Yesterday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s section of his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook surfaced on many media outlets. Next to three other photos of the governor, there was a picture depicting two men — one in blackface and one in a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood. This image justifiably sparked an intense backlash from all corners of the political spectrum demanding that Northam be held accountable for his actions.
Unfortunately, this picture was not an isolated incident. Later in the day it was also revealed that his yearbook at the Virginia Military Institute listed Northam’s as “coonman,” which was likely derived from a racial slur.
In response to the backlash, Northam released a statement and a video apologizing for his actions, “I am deeply sorry for the decision to appear as I did in that photo,” clearly admitting he was one of the two men in question. This was not nearly enough to make amends for the incident. Making matters worse, Northam is now denying that he is one of the men in the photograph and is resisting calls to resign. In a Saturday afternoon, Northam apologized and stated he did not believe he was either person in the photograph and that last night was the first time he saw his page in the yearbook because he did not purchase it. He did however admit to once darkening his face for a dance competition, meaning this sort of behavior was not totally out of character. Given the blatant racism on display in the picture it is clear that he can no longer effectively serve our Commonwealth — Northam must do the right thing and resign from the governorship immediately.
The disgusting image in Northam’s medical school yearbook harkens back to a dark time in American history when was commonplace in society. Minstrelsy was a demeaning and deeply racist practice in which white performers would appear on stage in blackface and presented an exaggerated version of an African-American for an audience. The legacy of minstrelsy in this country is shameful, hurtful to many and serves as a stark reminder of slavery and Jim Crow. Given this history, it is all the more reprehensible that Northam would choose to involve himself with such a costume. Moreover, this picture was taken while Northam was at medical school, making it even clearer that this was not some youthful indiscretion — even though that is still no excuse.
Though some responses to the photograph were disappointing and seemed to dismiss the controversy surrounding it, such as Senate Minority Leader Richard Saslaw’s (D-Fairfax) , many others were quick to condemn Northam. In the hours following the release of the photo the College Republicans and the University Democrats at U.Va., the and parties of Virginia, and other prominent Democrats and liberal groups called on Northam to resign from office.
The collective action of citizens in and outside of Virginia has placed an immense amount of pressure on Northam to resign, sending a clear message that his behavior will not be tolerated in Virginia. Northam’s flip-flop on whether he was in the picture makes the situation even worse and demonstrates very clearly the need for him to effectively atone for his actions, but this atonement must occur after Northam leaves the governor's mansion. Now it is clear that there is no salvaging Northam’s governorship, and he should not disgrace himself or the office by trying to remain as Virginia’s governor. Northam should listen to his constituents and his party and resign from his position immediately.
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