An awful discovery from the past of Virginia governor Ralph Northam was discovered recently. He was dressed up in blackface, and standing beside another man in a Klan robe. To say the least, the sight of a man we once fought for and believed in was deeply dismaying. This was not an easy article to write.
A few words about the history of “Blackface” tradition might be useful to discuss as we begin. It was created by a “comedian” named Thomas Dartmouth Rice, back in the 1830s. His mother must have been proud to see her beloved child dancing around like a buffoon on a stage, singing moronically in an exaggerated black slave vernacular. Mine might have killed me, and not unjust would her crime have been.
Rice gave his character a name, a name which later became famous for far more terrible reasons: “Jim Crow.”
David Pilgrim, the curator of the Jim Crow Museum in Michigan, spoke to reporters from the Washington Post yesterday on the subject. He noted how Jim Crow and other performances featuring white men in blackface captivated white crowds up until the mid-20th century.
Now, thanks to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook page, blackface is back in the spotlight after this photograph emerged Friday. It was dug up by the enemies of Democrats, democracy, common sense, and decency- the insane and vicious Republicans. A former writer for the Daily Caller and Breitbart was the one who found this out. It was a hit job from the start.
Northam and us Democrats are all currently what the far right calls getting “ratf*cked”, as the fascists of Nixon’s era used to say, and helping it along really kills us. Attacking another Democrat goes against our most core beliefs.
But that’s got to take a back seat this time.
Common sense and decency, the time-honored values of the sane political center, call for us to make the decision based on more important considerations. To dress up in blackface and wear a Klan uniform is not something we can refuse to speak out on due to party loyalty. You don’t show loyalty to something by poisoning it and refusing an antidote.
Daryl Davis, a black blues musician who is known for his efforts in seeking out Klansmen to converse with to try and convert, said it best. “It doesn’t matter if the photo was from 1984, 1974 or 2004. He defined what he meant when he paired blackface with a Klan hood. Racial segregation. Racial supremacy. When you have a symbol associated with hate from the beginning, you are saying exactly what you mean.”
Millennial Democrats cannot and will not throw our base under the bus by standing with Northam on the grounds of party loyalty over this. The thought made most of us sick. So by consensus, we came together as a group and we voted on it. The decision was made to join our Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and other top Democrats nationwide in calling for Ralph Northam to step down as the Governor of Virginia.
This is hard for us.
“Why are Democrats so loyal?” was a lament made by Donald Trump the day he pathetically caved to Speaker Pelosi and ended the shutdown. He will never understand, either, but he’s spot on in drawing this conclusion. Democrats are loyal.
Usually, when this kind of thing happens, it’s a cheap hit job and a scam, like with Senator Al Franken of Minnesota. We fought as hard as we could for him, as hard as we would for any true Democrat, so long as their conduct has earned our faith and loyalty. This has limits, however, and when something like this does come up, we have got to take an unequivocal stand. Racist notions are unacceptable. Absolutely and completely unacceptable. They are anathema to everything we stand for.
Northam’s original apology– which he then went back on this morning, adding to his mistake by compounding it- featured him giving a statement saying this happened 30 years ago, and undoubtedly that is true.
In response to this apology, which was just not enough, the words of one of our contributors felt right. So with the permission of Mr. Johnny Huckaby of Hawaii, here they are.
“Imho you have a problem with your judgment if in High School you decide to wear a racist costume. For me I wouldn’t know where to find a white hooded robe… Unless he borrowed one from his Dad or his friends? It took a lot of effort to apply the blackface makeup. So all that time he’s thinking what? Was he thinking his costume would be met with acceptance or was he fearful someone might beat him up? This is really disturbing no matter if it happened 30 years ago… Are there other instances that revealed his racism that now will come to light? I can’t look the other way at such an offensive revealing of a racist such as Ralph Northam, even if the racist is a Democrat!”
Democratic party loyalty is very real, but that is because we are loyal to a principle. That is what gathered us and drove us all into the sane center together. We believe in a multicultural world and we believe that making progress entails more of it. Loyalty to the Republicans means cronyism and carries with it clannish, secret society pact kinds of connotations.
For us, it means we fully respect and regard as a family every single member of our thriving and multicultural base.
Our diversity is our greatest strength, and whoever we choose as a leader must be able to demonstrate that they thoroughly share these values. Ralph Northam has done just the opposite. That picture was taken when he was twenty-five. He was old enough to know better.
There is a large corollary point to consider here as well, which is that an offensive joke, even a particularly grotesque one such as this is, is far from the same as a career supporting structural and systemic racism as the Republicans do and have done. ‘Build the wall’ is just the tip of the iceberg.
Perhaps the case was stated best by the Reverend Dr. Jesse Barber, who tweeted on Friday the following incisive statement.
“Yes, the photo of Gov Northam is a form of racism that’s ugly & grotesque. But the worst racism is policy & structural racism. Those who’ve supported racist immigration laws & walls at the border & the racist separation of families & children should resign now. We can’t punish the cultural symbols & ignore the policy violence.”
That is gigantic, and incidents involving past discoveries of racism should be designed to illustrate the point. In the last analysis, doing the right thing is not always easy, but that is irrelevant. Northam is done, and he must step down, just as he let himself down, and let us down by extension.
Our Democratic leadership has called for his resignation, and it is with a heavy heart that we must join them. Please step down, sir, and in so doing, show the world the difference between the conscienceless Republicans and us.