Virginia Governor Ralph Northam is currently facing backlash following the unveiling of a 1984 yearbook photo in which he can be seen wearing blackface. Pressured by many to resign, Northam initially apologized for the picture, only to backtrack and state that the person appearing in the picture wasn’t him and that he was misidentified. The governor also recalls darkening his skin to better resemble Michael Jackson in 1984 for a dance contest he participated in, but reassures the public that the man pictured isn’t him.
If not anything else, blackface is controversial.
Defined as “a form of theatrical make-up used predominantly by non-black performers to represent a caricature of a black person,” the practice of blackface began in minstrel shows. Minstrel shows, developed in the early 19th century, were an American form of entertainment in which performers decorated themselves to resemble black people, and enforced inherently racist stereotypes that portrayed African-Americans as lazy, superstitious and complacent. Aunt Jemima, the face of pancake and waffle mix, was even inspired by minstrel shows.
Although minstrel shows do not exist anymore, the use of blackface didn’t die along with them. A plethora of contemporary public figures and celebrities have used it: Drake, Jimmy Fallon and Amy Schumer are just a few among the list of celebrities that have been observed wearing it.
Most notably, shortly after the news about Northam’s blackface incident came out, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring also admitted to using blackface. Both of these public servants were elected by Democratic voters who are outraged and have strongly pressured the two to resign.
“We don’t even know where to take the conversation from here,” Virginia community organizer Chelsea Wise said at a meeting of Democrats in Richmond. “Do we want to address all of them, or are we just sticking with Ralph right now? The fact that it’s all of our top leadership shows that we need to take a hard look at the Virginia Democratic Party as well.”
Virginia voters aren’t alone in their public condemnation of Northam. Democratic leaders around the nation, such as congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have condemned Governor Northam for his actions and have publicly urged him to resign. Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential election like Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris have also called for his resignation:
Virginia’s government is currently in turmoil. Along with Herring and Northam’s blackface incidents, Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor Justin Edward Fairfax has recently been accused of sexual assault. For Democrat voters in Virginia, the elections of 2020 couldn’t come any sooner— a sentiment that isn’t shared by the few Virginia leaders that are under fire.
Photo courtesy of CBS News