The table has been set and now Ralph Northam is cooking up a dish favored by disgraced white politicians ensnared in a racist scandal. But Virginia Democrats may find there is no longer an appetite from the commonwealth’s Black residents being force-fed the once-foolproof recipe for racial redemption.
Culinary metaphors aside, this push by politicians to get past the current Virginia blackface scandal involving the governor at Attorney General Mark Herring goes well beyond the typical pandering for Black votes. They want Black folks to forgive something that is completely inexcusable.
And if history is any indication, Northam and Herring — who both admitted they’ve worn blackface in the past and were adamant they would never resign because of it — chances are they’ll get that Black forgiveness, the old faithful crutch that White America routinely depends upon in the wake of racial and racist flubs. In fact, more than half of Black Virginians have apparently already forgiven Northam and want him to remain in office, according to a recent poll conducted by the Washington Post.
The real question, though, is whether forgiveness is merited in this instance.
The groundwork has already been laid to provoke that forgiveness, and soon. Just Tuesday, Democrats fast-tracked legislation that would help bring tax relief to Black families in particular, according to the Richmond Times Dispatch. The bill, passed by both chambers of the State House, was all set to be signed into law by Northam and go into effect immediately (read: during the current tax season that’s been under siege because of the president’s tax overhaul that has seen most returns fall well short of expectations). Prior to the blackface scandals, Virginians would have had to wait until July for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to be enacted.
Not according to the Guardian, which astutely wrote that Black Virginians “are seizing the opportunity to attempt the transformation of a racist incident into a higher likelihood of getting their policy demands prioritized.”
Whether that translates into forgiveness or not is open to interpretation.
Virginia’s Legislative Black Caucus has called for Northam to resign, but that may just be a bit of political posturing considering that if the state’s top three elected officials all step down, a Republican would become governor. As such, “Virginia Democrats are torn between backing a zero-tolerance policy on blackface and other past racial slurs, while resisting the notion that they should simply hand over the state to Republicans,” the Nation wrote this week.
That lends further credence to the strong possibility of Northam’s apology being accepted by a forgiving Black political leadership in the state, which would likely extend to their constituents, as well.
Northam’s extended apology tour has included a news show appearance Monday morning where he admitted he has finally “learned why the use of blackface is so offensive.”
The road Northam was traveling on toward his redemption was also being paved Sunday when the New York Times published a sympathetic profile of the governor that painted a picture of someone who was popular with his Black classmates — hey, some of my best friends are Black! — especially those who played on the basketball team with him. (Yes, they went there.)
And now, for his grand finale to show just how much he is not and never was a racist, Northam was scheduled next week to visit Virginia Union University, a historically Black college in the capital city of Richmond, where he was expected to continue “the conversation regarding a path to move forward” and “to begin to develop a plan to reach healing and reconciliation.”
It was important to point out that those were the words of Virginia Union University, not Northam, who will be joined by former Richmond Mayor Rev. Dwight C. Jones and VUU President Hakim J. Lucas — two Black people appeared eager to forgive the governor.
The concept of forgiving Northam, in particular, has been heralded in part by Cornel West, who laid the blueprint for that forgiveness during an interview last week with Anderson Cooper.
A local group of Black religious leaders has already announced their forgiveness of Northam.
But as Carol Anderson wrote in the HuffPost, if you ever want to stop racism then you have to stop forgiving the racists.
“Counterintuitive though it might sound, the American penchant for unconditional forgiveness is at the root of our present turmoil,” she wrote in August. “We have tended to forgive those who waged the most sustained, brutal assaults in the name of white supremacy, without requiring them to repudiate their beliefs or actions in return. We have rationalized that forgiveness, that generosity, as ‘moving on’ and as helping the nation to heal. But misusing forgiveness does neither.”
And while the jury may still be out on whether Northam is a practicing racist or simply an unwitting one, the fact of the matter is he only this past weekend admitted to fully understanding his white privilege — the same white privilege that allowed him to ascend to the governor’s mansion without anyone thinking the photo on his med school yearbook page was problematic.
In other words, like Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates, however, has said that the concept of Black forgiveness is somewhat of a misnomer. HJowever, he wrote for the Atlantic in 2010, “we have been attuned to the cold practicalities of this country, and thus understand that our claim is not exclusive, that our claim requires moving toward the broad American consensus–even if much of the consensus is wrong.”
Speaking of Coates, Northam was reportedly reading his celebrated book, “The Case for Reparations,” along with Alex Haley’s “Roots” to help further his self-professed evolving understanding of race and racism in America.
But is that enough to warrant forgiveness for the governor of a state where the first enslaved Africans were brought 400 years ago? In an affirmative sign for Northam, there wasn’t one single mention of the blackface scandal on the front page of the website for the Richmond Times-Dispatch — “Virginia’s News Leader” — on Thursday afternoon. Is it old news already?
Northam seems to be banking on all of the above as he lays low and lets the mainstream media get distracted by the travails of Justin Fairfax, who suggested the governor played a role in the announcement of damning sexual assault allegations one day after the blackface and KKK photo surfaced. Northam has not once defended his second in command, which is telling – he has no loyalty to anyone but himself. But now that his racist past has been outed, Northam has come crawling to the Black community for acceptance, understanding and, of course, forgiveness.
And chances are, he’ll get it.
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