By: Evan Myers, Assistant News Editor
This February, all three of Virginia’s statewide elected officials were enveloped in scandal. Governor Ralph Northam’s med-school yearbook was discovered, depicting him in blackface next to an individual dressed as a member of the KKK. Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax was confronted by accusations of sexual assault, and Attorney General Mark Herring came forward confessing that he, too, had worn blakface in college.
For Virginia, a state riddled with racial controversy from its participation in the Atlantic slave trade to the riots in Charlottesville – February 2019 represents another chapter in an often tragic history. For the Democratic Party – which has increasingly taken a zero tolerance policy with respect to issues of racial injustice and accuthe recent series of scandals in Virginia has challenged them to put ethics before politics.
Blackface and sexual assault are different transgressions, and both are unacceptable. Blackface finds its origins in 19th century minstrel shows in which white actors would paint black grease on their faces and mockingly depict black people in racist caricatures. In addition, victims of sexual assault often suffer from depression, flashbacks and post-traumatic stress disorder, and each case should be approached with the utmost care and earnestness. Unfortunately, the recent scandals in Virginia have juxtaposed blackface and sexual assault, forcing society to confront them simultaneously and ask what the consequences should be when our leaders represent the worst of us.
Given the enduring gravity and relevance of racism and seuxal assault, it is imperative that we approach these issues from a compassionate, nuanced and nonpartisan perspective. President Trump’s and the Republican Party’s rhetoric regarding these matters, however, has been anything but compassionate or nuanced. Yet in Virginia, it is the Democrats who have fallen short of their own standards.
When Northam’s blackface scandal first surfaced, progressives – including 2020 presidential candidates – around the country called for his resignation. As rumors circled around Fairfax and Herring’s wrongdoings, however, criticism became quieter. The correlation between Virginia’s gradually increasing scandals and Democrats’ diminished outrage is obvious; with each additional accusation of sexual assault or confession of wearing blackface, the potential for Democrats’ to lose control of the governorship in Virginia increases.
If Democrats were to hold Northam and Herring to their zero-tolerance policy for blackface and Fairfax to the same standards they held Justice Kavanaugh or even Democratic Senator Al Franken – both of whom were accused of sexual assault and called to give up their political posts – then Speaker of the House Kirk Cox, a Republican, would become governor. He has been quoted simply saying, “I have never been in blackface, unequivocal.”
Thus, the question remains: what is more important to Democrats, ethics – what they consider to be just and right – or politics? The answer seems clear to me: as of February 23, 2019, Ralph Northam remains Governor of Virginia, Justin Fairfax is still Lieutenant Governor and Mark Herring is the Attorney General. Despite President Trump and other Republican leader’s rhetoric, the scandals in Virginia and the Democratic Party’s response reveal that perhaps, with respect to issues of race and sexual assault, the Democratic party is not as morally superior as they might think. With that in mind, I challenge both parties to reassess their position on these issues. Our policies on such relevant, important matters should be based what is on morally just, not what is politically expedient.