As embattled Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) attempts to rehabilitate his image in the week and a half since his extraordinary racial controversy began, he continues to show the Commonwealth and the nation at-large that he can no longer effectively govern. During an interview with Gayle King on “CBS This Morning” that aired Monday, not only did Northam call African slaves brought to colonial Virginia “indentured servants,” but now chalks up his racist photos to “white privilege.”
The fallout comes after a photo was released depicting Northam dressed either in blackface or in a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood in his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook. Shortly after the photo went viral, Northam confirmed that it was him depicted in the photo, but would not say which one he was dressed as – a man in blackface, or a man wearing KKK robes.
That night, he published a video statement explaining his remorse.
“I am deeply sorry. I cannot change the decisions I made, nor can I undo the harm my behavior caused then and today. But, I accept responsibility for my past actions, and I am ready to do the hard work of regaining your trust,” he said.
However, at a very odd press conference the following day, he walked back his admission, claiming that he was not in the photo, but then told a tale of when he did appear in blackface at a 1984 dance contest in San Antonio, Texas, dressed as Michael Jackson. Northam said he had “shoe polish” on his “cheeks” as a part of the costume.
“I have always liked Michael Jackson,” he said, noting that he did win the contest. He added that he “learned to do the moonwalk.”
The governor, after being asked by a reporter if he could still moonwalk, then grinned and looked to his right and left to find room to attempt to show off his dance. His wife, Pam, then said to him “inappropriate circumstances” as he was surrounded by a crowd of stunned reporters.
Dodging widespread calls for his resignation, protests in front of the Executive Mansion in Richmond, and even disappearing from the public eye for a few days, he then began his “I’m sorry” tour to explain his actions and announce that he will take on the responsibility of racial reconciliator for the remainder of his term, which ends in January 2022.
During the interview, King asked Northam, “what have you learned that you didn’t know before.”
“Well, several things, starting with I was born in white privilege and that has implications to it and it is much different the way a white person such as myself is treated in this country,” he said.
“Did you not know that you were born into white privilege?” King asked, interrupting the governor.
“I knew I was, Ms. King, but I didn’t realize, really, the powerful implications of that,” Northam explained. “And again, talking to a lot of friends, that has come crystally clear to me this week. I’ve also learned why the use of blackface is so offensive. And yes, I knew it in the past, but reality has really set in.”
When asked whether or not he knew appearing in blackface was offensive in the past, Northam said that he believes “we’re all on a learning curve.”
“Certainly, Ms. King, I am not the same person now at age 59 that I was back in my early 20s,” he added. “This is a week that has been very eye-opening to me.”
Therefore, Governor Northam did not know it was offensive to don blackface. Not only did he not know it was offensive in 1984, but he apparently did not know it is still offensive in 2019.
It is quite tough to actually analyze the entire situation that has embroiled Virginia’s governor. When it comes to “crisis communications 101,” Northam has written the complete annotated anthology of what not to say and what not to do.
To recap: he admitted to appearing in a racist photo, did not say if he was either dressed as a cartoonish blackface character or in the uniform of a white supremacy group, he then recanted saying that was not him in the photo, he changed his story, he told reporters he won a dance contest dressed in blackface as Michael Jackson, he almost moonwalked in front of national reporters, his wife told him not to moonwalk, he showed off his historical ineptness, and then chalked this all up to white privilege.
Questioning Virginians’ sanity for his own mistakes? If gaslighting needed a clear definition – here it is.
Furthermore, the question that has still yet to be fully answered is why Northam admitted to being the photo in the first place. In another part of the interview, he said he did it out of “shock” when seeing the photo, but that answer leaves a lot to be desired.
As well, his nickname while a cadet at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in the early 1980s was “Coonman,” a racial epithet. Why would he be called that unless it had a meaning?
Why wasn’t he asked about that in the CBS interview?
What is truly unbelievable, rather, what is truly fiction-turned-fact, is that literally every person in his own party is calling for him to resign, which is actually quite a conservative statement. There is most likely not one current elected Democratic office holder who has said he should stay in office.
To give a bit of perspective on that, let’s be honest here.
One can find a Democrat to support anything: Venezuela’s Maduro, Syria’s Assad, boycotting In-N-Out Burger, taxing cow farts, infanticide, blaming plastic straws for climate change, removing troops from Guam because the island will “tip over,” anything. But, there is not one Democrat supporting him on this.
Every day governor Northam remains in office is another day the Commonwealth of Virginia continues to be a punchline for skits on “Saturday Night Live,” a comedic comparison to the political process, and an erosion of the “Virginia Way.”
He needs to leave, immediately.