Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, Democrat, admitted yesterday that he posed in a racially offensive photograph . In 1984 he and another medical school student posed as a black man in black face and a Klansman in a Ku Klux Klan hooded robe. The picture was published as his yearbook page. The editors at the East Virginia Medical School didn’t have a problem running it.
The two men are shown standing next to each other but it isn’t a promotion for National Brotherhood Week. Northam issued a public apology (although, today he’s denying it) and didn’t try to defend the photo or offer context. So far, despite calls for his resignation, he refuses to step down. He will probably be forced to resign; replaced by Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, who is black.
It’s hard to look at the picture and say, “That was then and this is now.” Certain instances of racially and sexually abusive behavior have ended public careers and caused public ostracism. There is no statute of limitations and no possibility of rehabilitation. Some acts are so shocking and offensive that forgiveness would be considered acceptance. In those cases, there is zero tolerance. Our society is still working through how Northam and others like him should be treated for such offenses. There is a compelling reason, other than politics, to banish Northam. Short of physical violence, black face, along with the “N word,” is the most publicly reviled display of racism. The photo is a graphic representation. It is more nauseating to see it than to hear about it. Ostracism sends a clear signal to parents and children to preach against this form of hatred, or else make sure it’s hidden in a place where no one will see it.
For now, Northam, a Democratic politician, will be forced out due to the 1984 photo. For now, Steve King, a Republican politician, was stripped of all leadership positions by Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader, due to racially offensive statements made publicly and reported. However, Congress stopped short of censure and removal. Different result if there was no picture of Northam or if King had been videotaped? I think so. Different result if Northam was a Republican and King a Democrat? Without a doubt.