national television audience that he could still moonwalk until his wife gave him a “Don’t you dare” look. He then said, “My wife says inappropriate circumstances.”
To add further insult, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring on Wednesday confessed to browning his face as a 19-year-old college student in 1980 to attend a party dressed like rapper Kurtis Blow.
There is so much that is hurtful, harmful and humiliating about Mr. Herring’s revelation and Gov. Northam’s actions, weak apology and weaker story that he expected Virginians to swallow.
Is this the time we do like the police with the gun buy-back programs and ask everyone to turn in their KKK robes and blackface party props by a deadline or face future punishment? Is now the time to, like in South Africa, convene truth and reconciliation panels to finally deal with the festering sores from the past and the current crisis?
By 1984 and at age 25, Gov. Northam should have known that dressing up in blackface — no matter the circumstance — is not cute or funny, but flagrantly racist and insensitive. He is so wrapped up in white privilege that he, at age 59, is just as clueless as he was at 25. That is why he cannot expect his inadequate, unconvincing account to allow him to remain in office.
Gov. Northam must resign.
This debacle illustrates just how deep, dark — and often hidden — the chasm of race is in Virginia and the nation, particularly when it comes to people and politicians like Gov. Northam and Mr. Herring who we believed were more enlightened.
And it shows exactly why there is resistance even among our so-called political “friends” to accomplishing what we consider “basic,” such as taking down the statues of Confederate slaveowners and traitors on Monument Avenue and eliminating the state’s Lee-Jackson holiday and replacing it with a day all people can get behind.
And while pictures do sting, as noted by Dr. Veronica Coleman, pastor of New Jerusalem Ministries of Virginia Beach, it is the racist policies enacted and sanctioned that bring lasting damage to our families and communities — like separating children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border; like marking housing applications with a “c” and refusing to rent to African-Americans or people of color; like black women being three to four times more likely to die in childbirth in the United States than white women; like creating the school-to-prison pipeline by calling in school resource officers to handle problems that used to be taken care of in the principal’s office; like treating opioid addiction as a health problem in the white community while drug problems in the African-American community are turned over to the criminal justice system; like systematically denying the right to vote to all felons who have completed their time and are back working in the community.
These are just a few examples of the insidious racist practices plaguing our state and our nation, in part, because the governors, judges, doctors, school and government officials who pay lip service to fairness, justice and diversity are still deep-down inside that 25-year-old yukking it up in blackface and KKK robes or partying in blackface like they are rappers.
For Virginians, the events of the last few days have been a lesson in power. No one ever concedes power. Even Hitler killed himself rather than give up power, an EVMS graduate reminds us.
The timing of all of this, coupled with the sudden surfacing of allegations against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, raises serious questions about what forces within or outside the Democratic Party are behind it all and the resulting chaos.
Nonetheless, Gov. Northam would rather selfishly stay in office, hurting not only himself and whatever legacy he hoped for, but the image of the Commonwealth he has sworn to serve and claims to dearly love. He has betrayed the African-American community and others who have supported him, and continues to harm his fellow Democrats and their future prospects for election by dragging this out. He cannot function effectively as Virginia’s governor when he has lost the confidence of Virginians and has no support either from his own political party or the Republicans who still control the General Assembly.
Gov. Northam must resign.
Through the decades and even now, white people come to us seeking forgiveness and absolution so they can feel better. But then they turn around and commit another racist and insensitive offense showing that they really don’t understand what’s wrong.
When asked at Saturday’s press conference if he would take the offensive Confederate statues down, Gov. Northam waffled. He waffled again when asked what he would do to eliminate the Lee-Jackson holiday. It is clear he doesn’t see atonement as an important step in regaining the trust of the people he has hurt.
Yes, we believe in forgiveness. White people have made us good at that. But this is not an altar call. This is about what, who and how we want to lead our Commonwealth now and into the future.
Yes, the dialogue on race must continue, and we hope Gov. Northam will be an integral part of the effort, only not as the state’s chief executive but as a private citizen.
The time for new leadership is now. Clean out your desk, Gov. Northam. Move out of the mansion. Turn the keys of government over to the next person in line.
You can go home now.