The price of reconciliation

3/1/2019, 6 a.m.
Out of crisis comes opportunity. And the blackface scandal that has thrown Virginia into chaos during the last month is ...

Out of crisis comes opportunity. 

And the blackface scandal that has thrown Virginia into chaos during the last month is no exception. But while Gov. Ralph S. Northam selfishly is determined to hang on to his seat rather than do the right thing and resign, we urge our community to understand and walk through the door of opportunity this horrid situation presents.

For the governor, there is “no short road to redemption,” as Delegate Joe Lindsey of Norfolk stated, noting that Gov. Northam’s revised $117 billion, two-year state budget that was approved Sunday on the final day of the General Assembly session was a good starting point in dealing with racism in Virginia head-on. 

Many of the items negotiated and now approved in the revised budget were priorities sought by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus: $25 million for school districts such as Richmond that have large numbers of “at-risk” students as indicated by the numbers receiving free and reduced price lunch; $15.5 million in additional financial aid for disadvantaged students at Virginia’s public colleges and universities, especially those attending HBCUs; $52 million to freeze public college tuition; $1.5 million more in state funds for the Virginia Housing Trust Fund; and just over $100,000 for an eviction prevention study.

This may start us on the road toward dealing with the vast inequities resulting from Virginia’s racist past. But there are many, many more racist laws, policies, practices and procedures still in place today that were designed to keep African-Americans subjugated in this state. We must continue to call them out and demand and work toward change. 

The national conversation about race spawned by the blackface confessions of Gov. Northam and Attorney General Mark R. Herring puts Virginians in the driver’s seat in shaping what reconciliation and healing should look like. African-Americans now must be able to clearly articulate what it is we want to secure a more equitable and inclusive future.

Gov. Northam, who has been hiding in the Executive Mansion, shows that he is not ready to confront the sins of his own past. He scrubbed the launch of his so-called “reconciliation tour”  last week when Virginia Union University students, speaking through Student Government Association President Jamon K. Phenix, said they didn’t want him to come to the historically black campus and disrupt the celebration honoring alumni known as the Richmond 34, the true heroes who as students in 1960 risked their lives and future careers by staging a sit-in at the all-white lunch counter and restaurant at Thalhimer’s department store in Downtown. 

Gov. Northam must understand that true reconciliation and atonement includes more than his alternative of hosting the Richmond 34 for a quick breakfast at the Executive Mansion and then tweeting out photos of himself looking chummy with African-Americans. Those pictures, along with the photos the governor tweeted of himself visiting with John W. Boyd, head of the National Black Farmers Association, don’t signify that everything is alright and that he can sit easy in the job.

We are not duped by such images, nor will we be placated by invitations to break bread with the governor or join with others who mistakenly think such things will satisfy the long injustice meted out in this Commonwealth and this nation.

Gov. Northam must understand that as long as he remains in office, he will face public criticism and humiliation as a consequence of bringing hurt, humiliation and shame to Virginians and then deciding to stay in office. It will not be pretty, and it will not blow over soon. He must deal with it as part of the healing.

In the larger view, Gov. Northam must know that our community seeks sea change that can only be brought on by an authentic commitment to meaningful and impactful addressing of issues. 

While we still believe that resignation is the price Gov. Northam must pay, we urge the community to thoughtfully and skillfully outline a plan to ensure a better future.