The avalanche of media coverage, eroding support and outright calls for the Governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam to resign his office have been nonstop since the discovery of a racist photograph from 1984 in which the Governor was clearly present was uncovered. The several images were revealed on the personal college yearbook page of Ralph Northam. Three of the photographs were relatively benign on the page, but the photo causing all the controversy was of 2 people dressed in racist memorabilia including a Sambo-like black-faced caricature and a person dressed in a hooded Klansman outfit. Although the photograph appeared on his personal page, the Governor denies that he was either of the 2 people in the photograph itself. This denial came the day after the Governor apologized for the pain the photograph caused his friends, family and the people of Virginia. The initial apology seemed to admit his personal culpability in the racist iconography and now Governor Northam is in full denial mode.
Community and National Leadership from the NAACP to the Democratic Party to members of the Black Caucus have all denounced the photograph as blatantly racist and makes the Governor’s ability to lead Virginia irreparably damaged. The calls for the Governor to step aside and cede the Governorship to the Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax, who is African American, have been almost unanimous. The former Governors Terry McAuliffe, Doug Wilder and Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have all said that the Governor needs to step aside so that we can “…close this chapter and move forward. So Virginians can heal.” The question is do we really need to close this chapter? Or do we need to take this horrible moment as an opportunity to fully open up the chapter and interrogate the long legacy and ugly racial history on which the Commonwealth of Virginia was established? Do we need to take this opportunity to open up what has been locked away in trunks and attics in the Commonwealth and beyond; the buried false denials and fake attitudes of progressive “change” exposing our hidden racial attitudes and racist past and present them all to the light of day?
The resignation of the Governor will inevitably come sooner rather than later due to his inability to lead the Commonwealth effectively. However, it must be acknowledged that it was a racist President and son of the South, Lyndon Baines Johnson who signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because he was standing in the middle of the fire of injustice. It was the urgency of the moment and a great tide of social justice activism that forced President Johnson to push that legislation forward. It was not something that he wanted to do out of the “goodness of his heart” nor his great awakening to the need for equality and justice for the African Americans. It was imperative for the progression of the Civil Rights Movement for these laws to be passed. We have been litigating them ever since and we have the representation in the U.S. Congress today as a direct result of the passage of those laws. If the resignation of the Governor helps the cause and continues to open up the critical discourse needed to truly move us forward, then let him resign and quickly. But, if it’s only another cosmetic act of acquiescence creating a false narrative of change, then let him stand in the fire and be a lightening rod for the conversation that has yet to be had in the Commonwealth and in the Nation.