Yearbook reveals blackface of Virginian leadership

Two Virginia state politicians received accusations of wearing blackface and another faces accusations of sexual assault, but despite the latest news, none of the three politicians have stepped down.

Ralph Northam, the democratic Governor of Virginia, was the first exposed for using blackface. Someone discovered his 1984 medical school yearbook with pictures of a man in blackface and another man dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Northam originally claimed the man in blackface was him. “I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo,” Northam said. He later recounted, saying that he had never seen the picture before, so the man in the photo could not be him. Northam did admit, however, that he once wore shoe polish on his face to dress up as Michael Jackson in the 1980s.

Teague Broquard, a political science major at John Brown University, said the governor should step down. “Nobody should do blackface, even at Halloween,” Broquard said. “Governor Northam should step down as I see this as a flaw in his character.”

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring called for Northam’s resignation just days before admitting to wearing blackface himself. While there were no pictures, he admitted to dressing up as a rapper and wearing blackface as an undergrad at the University of Virginia in the 1980s.

According to a survey conducted by Pew Research Center, 34 percent of Americans say that a white person using makeup to darken their skin for a Halloween costume, known as blackface, is generally acceptable. The survey shows that white adults are twice as likely as black adults to deem blackface acceptable.

Blackface is not the only issue Virginia’s government is currently dealing with. Two women have accused Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, Northam’s designated successor, of sexual assault. Vanessa Tyson claimed that Fairfax assaulted her at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. The other woman, Meredith Watson, claimed Fairfax assaulted her while they were attending Duke University together.

Currently, the three politicians have issued statements saying they do not plan on resigning. Daniel Bennett, professor of political science at JBU, said he sees this as a problem. “You can separate the issues out a bit,” Bennett said, “One is widely disdained in our culture. Blackface is seen as a poor and sad legacy of racism. For it to come out 35 years later, regardless of the careers they’ve had, I think it’s time to step down.”

As for Fairfax, this is not the first time a political figure has been accused of sexual assault without resigning. Before Bill Clinton’s scandal, he was accused of sexual misconduct and did not step down. Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh were both accused of sexual assault and still hold their positions.

Broquard said he doesn’t feel that Fairfax needs to resign, but that he ought to undergo prosecution as any citizen would. “Lieutenant Governor Fairfax’s situation should be given the due process,” Broquard said, “but justice should be served in the end.”

“The system of enslavement that we know in America really was born here, [in Virginia],” Virginia historian Gregg Kimball said. “You don’t overcome a legacy like that overnight.”