The figurative ink is not yet dry on my blog post clarifying remarks by Virginia’s governor Ralph Northam, and now he’s in the news again. This time, there’s nothing nice I can say about him.
Somehow, today, a medical school yearbook photo surfaced showing Governor Northam and an accomplice dressed as an African-American in blackface and a KKK member, holding what the news keeps referring to as “canned drinks.” The caption read “Interest: Pediatrics” and supplies the quote, “there are more old drunks than old doctors in the world so I think I’ll have another beer.”
“Northam did not clarify if he was the person in blackface or the KKK robe,” reports The Hill, in what has to be the bleakest sentence written about a sitting governor in recent months.
I don’t know where to start.
I think I’ll start with the fact that I had no idea medical schools had costume parties. I thought costume parties stopped being a thing at some point in undergraduate. Then again, I suppose the yearbook doesn’t state WHY these two were in costume, so perhaps it wasn’t a party. Perhaps they just decided to wear that getup to a class on Halloween, the way a random person came to class at Franciscan University in a full-body plush lion costume on Halloween. Maybe it wasn’t even Halloween. The producers of the yearbook just said it was at a “Student-run activity,” which is about as open-ended as “canned drinks.” For all I know they wore that to their first dissection class, and snapped the photo when they were sent home to change.
And then there’s the fact that the photo was taken in 1984, the very year I was born. That was a) all of 35 years ago, which some might claim as an excuse, but b) far enough along in history to know that minstrel blackface and the KKK are not a funny or appropriate inspiration for a costume. Never. There is quite a long, shameful history of white people pretending that blackface was hilarious and cute in this country when it never was. So I can begin to understand how an absolute fool would come up with the blackface idea. How somebody that stupid had the good grades to get into medical school mystifies me, of course. But the Ku Klux Klan has simply never been a joke to anyone, ever. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle recognized that the KKK were dangerous and evil villains when he had Sherlock Holmes take them on in 1891. There has never been a time that the Klan was funny.
They were trying to be funny, weren’t they?
Right on queue, Republicans are asking where the Liberal outrage is. Last week, I heard protestation after protestation from Republicans that no one really knows that blackface or anything like it is wrong, the history is too obscure, who are we to judge, how are we to even know whether things that look like blackface are blackface in the first place, and now they’re claiming that they’re perfectly horrified by this but haven’t heard of any outrage from the Left. Kamala Harris, Julian Castro, MoveOn and the NAACP have called for the governor’s resignation, but that’s not enough.
I’m not really a Liberal. I am a Catholic, which places me far to the left of Left on some issues, far to the right of Right on some others, far as the East is from the West on many things indeed. But I’m pretty well known for my contempt for the GOP, and I also call for Governor Northam to resign.
I don’t care whether he’s the one in the blackface or the one in the KKK uniform. Neither one is an appropriate costume for any kind of “Student-led event.” Not in high school, not in college, certainly not in medical school where you’re supposed to be learning to make life-or-death decisions about other people’s bodies. It’s not as though he thought better of it before he graduated– after all, this is from his yearbook page. It’s one of the photos he chose for a small collage to illustrate his time in med school when he graduated. This kind of lack of judgement is neither acceptable for a doctor, nor for a politician. I wouldn’t hire a plumber I knew had done something like this.
Racism is not acceptable.
Ironic racism is not acceptable.
Racism for a joke, is not acceptable.
Making light of racist murderers who have terrorized our country for over 15o years, is not acceptable.
Not in medicine, not in politics, not in school.
Northam needs to resign.