Virginia Governor Ralph Northam caught in racism scandal


Photo Credits to Big League Politics

A controversial photo of Democratic Virginia Governor Ralph Northam surfaced February 1st of 2019,  sparking much backlash. It depicts one person dressed in blackface and another in the KKK’s signature white robe and hood. The image appeared in Northam’s 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook.

Northam’s quote under photo reads: “There are more old drunks than old doctors in this world so I think I’ll have another beer.” The photo was first reported on February 1, 2019 by the conservative website Big League Politics.

Immediately after its release, Governor Northam publicly apologized for appearing in the “clearly racist and offensive photo.” However, the next day, he proceeded to claim that he was neither of the people in the photo, but apologized for having it on a page with his name on it. Despite denying his presence in the photo, Northam did admit to regrettably wearing blackface in for a Michael Jackson impersonation contest in San Antonio in 1984. It remains publically unknown if Northam appears in the photo while the other figure has not been identified.

Many are accusing Northam of lying about appearing in the photo adding to the public’s disapproval of the incident. One of the main and most outspoken critics was President Donald Trump who, on February 2, tweeted “Democrat Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia just stated, ‘I believe that I am not either of the people in that photo.’ This was 24 hours after apologizing for appearing in the picture and after making the most horrible statement on ‘super’ late term abortion. Unforgivable!”

Dr. William Elwood, a white student working on the yearbook the year the photo was published, disclosed what he remembered from the printing. He does not recall laying out Northam’s page, but describes seeing another photo of three men dressed in blackface. He explained that he did not find the picture offensive at the time and did not think twice about allowing it to be printed.

“I hate that people take something that happened 35 years ago and put 2019 values on,” he explains. “Values and politics and perceptions have changed since then.”

However, Lena Elamin a junior at PHS and member of Black Student Union describes why the public reacted so negatively to the scandal. “Blackface is a deeply racist practice that is a reflection of America’s history. It’s another way to dehumanize black people.” She continues through describing that since the 1980s “Black people have gotten less tolerant of others mocking [their] race. With the internet, [they are] more equipped to defend [themselves] and work together to make sure people are held accountable for racist/ignorant actions.”

After the scandal, Northam received numerous recommendations to resign as governor of Virginia, but, he announced on Twitter that he was not planning to do so and would work towards winning back the trust of Virginians. He then swiftly disappeared from public eye, but began to make public appearances again one month after the scandal. He is currently continuing his career as governor of Virginia.