Virginia is undergoing a massive unearthing of scandals with their major politicians. Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, Governor Ralph Northam, and Attorney General Mark Herring all find themselves defending themselves and calls for their resignation. A 1968 yearbook of Virginia’s Military Institute, which Norment was the managing editor of, contained racial slurs, blackface, and Confederate flags. In another yearbook, this time a medical school yearbook of Ralph Northam, he was accused of appearing in blackface or in KKK garb. Herring, amidst everyone else’s blackface revelations, disclosed that he also had worn blackface in decades earlier. As is the case with Kareem Hunt, these actions are inexcusable. However, shouldn’t there be a path to redemption for people who run afoul of social standards?
It’s 2019 and most of us can agree that blackface is completely in the wrong. Granted there are still some that are inexplicably confused by it and thus turned it into a “complicated” subject. For example, this last October NBC canceled Megyn Kelly Today because of her remarks about blackface.
Megyn Kelly Spoke Her Truth
Kelly stated, ”Back when I was a kid that was OK, as long as you were dressing up as, like, a character.”
“There was a controversy on The Real Housewives of New York with Luann, and she dressed as Diana Ross, and she made her skin look darker than it really is and people said that that was racist,”Kelly said. “And I don’t know, I felt like who doesn’t love Diana Ross? She wants to look like Diana Ross for one day. I don’t know how, like, that got racist on Halloween.”
“The iconic Diana Ross came up as an example. To me, I thought, why would it be controversial for someone dressing up as Diana Ross to make herself look like this amazing woman as a way of honoring and respecting her?”
Kelly was completely wrong in her idea that blackface can be used to honor someone. It might seem like a great idea and you might truly adore the person you are dressing up as, but you are ignoring the brutal past of blackface. Blackface has a harsh history of white actors portraying racist caricatures of black culture. They insulted, belittled and disparaged black culture while at the same time perpetuating stereotypes. If there wasn’t a history of blackface used in this way, perhaps Kelly would be right. However, because of its past, we can’t accept that. This is something most of us know now. We understand the apauling history and why it is completely unacceptable in today’s culture. But Megyn Kelly wasn’t completely wrong in her understanding of blackface.
The Past vs The Present
She was right about America’s past. Things were different. Despite it being disgusting, it was socially acceptable to dress in blackface. Blackface, sexual harassment and many other offenses didn’t disturb people’s moral fabric or have the consequences that they do today. Society wasn’t as educated, aware, and didn’t care about the victims and the reasons why each
With that being said, let’s review our Virginia politicians, where they went right, where they went wrong, and how politicians and citizens should move forward with redemption at the forefront of their focus.
If you recall, there are three Virginia politicians that have been linked to blackface and they each came out in different ways. Norment, after his 1968 yearbook came out, condemned blackface and also protecting his own actions by stating that he was “one of seven working on a 359-page yearbook.” Northam initially admitted to appearing in the image, though he did not say whether he was the one dressed in blackface or as a member of the KKK. Yet, later he retracted that admission, even though the photo appeared on a yearbook page dedicated to him. However, he did still admit that he appeared in blackface as Michael Jackson in a 1984 party. Herring, unlike the others, came out before anyone had accused him. He claimed to have worn blackface decades earlier.
Time Heals Voter’s Wounds
The most peculiar thing in all of this is that there is still large support for these politicians. A recent Washington Post-Schar School poll found that 60-percent of Virginians said that Herring should stay in office and 58-percent of African American Virginians said that Northam should stay in office. Even though Northam retracted his admission, he still had support by many. The reason why is because of people like Louise Butler, a 76-year-old woman with a deep history of Virginia, including segregation. She said that whatever views Northam held in 1984, she was confident that he was now committed to advancing racial equity. “He’s been a good governor, and he’s been good, as far as I know, to black people,” Butler said. The poll also showed that more Whites believed Northam should resign from office.
This support for political leaders in turmoil is similar to the careers of Richie Incognito and Tyreek Hill, discussed in Part 1 about
In contrast to the current political cycle of dodge and spin, America should adopt a new age of moving forward. Imagine this. A photo comes out of a politician in blackface. Instead of denying that it was him, or retracting his admission, he (or she) comes out and takes full responsibility, admitting the racism and wrongdoing. He then explains the roots of his actions, why he did it, society around him. Context is given. It helps people understand his background. But not stopping then, he explains how and why he has grown and changed since then. He enlightens the public on the policies he’s supported to eliminate racial bias. Last, he commits to serve the community, support bills that will lift up communities of color and push America forward into greater equality. This is the way of Tyreek Hill and should be every politicians attitude and first choice.
Redemption and Rehabilitation
If we want politicians to start doing this, we need to set up an America that is focused on reform and rehab. We can start with our criminal system. America currently represents 4.4-percent of the world’s population, but houses around 22-percent of the world’ prisoners. We need reform. Rehabilitation should not be something that is just awarded to those we like. It should be a right that each of us are granted. And are many ideas on how to do this: give district attorneys, judges, and parole officers more discretion, don’t lock up mentally ill or addicts, provide more educational options in prison, use house-arrest for non-violent offenders, provide tax credits to employers who hire ex-convicts, allow for expungement after good behavior or community service or completion of programs, decriminalize drugs, bail reform, more halfway houses, larger public defender system, create more groups and ministries inmates can join, etc.
In spite of all of the brilliant ideas that there are, they are nothing without a commitment by us to reform and accept. We need to give second chances. Otherwise, we will continue to send people to prison, let them serve time, refuse to accept them back into society and watch them fall back into prison. We’ve created a debilitating system that desperately needs attention, both politically and socially. It’s time we start creating opportunities for redemption and rehabilitation. If we want