- Last Friday Virginia Governor Ralph Northam admitted to being in a yearbook picture with blackface and the KKK
- After calls for him to resign, Northam denied it was him in the pictures and refused to resign
- Now Lt Governor Justin Fairfax is accused of a sexual assault that occurred in 2004 at the Democratic National Convention
- On Wednesday Attorney General Mark Herring released a statement saying he too dressed in blackface in the 80s
- Now if Northam resigns Republican Speaker Kirk Cox could be Virginia’s next governor
In not even a week, the Virginia Democratic party seems to be spiraling down a path of self-destruction ever since Governor Ralph Northam admitted to being in a blackface/KKK picture from medical school, then later said it was not him.
In the six days since Northam’s scandal there has been a claim of sexual assault against Lt Governor Justin Fairfax, and State Attorney General Mark Herring decided he would take some of the heat off Northam by admitting he too wore blackface, because why not?
To understand the series of events, we first look at Northam’s scandal. On Friday, a photo was posted online from Northam’s medical school yearbook. The yearbook is on Northam’s page and has four pictures. One of Northam in a suit, one in a cowboy hat, one in front of a car and one picture with a person in blackface standing next to someone in a Ku Klux Klan costume.
After admitting it was him in the picture on Friday, he said in a statement, “I cannot change the decisions I made nor can I undo the harm my behavior caused then and today. I am committed to continuing that fight.” However, come Saturday, Northam decided it was not him in the picture. “I believe now and then that I am not either of the people in this photo,” Northam said.
Oddly enough, Northam went on to say he had done blackface on a separate occasion to look like Michael Jackson for a dance contest in 1984. Northam placed the blame for his insensitive racially charged decisions on “the place and time where I grew up,” because people apparently did not know the KKK or blackface was wrong in the year 1984. Despite already committing political suicide, Northam announced he would not be resigning from his position.
Northam has been asked to step down by almost every major Democratic party figure in the country. Former Vice President Joe Biden, California Senator Kamala Harris and even former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe have said Northam needs to step down. Instead, Northam is deciding to let his political career slowly bleed out, as many have stated, this is not something you just bounce back from.
Read: Florida Secretary of State Michael Ertel Resigns After Pictures Surface Of him In Blackface Mocking Hurricane Katrina Victims
While Northam’s career continued to bleed out on social media, it looked like things were in place for Fairfax to step in once the time had come, until Vanessa Tyson released a detailed sexual assault account against the Lt. governor in 2004 at the Democratic National Convention. Before Tyson’s detailed statement was released on Wednesday, Fairfax had admitted the two had a sexual encounter, but it was consensual and her claims were just a “smear” tactic.
On the night of Friday, February 1, 2019, I read multiple news accounts indicating that Virginia Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax would likely be elevated to Governor as an immediate result of a scandal involving Governor Ralph Northam. This news flooded me with painful memories, bringing back feelings of grief, shame, and anger that stemmed from an incident with Mr. Fairfax that occurred in July 2004 during the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
I met Mr. Fairfax on July 26, 2004, when he and I were working at the Convention. We struck up a conversation on the first day of the Convention and soon realized we had a mutual friend. We crossed paths occasionally during the first two days and our interactions were cordial, but not flirtatious. We commiserated about our long work hours, and on the afternoon of the third day of the Convention, July 28, 2004, Mr. Fairfax suggested that I get some fresh air by accompanying him on a quick errand to retrieve documents from his room in a nearby hotel. Given our interactions up to that time, I had no reason to feel threatened and agreed to walk with him to his hotel. I stood in the entryway of the room and after he located the documents, he walked over and kissed me. Although surprised by his advance, it was not unwelcome and I kissed him back. He then took my hand and pulled me towards the bed. I was fully clothed in a pantsuit and had no intention of taking my clothes off or engaging in sexual activity. In the back of my mind, I also knew I needed to return to Convention headquarters.
