By Upneet Aujla, Staff Writer
An old yearbook photo emerged depicting one person wearing blackface and another dressed in traditional Ku Klux Klan attire – yet, the most troubling aspect was its implications in today’s society. Alleged to have been one of two students in the picture, Democratic Governor Ralph Northam paired an insincere apology with a vow to stay in office, stating, “I’m not going anywhere.”
In recent events, the release of Governor Northam’s blackface picture in the yearbook stirred up controversy in an already complicated political crisis in Virginia. Initially, he apologized for taking part in the picture before denying it altogether. Then, he admitted to using blackface to dress as Michael Jackson at a dance contest.
Regardless of whether he was in the picture or not, Northam’s apologies and concessions reflect the racist ideology influencing his past and current actions. Denying being depicted in one image does not resolve the issue of being presented with those accusations, especially when he later admitted to blackface in order to deny the yearbook racism scandal. Additionally, his denial to articulate whether or not his views have changed further compounds his suspicious beliefs.
Yet, even with the evidence presented, Virginia remains divided on whether his wrongdoings should lead to a resignation. As a result, it is imperative to look at why the past intentions of Governor Northam are still an issue today and how they stem from the use of blackface.
Blackface is defined as a form of theatrical make-up used predominantly by non-black performers to represent a caricature of a black person. It presents a horrifying racial stereotype while perpetuating violent and humiliating racism. In Governor Northam’s apology for acting racist, he fails to admit or acknowledge that he actually is racist. This is where the problem truly lies: his failure to recognize fault. By claiming blackface was a popular norm to have fun rather than condemning it for what it truly was, he degrades a race and influences false assumptions.
Blackface extends further than a costume: it depicts systemic racism that plagues society to this day.
The case of Governor Ralph Northam is just one example of our failure to recognize what makes racism, whether it was in the 80s or present-day. Blackface as a continuing presence now underlines the work we have left to do as a collective society: recognizing the problem behind it, holding government officials accountable for their past actions, and combating the systemic racism that plagues society rather than allowing for it to continue on.
Because if we truly want progress for the future, we must acknowledge it in the past.