By Rachel Stevens
Virginia has been plastered all over the past week, and the publicity is not positive coverage. In a slew of huge discoveries about the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General’s pasts, Virginia is now left to decide who it can really trust in its state government.
Thirty years ago, Governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam dressed in blackface for a Halloween party while he was a medical student. When the pictures first surfaced, Northam apologized and acknowledged that he was in the photo, but rescinded his remarks a day later and denied knowing anything about the photo.
However, Northam admitted he wore blackface for a dance contest in the 1980s and dressed up like Michael Jackson. Since the surfacing of Northam’s blackface, Lieutenant Governor of Virginia Justin Fairfax was accused by two women of sexual assault and his attorney general, Mark Herring, who is third in line to run the state, admitted he, too, wore blackface.
The news left Virginians in shock and spurred countless calls for the men to resign.
“It’s obvious from what happened this week that we still have a lot of work to do. There are still some very deep wounds in Virginia, and especially in the area of equity,” Northam said. “There are ongoing inequities to access to things like education, health care, mortgages, capital, entrepreneurship. And so this has been a real, I think, an awakening for Virginia. It has really raised the level of awareness for racial issues in Virginia. And so we’re ready to learn from our mistakes.”
Northam will focus the rest of his term on mending racial issues in the state.
As for Lieutenant Governor Fairfax, he denies strongly of any allegations of sexual and assault and claims those interactions were consensual.
“I say again without reservation: I did not sexually assault or rape Meredith Watson, Vanessa Tyson or anyone else,” Fairfax said in the statement.
Fairfax was accused by two women of sexual assault, including rape by one of the women. “The one thing I want to make abundantly clear is that in both situations I knew at the time, and I know today, that the interactions were consensual,” he said.
For the sake of transparency, Herring said that he wore blackface as a 19-year-old to dress up as a rapper at a party after the uncovering of Northam’s blackface photos.
“In 1980, when I was a 19-year-old undergraduate in college, some friends suggested we attend a party dressed like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song,” Herring said in a statement. “It sounds ridiculous even now writing it. But because of our ignorance and glib attitudes — and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others — we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup,” Herring said.
“This was a one time occurrence and I accept full responsibility for my conduct. That conduct clearly shows that, as a young man, I had a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behavior could inflict on others. It was really a minimization of both people of color, and a minimization of a horrific history I knew well even then,” Herring added.
After Northam denied his involvement in the blackface photo, Herring says that he spoke to him and asked him to step down from his position.
The future of Virginia is unknown at this point in time. If all three men are to resign, then the Speaker of the House of Delegates, if he is eligible, succeeds to the governor’s office. Republican Speaker Kirk Cox will become governor if they all resign.
“This will definitely affect the way I vote in the future. I’m shocked at all of this and none of it should be happening, but there is nothing we can do about it now,” said Rebecca Loveless, a sophomore math major