What began as consensual kissing quickly turned into a sexual assault, Mr. Fairfax put his hand behind my neck and facefully pushed my head towards his crotch. Only then did I realize that he had unbuckled his belt, unzipped his pants, and taken out his penis. He then forced his penis into my mouth. Utterly shocked and terrified, I tried to move my head away, but could not because his hand was holding down my neck ad he was much stronger than me. As I cried and gagged, Mr Fairfax forced me to perform oral sex on him. I cannot believe, given my obvious distress, that Mr. Fairfax thought this forced sexual act was consensual. To be very clear, I did not want to engage in oral sex with Mr. Fairfax and I never gave any form of consent. Quite the opposite. I consciously avoided Mr. Fairfax for the remainder of the Convention and I never spoke to him again.
After the assault, I suffered from both deep humiliation and shame. I did not speak about it for years, and I (like most survivors) suppressed those memories and emotions as a necessary means to continue my studies, and to pursue my goal of building a successful career as an academic. At the time, I found this horrific incident especially degrading given my regular volunteer work at a local rape crisis center. Over the next decade or so, I would go on to earn my PhD from the University of Chicago and become a tenured professor at Scripps College, a prestigious women’s college in Claremont, California.
Years later, in October of 2017, I saw a picture of Mr. Fairfax accompanying an article in The Root about his campaign for Lt. Governor in Virginia. The image hit me like a ton of bricks, triggering buried traumatic memories and the feelings of humiliation I’d felt so intensely back in 2004. Prior to reading the article, I had not followed Mr. Fairfax’s career and did not know that he was seeking public office. Unsure of what to do, I felt it was crucial to tell close friends of mine in Virginia, who were voters, about the assault.
In another statement from Fairfax on Wednesday, he once again claimed the sexual encounter was consensual. “I wish her no harm or humiliation, nor do I seek to denigrate her or diminish her voice,” Fairfax said. “But I cannot agree with a description of events that I know is not true.” Fairfax has questioned both Tyson’s timing, and why she did not mention it in a 2007 video interview where she discussed being raped as a girl by her father.
Just as Democrats in Virginia were sure things could not get any worse, Herring decided he was going to admit to doing blackface in the 80s too. On Wednesday, Herring spoke about going to a party in 1980 in blackface when he was 19. Herring said he and some friends decided to attend the party dressed as rappers they liked.
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. 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.
This was a onetime 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.
In Virginia, if the governor steps down the Lt. governor fills the position. If something happened to the Lt. Governor then the Attorney General would become governor. So currently how things would work is if Northam resigns, Fairfax would take over as governor. Now if Fairfax cannot fulfill the role of governor due to this sexual assault claim, Herring would become governor. Now that Herring may not be able to become governor due to his blackface scandal that would mean Republican Speaker Kirk Cox would become governor. If that were to happen, it would flip Virginia, as all three top officials are Democrats.
Herring did not initially call for Northam to resign. It was not until after Northam denied being in the picture that he began pushing for the governor’s resignation. In a statement, Herring said it is “no longer possible for Northam to lead our Commonwealth.”
It is no longer possible for Governor Northam to lead our Commonwealth and it is time for him to step down. I have spoken with Lieutenant Governor Fairfax and assured him that, should he ascend to the governorship, he will have my complete support and commitment to ensuring his success and the success of our Commonwealth.
Perhaps you do not understand why these images strongly resembling blackface are so hurtful. A look at the origin of blackface should clear that up. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, a New York born comedian named Thomas D. Rice was looking for new material. Rice traveled to the South for inspiration where he learned that slaves were often compared to crows. At the same time, in their off time, the slaves sang a song of unknown origin about a figure named “Jim Crow.”
Rice adopted the Jim Crow name and began painting himself black and performing in concert halls where he would sing his reimagining of slave music. Rice also gave life to his perception of the “typical negro slave.” He acted dumb, wore rags and always made a mess of anything he was trying to do. The end result was Jim Crow becoming a synonymous for black Americans being used by whites and the equivalent of making blacks look inferior to whites.
Rice’s blackfaced Jim Crow character was so influential that racial laws in the United States are still to this day informally known as the “Jim Crow Laws.” Rice’s character can even be seen in Disney’s 1941 animated classic Dumbo. The crows in the movie were given what was considered stereotypical behavior of black Americans at the time with their leader being named none other than Jim Crow.