By THOMAS SKEER
As horns blare on I-95, a reminder of Virginia’s bigoted past waves in the wind as a massive Confederate flag oversees the drive through Stafford, Virginia. Unfortunately, the flag is not our only reminder of Virginia’s controversial history as racist pictures of Governor Ralph Northam surfaced from his days in medical school. Any level of racism is intolerable in today’s society and with Northam being an elected official of Virginia, his racist ideals reflect poorly on all of the Virginians he represents.
Northam, who has been in office since 2018, has lived in Virginia all his life. He attended Virginia Military Institute and then Eastern Virginia Medical School before joining the Army Medical Corps. In his 1984 medical school yearbook, Northam and another classmate are shown in blackface and the KKK’s iconic white robe. The caption of the picture reads, “There are more old drunks than old doctors in this world so I think I’ll have another beer”.
Since the pictures have surfaced, Northam has addressed the issue and apologized. “I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now. This behavior is not in keeping with who I am today and the values I have fought for throughout my career in the military, in medicine, and in public service. But I want to be clear, I understand how this decision shakes Virginians’ faith in that commitment,” Northam told CNN.
Being sorry for the past does not change the fact that Northam and his colleagues engaged in something as blatantly racist as blackface, and even found humor in the KKK. The picture that Northam chose to be a part of was offensive and completely in opposition of what this nation stands for, equality for all. The picture brings back sharp memories of a time when the United States of America was not so united, a time when our fragmented nation was at war with itself over owning another human-being and a time that many had hoped was long in the past.
While Northam has had a strong record of support for race-related issues and shown a broad African-American backing during his political career, the photo putting Northam’s political career on the brink of collapse also brings to light his past with racial issues. It was revealed during Northam’s 2017 campaign that his ancestors had owned slaves that worked on a plantation, and his alma mater currently displays Confederate iconography.
Perhaps more shocking than the picture itself and his troubling past is Northam’s decision to not resign from his position as Governor. “I am committed to continuing that fight for the remainder of my term,” Northam told CNN when asked about regaining the trust of Virginians.
The audacity of his resolve to regain the trust of Virginians is not something to be admired but rather embarrassed about. His egregious error in judgement of dressing in racist attire shows his true colors which then reflect poorly on all that call Virginia home.
His steadfast nature has sparked outrage from both parties and several African American civil rights groups who have all been extremely open about their disdain for the picture.
“Black face in any manner is always racist and never okay,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson tweeted. “No matter the party affiliation, we can not stand for such behavior, which is why the @NAACP is calling for the resignation of Virginia Governor @RalphNortham.”
Despite all of the uproar from party lines and civil rights activists, college is a time for all people to make mistakes. For some, the mistake could be not studying for a big test and for others it could be a drunk-in-public charge. The important thing is to learn and grow from the mistakes and not let the past repeat itself. In Northam’s case, however, a blatantly racist picture is too great of a mistake to go unpunished in this day and age.
As Governor, Northam represents all of the citizens of Virginia with how he conducts himself. His ignorant and ill-humored actions reflect on how the outside world perceives this state. With the blackface and KKK picture surfacing, Virginia as a whole has been painted as a backwards and intolerant state to those who are not from the area. The onlookers now see the state for its past Confederate roots instead of the equitable and honorable fruit the state now bears. As a Virginia native, I know that the state’s history does not define the present state, and Virginians cannot let the actions of one man define who they are.
After all, Virginia is for lovers.