Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring admitted Wednesday that he, too, once wore blackface in the 1980s, as did embattled Gov. Ralph Northam. Additionally, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has been hit with accusations of sexual assault.
Blackface is not merely a mistake
By Kimya N. Dennis
Most voting-age blacks, who understand and have lived what fellow black sociologist Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois calls "double consciousness," are not shocked by most blackface stories. We know the history of blackface, are accustomed to whites in colleges having costume parties that sometimes include blackface, and know that blackface has no age limits.
Blackface exists across the USA and around the world. Our images, intellect, knowledge and beauty have been stolen for centuries, adopted and renamed without giving credit. Whites and Asians around the world have used our musical styles, styles of dress, skin tanning, hair type and hair designs.
Understanding this is important to prevent people from labeling blackface a mere mistake. For whites who use blackface, white privilege allows them to claim eternal youth and eternal cluelessness. History books are mostly written by whites, history classes are mostly taught by whites, and whites can pretend blackface (and other methods of enslaving, oppressing and harming blacks) is a hidden and secretive truth.
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Whites are admittedly choosing not to learn anything about their surroundings and pretending to have never caught even a hint that something is racially demeaning and inappropriate. That was horrendous back then, and it is horrendous now. This is furthered by the internet, where whites can quickly find research and historical accounts of blackface if they use a search engine.
This is why I do not allow whites to claim they were kids when they did things and claim to have never had access to information. This is also why I refuse to allow blacks to be told "get over it" and "let Gov. Ralph Northam remain in office."
With whites being more than 70 percent of the U.S. population, it is harmful for whites who have done anything racially alarming and racially harmful to run for office and/or remain in office.
Political background checks must include culturally conscious background checks to make sure politicians are inclusive and able to engage in community outreach and fight for the rights of their constituency.
Lastly, Eastern Virginia Medical School issued an official statement on its homepage. This school must be held accountable for allowing those images to represent the school. Further, this is a medical school teaching and training medical professionals. This partly explains the lack of cultural consciousness for most medical doctors and the lack of culturally conscious patient advocacy and medical care. In general, and especially in Virginia, blacks are overrepresented in particular health conditions and have less access to beneficial health services.
I need Eastern Virginia Medical School to do more than apologize and do more than host a tokenism-based diversity-anti-racism training. Its officials need to dissect the injustice in all components of the school.
Kimya N. Dennis, Ph.D., is a sociologist and criminologist born and raised in Richmond, Virginia. She now lives in North Carolina. You can follow her on Twitter: @KimyaNDennisPhD.
What others are saying
Jeremy McLellan, Twitter: "Between Virginia lawmakers' support for infanticide, allegations of sexual assault, and revelations of blackface and Ku Klux Klan hoods, the current turmoil in the Democratic Party just confirms what we knew all along: Reconstruction ended too early. While many are calling for a 'Sherman option' to fix the problem, moderate voices are pushing instead for Union troops led by the Knights of Columbus to be sent back to Richmond to oust these lawmakers, suppress the KKK, and ensure equal protection under the law by escorting newborns from the hospital. Until then, it's all up to the voters."
Jennifer Rubin, The Washington Post: "No American should be comfortable with this state of affairs, both because election of Republicans inevitably leads to regression on civil rights and heightened racial antagonism, and because we wind up intensifying racial and other divisions. To be Republican, or at least a Trump loyalist, means to be in favor of voter ID and to be hysterical on immigration. One cannot rationally discuss or reach compromise on voting laws and immigration if one’s identity is caught up in repression of minority voting and the exclusion of immigrants. When racial and cultural identity become synonymous with political identity, our politics ceases to be about problem-solving, and becomes about sharpening divisions and weaponizing racial incidents."
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner: "The top Democrats of the Virginia executive branch, Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and now Attorney General Mark Herring are all enveloped by scandals. So while there are plenty of games the Democrats could play, it's increasingly feasible that the third-in-line to the governor's mansion may have to take over the responsibilities of that office. And that person is none other than the Republican speaker of the House of Delegates, Kirk Cox."
What our readers are saying
I did many stupid things when I was 19 and 20, then I enlisted in the military, I am a completely different person at 70.
— Bill Paish
Some people do make mistakes and change their outlook based on their past actions, but some never realize they did anything wrong. Those are the ones you want to watch, and it is totally fair to base judgment on a past mistake if the person seems to not own or even admit to any wrongdoing.
— Matthew Farmer
Well, if we are all going to be judged by our yearbooks and things we did in our youth, we all better just throw in the towel right now, quit our jobs, etc. There's not a single person out there, of any race, who is innocent of never being offensive toward anyone.
— Sally Glynn
Knowing that a Republican is right behind these guys, as the fourth in line, to take control of the state, you'll see the true limit of Democratic officials' "hard-line stances" against perceived racism and sexual assault.
— Brandon Petterson
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Virginia Democrats can't claim ignorance of blackface: Today's talker