Blackface, #MeToo and moonwalking: how Virginia has self-destructed in a week | United States news


Fthe month of February is Black History, not, like various people they joked in response to recent events, "Blackface History Month". Officials in Virginia, however, seem intent on convincing everyone else.

Last Friday a picture emerged of the Virginia Yearbook page of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, who seemed to show the Democrat wearing both a blackface and a Ku Klux Klan costume. The situation quickly passed from very bad to much worse. Virginia's top officials are involved in a scandal: Mark Herring, the attorney general, admitted he was a blackface, Justin Fairfax, the lieutenant governor, was accused of sexual violence, and Tommy Norment, the leader of the Senate majority, he was revealed as the editor-in-chief of the racist directory.

With new and bizarre emerging developments, the story seems to become stranger, and more racist, from hour to hour. Let's recap how things have gone so far.

February 1st: Northam apologizes for the photo and accept responsibility

Shortly after the Northam annual directory page of the Eastern Virginia Medical School was published Friday on a conservative website, the governor tweeted a video saying that the page of the yearbook does not reflect his current character. "I can not … cancel the damage my behavior caused then and today," he said. "But I accept responsibility for my past actions."

Ralph Northam

My compatriots Virginian, at the beginning of today I issued a statement apologizing for a behavior in my past that is not at the height of the standard you gave me when you chose me as governor. I think you deserve to hear from me directly.

2 February 2019

2 February: Northam decides after all, he does not want to accept responsibility

Twenty-four hours after his mea culpa, Northam made a U-turn and denied he was one of the people in the picture, saying he would not accept the numerous requests for resignation. At a press conference, Northam said he saw the photo in question for the first time on Friday and was sure it was not him. The reason he was so sure is that he distinctly remembered wearing the black face on another occasion in 1984: at a dance competition in Texas, when he disguised himself as Michael Jackson. "It's because my memory of that episode is so vivid that I do not really think I'm in the picture of my yearbook," Northam said. He could not explain how the picture was on his yearbook page, but suggested that there might have been some confusion. Which, strangely, had not noticed for over 30 years. The governor helpfully suggested that facial recognition software could prove that he was not in the yearbook picture. Yes, that yearbook photo in which someone wears a KKK hood that covers his face.

Northam, accompanied by his wife Pamela, announces that he will not resign during the February 2 press conference

Northam, accompanied by his wife Pamela, announces that he will not resign during the February 2 press conference. Photograph: Jay Paul / Reuters

Northam also took the opportunity to brag about his moonwalking skills and expose the logistical difficulties of dressing like Jackson. "I used only a little bit of shoe polish to put my cheeks on," he said, "and why I used it a little bit because I do not know if anyone ever tried it, you can not take off the polish. "He looks like a person with a lot of experience who puts the shoe polish on his face.

Northam also admitted that one of his nicknames to the Virginia Military Institute was "coonman", a racist insult, but he could not explain why.

3 February: Northam spends most of the day out of public view

People keep asking the governor to resign and he continues to ignore them. Meanwhile, Dr. William Ellwood, who was working on the Northam directory, explained that it was highly unlikely that the photo would be published on the governor's page without him realizing it. "In my experience, the most probable thing is that he presented that picture," he said.

When the calls went on for Northam's withdrawal, it seemed likely that Fairfax would become governor. However, late last night, the conservative site of the Big League Politics published allegations that Fairfax sexually assaulted Vanessa Tyson, a colleague of Stanford University, at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Virginia was thrown even more in disarray.

4 February: Fairfax denies the accusations of sexual assault

The governor of Virginia, Justin Fairfax, speaks to the media

The governor of Virginia, Governor Justin Fairfax, speaks to the media. Photo: Steve Helber / AP

The 39-year-old, who would have been the only African-American governor in the United States if Northam resigned, told the press that the meeting was "100% consensual". He also suggested that the accusations were a smear campaign.

6 February: Virginia attorney general admits of blackface while the charges against Fairfax increase

On Wednesday, Mark Herring, Virginia's attorney general, who would become governor if Northam and Fairfax had resigned, admitted to wearing the black face in the 80s. Herring, who had previously requested the dismissal of Northam, issued a statement saying he was dressed as a rapper during a party when he was a 19-year-old student at the University of Virginia.

Shortly after Herring's statement, Tyson issued a statement explaining how Fairfax forced her to have oral sex on him in 2004. "With tremendous angst, I am now sharing this information about my experience and putting the things clear, "said Tyson. "Given his false claims, I am forced to clarify what happened."

February 7: It was reported that a Republican MP in the Virginia Senate served as editor-in-chief of the 1968 yearbook

In case I thought I could not push other Virginia senior politicians to this scandal, it emerged Thursday that Senate majority leader Tommy Norment was the editor-in-chief of the Northam photobook. That same yearbook also included other photos of black-faced students and racist insults that referred to African Americans, Jews and Asians.

What's next?

At this rate, who knows. Virginia spokesman Kirk Cox, a Republican, is the fourth in the line of succession, although now it seems equally likely that Northam will not resign after all. All we can know is that whatever happens in the coming weeks, it is unlikely that this will damage the long-term reputation of men. It is very difficult for racism or sexual assault charges to ruin a politician's career. Just ask Donald Trump.



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