Beyond Blackface: Why We Need To Hold Governor Ralph Northam Accountable For Actions In His Past

"Northam, like many before him and even today, have been able to live life free of consequence for their past transgressions."

Photo credit:Alex Edelman/Getty Images

| February 05 2019,

10:17 pm

Recently, news broke of Governor Ralph Northam's racist yearbook page. Northam issued an apology in which he tries to convince Americans that the “photo and the racist and offensive attitude it represents does not reflect that person I am today or the way that I have conducted myself as a soldier a doctor and a public servant.”

But the issue at hand goes beyond an old yearbook photo. I can’t help but wonder how beliefs that led him to be in pictures of him in either blackface or KKK garb (or neither, now) in his medical school yearbook have impacted Black people he encountered over the years as a doctor, soldier and public servant.

During Northam's 2017 run for governor, his campaign spent $9 million on Get Out the Vote (GOTV), including literature featuring all of the democratic candidates to mobilize Virginia voters. But Justin Fairfax, the current Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, was left off of the coordinated campaign literature (lit).

Black voters — who make up one-fifth of the voting electorate in Virginia, were a key voting block for Northam in what would prove to be a tight race. As the only Black statewide candidate running for statewide office, having Fairfax on the coordinated campaign lit would have been key to turning out Black voters.

Northam’s decision to leave Fairfax off the ballot prompted Black led political organizations, such as Collective PAC, to fill in the void. And when the campaign was called out, democratic leaders and advisors dismissed the complaints as “blown out of proportion." Even the president of the local NAACP dismissed the issue, instead urging democrats and Black voters to “stay focused on the goals ... that Ralph wins …”

The campaign didn't apologize for leaving Fairfax off the ballot, stating “we are making a historic investment in the coordinated campaign, including giving or raising $9 million in Get Out The Vote efforts for the entire ticket without asking for any additional investment from the ticket mates.” The campaign basically said “you ain't put in on this, man,” opting to leave Fairfax off the lit at the risk of losing the very votes they would need to win — the Black vote.

How have the young white assailants during the Woolworth lunch counter sit in, the young white women booing Black women participating in the women's suffrage march, the young white parents who berated six year Ruby Bridges on her first day of school and young white bystanders who stood in silence as these acts took place, impacted the lives Black people they’ve encountered over the years? What comes of young white people who’s past racist actions have gone largely unchecked and unnoticed?

They grow up to be doctors who provide medical advice based on age old racist stereotypes that leave Black mothers facing death unnecessarily when giving birth, high infant mortality rates and Black patients without the care they need. They grow up to be the Secretary of State of Florida (also caught wearing blackface back in the day ) where they oversee elections processes in a state that has a long and well documented history of voter suppression that continues today. They grow up to be people who would call the police on young Black entrepreneurs selling water or mowing grass. They grow up to be police who use deadly force on Black men ad women, and teachers who over discipline Black girls and boys. They grow up to be voters and elected leaders who would see this country's government shut down for over a month for border wall funding.

His unwillingness to step aside for the Black Lieutenant Governor, who would be only the second Black governor in the state's history, doesn’t surprise me. Northam, like many before him and even today, have been able to live life free of consequence for their past transgressions. Northam has grown up to become an entitled, selfish and disgraced elected official clinging on to a governorship he doesn’t deserve at the expense of the Black voters who put him in office. And this is why he must step down and face the consequences of his actions, so that racist behavior no longer goes unchecked. He must step down so that Virginians can have leadership they truly deserve — the leadership of Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax.


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