February 9, 2019


Virginia's Racist History Clashes With New South Image (Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns, Feb. 8, 2019, NY Times)

"We're going to have to have a greater understanding all-around of what Virginia was like, and I'm not sure today's standards should go back 30 to 40 years ago, when people were in college," said Jerry Kilgore, a former state attorney general.

In truth, the firestorm over blackface photos is only the latest example of Virginia suffering humiliations over racism that cause pain to its residents and tarnish its well-burnished reputation. The state's ample self-regard has suffered blow after blow, in part because of its unwillingness to fully reckon with a past that, while not as violent toward its black citizens, was no less ugly than its Deep South brethren.

In 2006, then-Senator George F. Allen, a Republican, stumbled into the national spotlight by pointing a finger at an Indian-American Democrat videotaping his campaign appearance and referring to the tracker as "macaca," a slur for dark-skinned Africans.

In 2017, a simmering local clash in Charlottesville over the city's Robert E. Lee statue became a worldwide story when a white supremacist rally turned deadly. A year later, for their 2018 nominee for Senate, Republicans backed Corey Stewart, a county official who ran an even balder version of President Trump's campaign, targeting immigrants and vowing to protect Virginia's emblems of the Confederacy. (This is to say nothing of the squalid scandal involving the last Republican governor, Robert F. McDonnell, whose term ended in disgrace after he was found to have taken more than $175,000 in loans and gifts from an access-seeking Richmond dietary supplement maker.)

But the cascade of revelations here since the racist images from Mr. Northam's yearbook surfaced last Friday has stung Virginians because the blackface imagery demonstrates how deeply embedded white supremacy is in the state's not-too-distant past.

Recounting Mr. Herring's tearful confession Wednesday morning to the legislative black caucus that he had once worn blackface, a longtime state senator, L. Louise Lucas, choked up for a moment as she recalled the meeting's emotions.

"I think I would have held it together until I saw the first brother cry," Ms. Lucas said Wednesday night, long after the gathering had broken up. "It was hard to get up from the table and walk away. He said he was sorry."

Larry J. Sabato, a University of Virginia professor who has practiced and studied politics in Charlottesville since he arrived as a college student in the early 1970s, said this week should awaken the state.

"This collection of scandals proves beyond a doubt that Virginia has not progressed as far as it thought it has -- and it has a past it still hasn't come to terms with," said Mr. Sabato.

Perhaps that is not a surprise for a state that is still littered with Confederate iconography -- the new Amazon headquarters in Arlington will sit hard by Jefferson Davis Highway -- and just last month celebrated Lee-Jackson Day, a state holiday.

"Virginia, at least we're not Mississippi!"

Posted by at February 9, 2019 9:58 AM