By Tyler St.Clair and Ian DeHaven
A photograph has surfaced just this past week depicting Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) and a friend of his, one dressed in Ku Klux Klan white robes and hood, and one wearing blackface. It is unclear which person is dressed in which costume. The photograph is from the 1984 edition of the yearbook from Eastern Virginia Medical School, where Northam graduated with his M.D. degree in 1984. Once the racist photograph surfaced, citizens began calling for him to resign almost immediately; people from both political parties and even those that do not live in Virginia were calling for him to step down from his position.
When asked about the photograph, Governor Northam initially admitted that he was in the picture and he apologized profusely for his past actions. The next day in a press conference, he retracted his statements and changed his story, saying that he was actually not in the picture at all. Trying to divert the attention away from the yearbook photograph after stating that the picture was not of him, he did admit to wearing blackface while doing a Michael Jackson impersonation during a dance competition.
With the surfacing of the racist photograph, and the resulting instability of Northam’s status as governor, anti-Northam journalists took the opportunity to remind the public of the sexual allegations against Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax (D) that were originally brought up against him following the 2004 Democratic National Convention. The allegations were passed off by Lieutenant Governor Fairfax as consensual actions and nothing more ever came of these allegations.
But the surfacing trouble with the elected officials of the Virginia Government does not end there. Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D), who is planning on starting his own campaign for governor in 2021, came out just days after the original news about Governor Northam broke, saying that he too had worn blackface at a 1980 party while dressed as rapper “Kurtis Blow.”
In short, there has been a pronounced streak of unacceptable behavior in Virginia’s elected government, a streak that angered citizens and national politicians have jumped on, including some students from James River who provided comment:
Student A: “What these men did is what they did, and cannot be changed. As far as Northam and Herring, 1980 and 1984 -- definitely a less politically sensitive time. Being in blackface was definitely offensive for the time, but it’s not uncommon for people in our age and at our highschool to make light of equally terrible things such as school shootings, or teen suicide.”
Student B: “In light of these recent events, Northam, Fairfax, and Herring have lost a great deal of faith from their supporters, and on that ground, cannot effectively lead. Virginians’ trust of these leaders has been eroded because of their mistakes and can’t rally behind them as role models or guides anymore.”
Clearly this chaos in Virginia transcends party and border lines, as politicians and citizens on both sides of the aisle and all over the nation speak out against the deplorable actions of Northam, Fairfax, and Herring. Citizens are definitely set in their calls for reparative action -- from apologies to total resignation -- from the offending politicians.
But no one seems to know what to actually do.
All those who have spoken against Northam, Fairfax, and Herring wholeheartedly agree that the allegations against them (where applicable) and their confirmed actions are inappropriate for public officials who are supposed to be moral authorities. If one figure resigns, all should resign. But, if all of these Democratic officials resign, Republicans politicians will take their place because of the current line-of-succession in Virginia… resulting in a complete political reversal of the state.
This is clearly a quandary for Democrats and those otherwise opposed to a symbolic “coup d’etat” of Virginia’s government.
Virginians, and the nation at large, are now also being reminded of an important lesson: everybody has incriminating, embarrassing things locked in their past, including one’s favorite role models or politicians. As one person is investigated, more dark secrets will come to light, casting doubt on continually more and more public figures and celebrities.
Though bleak, unearthing every secret that any public official may have in connection to Northam is a necessary evil for the honor of these public offices to be restored, faith in the government to be (temporarily) replenished, and for Virginians to heal from the wounds caused by the allegations against Lt. Governor Fairfax and the blackface of Governor Northam and Attorney General Herring.
What do you think Virginia should do? Reach out to the authors or leave a comment to add to this ongoing discussion of scandal in Virginia.