Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who has admitted to wearing blackface, gave his approval for the creation of an African-American advisory board while doubts remain about his commitment to a racial reconciliation tour.
Northam signed legislation on Friday to establish the board, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. Del. Lamont Bagby, chairman of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, introduced the bill in January to create the board that will focus on issues impacting Black residents.
“The creation of this board is far overdue,” Bagby said. “Establishing the Virginia African American Advisory Board ensures that the African-American community has a permanent voice in the commonwealth’s executive branch, and I thank my colleagues in the General Assembly for putting their full support behind this important body.”
Meanwhile, the jury is still out on whether Northam plans to make a serious effort at racial reconciliation. The 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 Northam’s first steps toward keeping his promise was to participate in a group called Virginians for Racial Reconciliation. 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,” Bagby tweeted on March 7.
Nearly two months since the scandal started, information about Northam’s tour plans has been scarce. His office has released few 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.
As for the newly established board, it will consist of 21 citizen members appointed by the governor, at least 15 of whom must be African-American. The board will advise him in a range of areas, including economic development and education.