Ralph Northam’s Effort to Learn About Racism Is Off to a Rocky Start

He’s got a lot of reading to do. Photo: Katherine Frey/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Virginia’s embattled Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, still won’t resign after admitting to wearing blackface during a costume contest in the 1980s. (Northam still denies that he appeared in either blackface or a Klan robe in racist photos in his medical-school yearbook page.) On Saturday, the governor told the Washington Post that he “overreacted” when he initially apologized for the yearbook photos and said that he would commit the rest of his term to addressing inequality. Staffers have reportedly assigned him a reading list that includes Alex Haley’s Roots and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s famous essay “The Case for Reparations.”

Reading might be fundamental, but it also takes time — and the governor had apparently not yet absorbed his new lessons before giving an interview to Gayle King of CBS This Morning. Northam committed another serious gaffe on air, per the HuffPost:

“We are now at the 400-year anniversary — just 90 miles from here in 1619, the first indentured servants from Africa landed on our shores in Old Point Comfort, what we call now Fort Monroe ― ” Northam began before he was swiftly corrected by King.

“Also known as slavery,” she interrupted.

Northam, nodding in agreement, responded, “Yes.”

In fact, calling this a gaffe likely undersells it. If Northam hopes to transform himself into a beacon for reconciliation and redemption, he might at least familiarize himself more with the history of his own state. The governor has since released a statement apologizing for the interview:

The incident probably won’t do much to convince his party to retract its nearly unanimous call for his resignation. But Northam wasn’t the only Virginia politician facing an escalating scandal. Democratic delegate Patrick Hope threatened to introduce articles of impeachment against Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, who is now the subject of a second credible sexual-assault allegation. Fairfax’s accusers, Dr. Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson, both announced that they would be willing testify during impeachment proceedings. On Monday morning, the Associated Press reported that Hope would not immediately move forward with impeachment, but Fairfax himself now faces party pressure to resign. Both Watson and Tyson have retained attorneys. Fairfax, meanwhile, says that he is the target of “a coordinated smear campaign,” though it’s not clear who could be responsible for the coordination.

With Northam and Fairfax running out their political life spans, the party’s left with Mark Herring, the state attorney general. Herring admitted to wearing blackface to a college party, and his apology was generally better received than Northam’s.

Northam’s Effort to Learn About Racism Has a Rocky Start