Racism and redemption: Virginia blackface row sparks national debate

Lester Mason
February 11, 2019

In a CBS interview to be broadcast on Monday, Governor Ralph Northam said he had learned from the controversy that erupted on February 1 when a racist photo surfaced from his medical school yearbook, and that as a former pediatrician he could help Virginians heal.

A digest of the top political stories from the Globe, sent to your inbox Monday-Friday. He told reporters that he's asked his Cabinet to come up with suggestions on how he can improve his commitment to eliminating racial bias within the state of Virginia, and "address issues of inequality" in various state programs. "That's why I'm not going anywhere".

Northam said the state "needs someone who is strong, who has empathy, who has courage and who has a moral compass". "But he sacrificed so much of his ability to govern effectively".

Ralph "The Rat" Northam, the disgraced Virginia Democratic governor who almost moonwalked at a press conference while supposedly showing his honest apology for misremembering either dressing as a Ku Klux Klan member and when exactly he painted his face to impersonate a black person, has now officially declared he is not going to step down from office despite almost the entire country asking him to do so.

Northam has been ignoring widespread calls to resign after a photo of a man in blackface standing next to someone in Ku Klux Klan robes surfaced in his 1984 medical school yearbook. Northam said in a press conference a week ago, though, that he'd once darkened his skin to take part in a Michael Jackson dance competition.

Attorney General Mark Herring, Mr Northam's deputy, has acknowledged wearing "brown make-up" to a party when he was 19.

The governor initially apologized when the image was reported, admitting that he was in the photo.


Fairfax, 39, has said his encounter with a woman who accused him of forcing himself on her sexually in Boston in 2004 was entirely consensual.

Northam's pledge Sunday to work on healing the state's racial divide was the second he made in as many days. "If these accusations are determined to be true, I don't think he's going to have any other option but to resign". He said he supports Fairfax's call for an investigation into the sexual assault allegations.

Beyer also said he believes the two women who have accused Fairfax of sexual assault.

Northam seemed chastened and subdued as he described a week of grappling with what "white privilege" means, with the reality of African-American history, and with the personal failing of growing up after desegregation and the civil rights era while somehow not realising that donning blackface is offensive. It will be very positive and you know we have a number of inequities in this country right now and in Virginia.

He has denied both allegations and dismissed multiple calls to resign.

Those rebuttals have not satisfied fellow Democrat Patrick Hope, a state delegate who has promised to introduce articles of impeachment when lawmakers reconvene Monday.

Many Democrats who had carefully withheld judgment after the first accusation against Fairfax, saying the matter needed to be investigated, immediately condemned him. In a poll conducted late last week by The Washington Post and the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, respondents were evenly divided as to whether Northam should resign.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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