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Northam, Fairfax and next steps

2/15/2019, 6 a.m.
The controversy swamping Virginia’s top three executives continues, with Gov. Ralph S. Northam refusing to resign in the wake of ...

The controversy swamping Virginia’s top three executives continues, with Gov. Ralph S. Northam refusing to resign in the wake of his 1984 medical school yearbook photos and blackface scandal; Lt. Gov. Justin E. Fairfax standing accused by a second woman of sexual assault in 2000 while the two were students at Duke University; and Attorney General Mark R. Herring laying low after admitting that he, too, wore blackface to a party in 1980 as a 19-year-old student at the University of Virginia.

Lt. Gov. Fairfax has said he will remain in office, despite a threat last weekend by a Democratic legislator from Northern Virginia to start the impeachment process if the lieutenant governor didn’t resign. That legislator apparently was schooled last Sunday, and has since backed away from his threat.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Fairfax has called for an FBI investigation into the allegations of his accusers in order to clear his name. Both of the women involved said they would participate in a public investigation. And Gov. Northam said he plans to embark on a “listening tour” around the state on race to tell Virginians what he has learned in the wake of his blackface admission. 

We still believe that Gov. Northam should resign. No amount of “listening” will erase the affront and wounds he has inflicted upon African-Americans and the Commonwealth. We find it egregious that at age 59, with undergraduate and medical school training, serving eight years as an officer in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, having longtime membership in an African-American church, representing for six years a state Senate district with a population that is roughly 35 percent people of color, serving as lieutenant governor for four years in a state comprised of nearly 30 percent people of color, and now governor since 2018, that he wants to finally have a conversation about race. The question now is: Was Gov. Northam ever listening before?

Call it what it is — an apology tour on which Gov. Northam expects us to teach him something. Well, in the 400 years since Africans set foot in Virginia, we have been their mammies, their cooks, their field hands, their breeders, their builders, their wealth builders and their nemesis. So why haven’t Gov. Northam and other white people learned?

The lessons of racism, white supremacy and white privilege have been flagrant since 1619. And today, 154 years since the end of the Civil War and the passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawing slavery, laws, policies and practices continue the many systems of racial inequity and hatred in this state and this nation.

So what has Gov. Northam learned in the past two weeks of chaos? Other than learning when a crisis management person is needed, we have no clue. But we remind him and members of all political parties to take heed — that we, African-Americans, have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, only permanent interests. If anything, the situation has brought greater clarity to that truth and revived people to act on it.