Virginia Governor Ralph Northam speaks with reporters at a press conference at the Governor's mansion on February 2, 2019 in Richmond, Virginia. Northam denies allegations that he is pictured in a yearbook photo wearing racist attire.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam speaks with reporters at a press conference at the Governor's mansion on February 2, 2019 in Richmond, Virginia. Northam denies allegations that he is pictured in a yearbook photo wearing racist attire.

A racist yearbook photo has leading Democrats calling for the resignation of Virginia governor Ralph Northam.

Northam originally said that he was in the photo.

From NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered:

At first, Northam acknowledged being in the picture which shows a man in blackface standing next to another person in a Klansman costume, and he apologized. Then he said that, upon reflection, he was not the person in the photo, but admitted another incident when he did use blackface to imitate Michael Jackson in a dance contest.

NPR also spoke to former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, who was one of many people who called for Northam (who was McAuliffe’s lieutenant governor) to step down.

The New York Times’ Wesley Morris wrote about the much-maligned press conference the governor held over the weekend:

According to [Northam], back when such a photo would have been taken, he would have known what a problem blackface is because of the time he tried to be Michael Jackson. It wasn’t that he knew because someone more historically aware and actually black filled him in on the long, objectionable tradition of American blackface minstrelsy — an art form in which, initially, white people dressed as black ones as entertainment, on one hand, and as proslavery propaganda on the other (actually, both hands tended to be clasped for that).

It wasn’t that anybody had told young Ralph Northam about the glorious Virginia Minstrels, the four men whose blackface act caused a foundational sensation in the 1840s; or how the Virginia Minstrels were but one of an endless parade of acts that delighted white audiences — with songs, dances, skits and more — on both sides of the Atlantic for most of a century. The governor wasn’t arguing that his young self came to see that blackface was wrong because he had learned how minstrelsy wasn’t some cultural niche but was once America’s popular culture and how that popularity helped cement the nation’s perception of black people as hideous and stupid and freakish and dumb and lusty and unworthy of more than torture, exploitation, derision, oppression, neglect and extermination.

Will Northam resign? Should he?

Guests

  • Jeff Schapiro Politics Columnist, Richmond Times-Dispatch, @RTDSchapiro
  • Sasha-Ann Simons Race & Identity Reporter, WAMU 88.5; @SashaAnnSimons

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