Some Virginia Black lawmakers said they want to see a serious effort at racial reconciliation from Gov. Ralph Northam.
Northam, a Democrat, declined to resign from office after a racist photo from his medical school yearbook surfaced on Feb. 1 and he later admitted to wearing blackface. Instead of stepping down, he vowed to make amends through a reconciliation tour in which he would grapple with the meaning of white privilege and try to remove barriers that prevent equal opportunities for Black Virginians.
One of his first steps toward keeping his promise was to participate in a group called Virginians for Racial Reconciliation, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported on Friday. Former Virginia Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, who left office engulfed in his own scandal, leads the group, which seeks to promote dialogue about race among influential Virginians.
However, participating in an elitist group is not the type of tour that some of the state’s Black lawmakers envisioned.
“Glad they didn’t call me – matter of fact don’t call me until you have some substance – don’t know another way to say it & don’t know Gov McDonnell – he was before my time but miss me with the self preservation/privilege,” tweeted Del. Lamont Bagby, who serves as chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus.
Bagby isn’t alone.
“I’m with you [100 percent]. The issues that need real work — roll up your sleeves get dirty work are not new. Let’s not talk about it let’s be about it. Redemption/reconciliation is a journey not a destination,” Democratic Del. Jeff Bourne tweeted in response to Bagby’s comments.
Northam, 59, apologized on Feb. 1 for appearing in a photograph of a person dressed in blackface and another person in a Ku Klux Klan robe from his 1984 medical school yearbook. One day later, at a bizarre press conference, the governor denied that he was one of those people in the picture but admitted to applying black shoe polish to his face for a Michael Jackson dance competition.
Despite his confession, Black Virginians have been among Northam’s strongest supporters.
If a poll that was released on Feb. 9 is accurate, Black Virginians are more willing than white residents are to forgive Northam. The Washington Post-Schar School poll found that Virginia residents overall were split at 47 percent each on whether Northam should resign. However, 58 percent of Black Virginians said they want the governor to stay in office, compared with 37 percent of whites who share their view.
The Washington Post poll also found that more African-Americans than whites in the Democratic party supported the besieged governor. A clear majority of Black Democrats, 57 percent, supported Northam remaining in office, compared with 49 percent of white Democrats.
The governor’s next steps on his reconciliation tour are unknown to the public. His office has released no details about his plans, beyond news releases on bills the governor signed to address issues that disproportionately affect Black Virginians, such as evictions and maternal mortality, the newspaper noted.