I know…I know. Some folk about to get real mad at me. I can appreciate that not everyone will agree with my take on this issue or any other. But if we always agreed, life would be a bore.
Still, here it is. I do NOT want Virginia’s Gov. Ralph Northam to apologize for appearing in blackface in his medical school yearbook.
Yes, I know, he already apologized—kinda, sorta. Now, even that is up for debate. As it stands, on Friday, Feb. 1, he admitted that he was the guy in blackface and said he was sorry. Then on Saturday, Feb. 2, Northam did an about-face, saying to a group of reporters gathered at Virginia’s governor’s mansion that after “finally” getting the chance to “sit down and look at the photo in detail” he was “not the person in that photo that caused this stir.”
“It is not me,” he said. And that, in my opinion, pretty much negates any prior so-called apology.
While he denied being in the photo, he did admit to once applying black shoe polish to his face to do his best Michael Jackson impersonation in a dance competition. Well, I bet that was a hoot—the dancing part, not the blackface.
Anyway, first, he admits he was in the picture and says sorry. Then, barely a day later, he declares that he is not in the photo at all. And from the looks of things, he’s not going to step down. I don’t know what MJ tune he grooved to in the aforementioned “dance competition”, but it sure sounds like he’s dancing to Michael Jackson’s 1987 “Leave Me Alone” right now.
That’s pretty much where we are, and I am over it. Don’t get me wrong—I am not giving him a pass. I don’t intend to leave him alone. And neither should Virginians or Democrats.
Nor I am falling for that old “it wasn’t me” line of bull. Despite what he says, I believe that it is Northam in that 1984 yearbook photo. And if by some slim chance it isn’t him, it is on his page and he certainly knew it was there and said or did nothing to rectify, distance himself from or denounce it in all these years—essentially co-signing that miserable image.
I am not happy about it. I understand the hate-filled history of the image. I do however choose to be more thoughtful and realistic in handling it in 2019.
Let’s start with that apology. I just don’t need it. I have a bag bursting at the seams, stuffed full of “sorries”. I refuse to add even one more to it unless it comes with a reparations check. So Ralph can keep his.
As for that call to resign, I’ll say it like this…in my Soulja Boy voice…”Resiiiiigggnnneeennnn???!!!”
Man, I have been waiting to use that.
Seriously, I actually believe this turn of events provides an opportunity for all sorts of lessons to be learned especially as the Democratic Party gears up for the 2020 effort to unseat Donald Trump, hold on to and increase its majority in the House, takeover in the Senate and win a few more gubernatorial races across the nation.
This situation is a textbook example of why political parties must do a better job at vetting potential candidates and why they must offer voters better choices as they develop young talent and identify so-called “stars”.
Northam began his political career in 2008 when he was elected to the Virginia State Senate, serving four years before being elected lieutenant governor. That was 10 short years ago. The picture existed for 24 years before that first 2008 political bid. Why wasn’t it unearthed and shared then in time for the Virginia Dems to get another candidate for the state Senate race that jumpstarted and catapulted Northam’s career?
No one knew about this picture? No one ever saw it or any other sketchy yearbook pages related to Northam before? If, in fact, that is the case, the Democratic Party has got to be more careful.
But forgive me for finding that hard to believe. These were not photos from an Illuminati or Skull and Bones initiation. This was a yearbook for a publicly-funded, state-run medical school that actually had a long history of students publishing questionable and out-right racists photos until the school decided to end publication of the book in 2013.
When Northam qualified to run for the state senate in 2008 and folk saw Eastern Virginia Medical School on his resume, somebody should have gone looking for that book then and upon finding it, then-candidate Northam should have been thrown out along with his entire campaign.
You know what, forget the picture. Northam ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination for Virginia’s 6th District state senate seat in 2008 despite voting Republican in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. That bothers me as much, if not more, than this photo. So I am supposed to believe that among Virginia Dems in the state’s 6th senatorial district there wasn’t at least one man or woman that—unlike Northam—did NOT vote for George W. Bush, not once, but twice, worthy of the party’s nomination? Even if they didn’t know about the racist pic, they knew that he voted Republican in the two previous presidential races and still allowed Ralph Northam represent the Democrats without contestation?
