A familiar line of defense has emerged in the Ralph Northam minstrelsy mess: YOUTHFUL FOLLY. Unfortunately for the Virginia Governor, he was a twenty-five year old medical student when the offending, and offensive, yearbook picture was published. Since this is NOT the NFL, I hereby throw a penalty flag on the youthful folly defense. I also wonder *why* the Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook published a picture of that dastardly duo in 1984. The current head of the med school wants to know as well and has launched an investigation.
You know things are bad when being the blackface dude is not as bad as the alternative. After initially admitting that one of the bozos in the picture could have been him, Doctor/Governor Northam changed his story. Like so many politicians in trouble, he violated the first rule of holes and kept digging. His denial included this astonishing admission:
“That same year I did participate in a dance contest in San Antonio in which I darkened my face as part of a Michael Jackson costume,” Northam told the crowd of reporters, later joking that it is difficult to get shoe polish off your face. “I look back now and regret that I did not understand the harmful legacy of an action like that.”
Northam said that he won the dance contest, and when a reporter asked if he could still moonwalk, he look around to see if there was space to show off the dance move.
He paused after his wife jumped in to say it was an “inappropriate circumstance.”
One could say Northam used a backhoe to keep digging his hole. The mere thought that it would be okay to moonwalk at his Saturday presser should be grounds for resignation in and of itself.
Northam’s press conference was supposed to begin the healing process whereby he could stay in office but it had the opposite effect: all of the recent past Democratic Governors, Wilder, Warner, Kaine, and McAuliffe have called for Northam to resume the practice of medicine.
The good news is that Northam now seems open to quitting if he can longer be effective as Governor BUT he has not resigned as of this writing. To say he can’t be effective as a Governor leading a multi-racial state party after the minstrelsy mess is an understatement.
As wingnuts are fond of pointing out, the Democratic Party *does* have a checkered past when it comes to race, especially in places like the Commonwealth of Virginia. BUT those days ended when a Democratic president from the South passed major civil rights legislation and Richard Nixon became the candidate of the white backlash. Democrats are now the anti-racist party and need to have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to blackface minstrelsy and other examples of the misguided humor of youtful folly. The election of Donald Trump and the rise of white nationalism in the GOP has made that even more imperative.
I believe Northam when he says that the 2019 edition of Doctor/Governor Northam is not a bigot and that he’s done many good things over the years. I believe he’s sorry about the picture on his yearbook page. BUT he forfeited any chance at being forgiven for his youthful folly when he crawfished on whether or not he was one of the pinheads in that yearbook picture. His hole is now a crater.
A quick resignation from office is also in Northam’s self-interest. He can retain at least a shred of dignity by cutting his losses. It’s time for him to “jump Jim Crow” out of the governor’s mansion. Let’s hope he does it today.
2 thoughts on “The Northam Minstrelsy Mess”
A comment on the cultivation of racism I made on Twitter yesterday: At my small, white, north MS grammar school in the 1950’s, one of the songs in our songbook was “Jump Jim Crow”. I guess it was one of the music teacher’s favorites, because we sang it often in our weekly music class. There was no context provided for the song’s history or it’s intent to falsely portray blacks as Stepin Fetchit’s. It’s presentation was intended to show us white kids that blacks were indeed innately fools. And I have no doubt that the majority of my still living classmates yet hold that characterization to be true. Instilling those beliefs into young children is a dreadful act, and I know that to some degree it persists today.
years ago, Rep. Henry Hyde (he of the Hyde Amendment) tried to pass off an affair he’d had with a married woman as a “youthful indiscretion. He’d been in his 40s when it took place.
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