Ralph Northam Does the Right Thing

Ralph Northam Does the Right Thing


Today, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced that he will NOT resign, but that he WILL spend the rest of his term as governor focusing on issues of racial equality. As reported by the Huffington Post:

Amid calls for his resignation over a racist yearbook photo, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) revealed his intention to finish out the rest of his term by focusing on racial equality, he told The Washington Post in an interview published Saturday. …

“There are ongoing inequities to access to things like education, health care, mortgages, capital, entre­pre­neur­ship,” Northam told the Post. “And so this has been a real, I think, an awakening for Virginia. It has really raised the level of awareness for racial issues in Virginia. And so we’re ready to learn from our mistakes.”

I, for one, think this is excellent. I want a governor who will work hard to expand opportunity for all people, especially those who have been discriminated against.

It’s a shame that it took the revelation of a racist yearbook photo for Gov. Northam to announce such a focus of his administration. But sometimes, it is precisely the painful process of confronting the mistakes of one’s past that spurs much-needed growth for a better future.

People can argue about whether today’s announcement by the governor is a cynical ploy to remain in office by pandering to African Americans. I sincerely hope it is not. And I think we should give him the benefit of the doubt and see what he does with his remaining three years in office, now that he has definitively decided not to resign.

Gov. Northam’s statement seems to be in alignment with the philosophy of Rev. William Barber, one of the most prominent progressive African American ministers, who recently said:

If Northam, or any politician who has worn blackface, used the n-word or voted for the agenda of white supremacy, wants to repent, the first question they must ask is “How are the people who have been harmed by my actions asking to change the policies and practices of our society?” In political life, this means committing to expand voting rights, stand with immigrant neighbors, and provide health care and living wages for all people. In Virginia, it means stopping the environmental racism of the pipeline and natural gas compressor station Dominion Energy intends to build in Union Hill, a neighborhood founded by emancipated slaves and other free African Americans.

We’ll see if Gov. Northam follows through on specific policy recommendations such as these. The glare of the spotlight is now upon him. Will his repentance translate into action to help heal the wounds of racism?

Rev. Barber reminds us that Northam’s blackface of 35 years ago is not the biggest issue — what matters most is the policies enacted by governments today:

[W]e cannot allow political enemies of Virginia’s governor to call for his resignation over a photo when they continue themselves to vote for the policies of white supremacy. If anyone wants to call for the governor’s resignation, they should also call for the resignation of anyone who has supported racist voter suppression or policies that have a disparate impact on communities of color.

Let’s hope that Ralph Northam proves himself worthy of his decision to remain in office. Certainly the many Republicans with far worse records on racial issues are remaining in the offices to which they were duly elected. Unlike them, Northam has recognized that he needs to atone for his racially insensitive past — and that such atonement demands action through his powers of political office. As a progressive Democrat in Virginia, I’m rooting for him to keep learning, keep growing, and do the right thing — as our imperfect but newly awakened governor.

Note: This article was originally posted at Daily Kos.