Let’s just say there is an old saying about making your bed out of stuff like plywood and bricks. In other words, Democrats in Virginia and beyond, I know it’s hard, but stretch out and make yourselves as comfortable as you can because this is your fault.
From what I understand, a slow meltdown is occurring in Virginia, with many Dems in the state concerned about what this pictorial revelation and Northam’s refusal to resign mean for their party, especially as all roads point to 2020. The calls for him to resign are mounting despite his apology, which at last check, has flipped to denial. In fact, the calls for his resignation seem to have increased since he declared he was not either of the men pictured in the racist photo.
I get that. I like Northam a little bit better on Friday when he had the guts to say it was him and apologized. Denial is never a good look.
Let me be clear that I am not suggesting that Northam should not be called out and held responsible for that 1984 yearbook photo. I am saying that useless apologies and forced resignations would let him off way too easy.
I would much rather hold him accountable for his policies instead of his pictures. I am far more concerned about institutional racism in America than I am about racists.
So let’s talk about his record.
Voting Rights— In March 2009, he voted in favor of a joint resolution to allow for the legislative restoration of voting rights for non-violent felony offenders. Northam also voted in favor of a bill that allowed for absentee voting in Virginia for any reason. In February 2012 and again in February 2013, he voted against a bill that required photo identification for voting. In May 2018, as governor, he vetoed legislation that required a record of anyone who assisted with a voter registration application; and in April of the same year, he vetoed a law that required investigation of voter roles. Not bad.
Minimum wage—In February 2014, he voted to increase the state’s minimum wage. In April 2018, he vetoed legislation that would have made it illegal for cities in Virginia to establish their own minimum wage ordinances. I wish Louisiana’s legislature would follow suit.
Gun control—In February 2012, he voted against a bill that would to repeal purchase limits on handguns. In March 2010, he voted against bills that authorized concealed firearms in vehicles and places that sell alcohol without permits. In February 2009, he voted in favor of background checks for gun show purchase. But in February 2013, he voted in favor of a bill that prohibited the disclosure information about concealed gun permit applicants or holders.
I have conducted on a cursory examination his voting record, and it’s a mixed bag. Northam is, at best, a solid, moderate Democrat. He is by no means progressive. And if push ever came to shove, my best bet is that he will do whatever is politically convenient and expedient since that is what most solid moderate Democrats do. But his voting record on policies that matter is not a bad one at all.
Hold on, I am not saying that his votes in the Virginia Senate or his acts as governor have earned him a pass on the blackface photo any more than Bill Clinton’s saxophone playing or the fact that he knows every word the National Negro Anthem excuses his dismal record on criminal justice. And that’s actually more to the point.
There are elected officials—Black and White, past and present—that have never done anything as overtly awful and racist as donning blackface in photo or for a dance competition or for any other ungodly reason at all. Yet, they might as well paint their faces with permanent black marker if we examine their records on the issues that are detrimental to communities of color. Northam is no angel, but he isn’t the worst among politicians. Why do we keep ignoring the obvious. And then when it gets pointed out to us we want to call for resignations. If folk in Virginia Democratic Party had paid more attention in 2008, they probably wouldn’t be faced with the circumstances that have now come back to bite them right in the buttocks.
Yes, that 1984 picture is racist. And Northam was either racist for posing in the picture or he was racist for sitting back and saying nothing for more than 30 years about its existence.
He may still be racist. In fact, let’s say, for argument’s sake, that he is a racist.
Guess what else he is? The governor of Virginia. And we can thank the Virginia Democratic Party and the voters of the state for that.
Y’all want to force Ralph Northam to do something? Force him to govern under conditions in which he is scrutinized and examined relentlessly. Shine a light on him like he has never before experienced in his relatively short political career.
A better test than calling on him to issue empty apologies and reluctantly resign would be calling on him to govern in a way that actually challenges and dismantles systemic, institutional racism. If he doesn’t do that with substantial results, force him to resign in 2022 the good old-fashioned—by electing someone else.