What Is Your Reaction to the Racist Photo on the Virginia Governor’s Yearbook Page?

What Is Your Reaction to the Racist Photo on the Virginia Governor’s Yearbook Page?

What have you seen or heard about the controversy related to Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia and his 1984 medical school yearbook?

Watch the above video for a summary.

What is your reaction to the video? Why do you think a yearbook photo has provoked such a response?

In “Virginia Governor, Ralph Northam, Defies Calls to Resign Over Racist Photo,” Jonathan Martin, Trip Gabriel and Alan Blinder write:

Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia, defying pleas from his own party to resign, said on Saturday that he would remain in office, and flatly denied that he had worn Ku Klux Klan robes or appeared in blackface in an image from his medical school yearbook that has upended his governorship and embarrassed his fellow Democrats.

“It was definitely not me,” Mr. Northam said at an afternoon news conference. “I can tell by looking at it.”

But within hours, three of the state’s most senior Democrats said they had called Mr. Northam to tell him to step down, depriving the governor of his last remaining support and intensifying the pressure on him.

“We no longer believe he can effectively serve as the governor of Virginia and that he must resign,’” Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine and Representative Robert C. Scott said in a statement.

Addressing reporters in the governor’s mansion, Mr. Northam said he had initially acknowledged that it was him in the photograph when it first surfaced on Friday because he wanted to “take credit for recognizing that this was a horrific photo that was on my page with my name on it.”

He said that after talking on the phone with friends and family in an effort to jog their memories about the photograph, he decided to reverse course, because he concluded that it was not him in the racist attire.

However, he may have made his effort to remain in office more difficult by revealing that on another occasion, he had darkened his face with shoe polish for a Michael Jackson costume in a dance contest in Texas in 1984, when he was a young Army officer.

“I look back now and regret that I did not understand the harmful legacy of an action like that,” he said.

The article continues:

But now that he has lost support from nearly all his allies in the state capitol — both the House and Senate Democratic caucuses have urged him to quit — it is not clear how long Mr. Northam can last. He will have a difficult time recruiting businesses to the state and could also face challenges raising campaign contributions, which is crucial given that all 140 seats of the state legislature are on the ballot this fall and Democrats need to win only a handful of races to take control of both chambers.

Further, Mr. Northam is confronting a national party that will not ease up on him.

Democrats in the Trump era have adopted a sort of zero-tolerance approach in their ranks toward misconduct involving race and gender. With Republicans eager to level accusations of hypocrisy, Democratic leaders in Washington have sought to aggressively police the sort of misdeeds they have linked to Mr. Trump. They have pushed out lawmakers such as former Senator Al Franken of Minnesota and former Representative Ruben Kihuen of Nevada, both of whom were accused of sexual harassment.

With the 2020 Democratic presidential primary race getting underway, the pressure on Mr. Northam has been even more intense: The party’s White House hopefuls were some of the first officials to call on him to resign Friday night, beginning a cascade of demands that extended through the day Saturday.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

— What is your reaction to a photograph showing people in blackface and Ku Klux Klan robes displayed on Mr. Northam’s medical school yearbook page? What is your response to the Virginia governor’s admission that he had darkened his face with shoe polish for a Michael Jackson costume in a dance contest in 1984? And what is your response to the growing pressure on Mr. Northam to resign?

— Do you think he should remain governor? Should he resign now? Or should we wait for more information?

— What do you think will happen?

— In his apology on Friday, Mr. Northam stated, “That photo, and the racist and offensive attitudes that it represents does not reflect the person I am today or the way that I have conducted myself as a soldier, doctor or public servant.” How much should a person’s past actions or behavior be relevant to today? Should adults — especially elected officials — be held accountable for all of their actions, no matter how long ago they took place? Or should they be allowed to “change and grow,” as a Times reader suggested in her letter to the editor.

— Mr. Northam told reporters on Saturday that “I look back now and regret that I did not understand the harmful legacy of an action like that.” He was referring to the time in 1984 when he darkened his face with shoe polish for a Michael Jackson costume. In a related Opinion piece, “Blackface Is the Tip of the Iceberg,” Jamelle Bouie writes:

The most popular form of entertainment in 19th century America, which continued well into the 20th, blackface minstrelsy was defined by its caricature of and gross hostility toward black Americans. In the minstrel show, blacks — and free blacks in particular — were objects of ridicule, lampooned for seeking equality and respectability. Beyond simple mockery, the pleasure of blackface for white performers and their audiences lay in the vicarious experience of an imagined blackness — a wild, preindustrial “savage” nature that whites attributed to black Americans.

Should Mr. Northam have known the history and legacy of blackface minstrelsy in 1984? Is it just as bad if he didn’t?

Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.