Blackface Scandal in VA Brings Racism To Forefront

With Politicians Caught in Racist Pictures, Questions of Blame and Resignation Rise

Leo Barron, Contributing Writer

In early February, a picture of governor Ralph Northam of Virginia in blackface was published by Big League Politics. The picture started a debate over both whether the governor should resign and the racist history of blackface in America.

In the days after the scandal, the Attorney General of Virginia, Mark Herring, also came forward, apologizing for partaking in blackface. To many, the news was a shock, as many Americans were surprised by the presence of blackface, even in the late ’80s.

Blackface originates from the 19th century when white people acted in minstrel shows, which were shows where people painted their face black and mocked African Americans. The shows quickly became one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the 1800s. As segregation began to end, minstrel shows were considered taboo, but the racism that the shows amplified to the world never disappeared. Even though the history of blackface goes back 200 years, the news was still shocking to some. “The immediate news came as a surprise,” says senior Anna Rasmussen. “It’s just not expected that something like [blackface] can still happen, and yet it still does.”

To many, the governor’s response seemed to ignore the racist past of blackface. In his first public appearance after apologizing for the picture, Governor Northam said that the picture was not in fact him, but he had darkened his face once before to dress up as Michael Jackson. When asked if he could still moonwalk, he said he could and almost danced in front of the press before being told his actions were inappropriate by his wife. “[Northam’s actions are] a failure of education,” says Mr. Landwehr, a US history teacher at CRLS. “Our history needs to include the history of blackface. People do not know how big of a problem blackface is, and that is a problem in itself.” Mr. Landwehr, like many others, hopes that if anything good can come out of this, it would be a national conversation on racism in America and how it is still rampant today.

The governor’s choice on whether or not to resign has also become a national scandal. When the picture was released, the governor released a statement thoroughly apologizing “for the decision [he] made to appear as [he] did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now.” However, on the next day, he said the picture wasn’t him, creating even more confusion and controversy. “He should resign because he has lost the trust of the people,” says Lucas Vallejo, a freshman. “[Blackface] is not appropriate, and the highest official in the state should know that.”

For some, the handling of the blackface scandal is the reason Northam should have to resign. Mr. Benson, a math teacher at CRLS who has been involved in politics most of his life, agrees: “If he had done what the attorney general did, and apologized and promised to try to right his wrongs, I may have thought he could stay, but he has no credibility anymore, and he should resign.” While the attorney general’s scandal has faded, Governor Northam is still headlining news across the country.

Others, like sophomore Ahmed Benghomari, think that the blackface scandal only shows what they have already known. “For all of the progress that America has made in race relations, the scandal in Virginia shows how much work the country still has to do.”


This piece also appears in our February 2019 print edition.