OPINION – The commonwealth of Virginia finds itself in a most embarrassing situation.
Two of its three top leaders are under fire for having adorned blackface while another faces sexual accusations.
Gov. Ralph Norman and Attorney General Mark Herring have both admitted to using blackface while Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax faces allegations of sexual assault.
Not that it matters, all three are Democrats.
But, whether Democrat, Republican or any other political party, this behavior is inexcusable. Nobody should get a pass for racist actions or for being a sexual predator.
Our leaders should be above reproach, examples of integrity and fairness; respectful and honorable; cognizant of how their actions are perceived by others.
There is no room in our system for rapists or racist thugs.
The courts will take care of Fairfax.
When it comes to Norman and Herring, let’s hope for a quick exit before the court of public opinion tosses them out on their backsides.
It all began to unravel when a disgusting photo on Norman’s medical school yearbook page surfaced showing a person in blackface being lynched by two people dressed as members of the Ku Klux Klan. There is no humor in this.
Norman says it is not him in the photo, but he acknowledged that he did, at another time, use blackface to impersonate Michael Jackson. Again, there is no humor in this. Herring said he and his friends wore blackface when they attended a party in 1980 dressed as rappers.
These are not isolated instances.
Less than a month ago a Tufts University student was investigated by school officials for supposedly appearing on Instagram in blackface. Florida Secretary of State Michael Ertel, a Republican, resigned three weeks ago when photos of him in blackface from 15 years ago when he was mocking survivors of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 became public. Television talk show host Joy Behar, a Democrat, has also confirmed that she wore blackface to a Halloween party many years ago. TV host Megyn Kelly was dumped from NBC last year when she said that she saw nothing wrong with white people wearing blackface on Halloween. Back in the ‘80s, GOP House Minority Leader Robert Michel defended blackface and minstrel shows as “fun” and “not disparaging.”
There are many others, from college kids to television personalities to politicians, who have gone the “cork and curls” route, as the early minstrels who used burnt cork to darken their faces and wore curly cropped wigs called blackface.
But, this isn’t only happening in the South, where racism has an ugly history, or Hollywood, where, often, limousine liberals get a pass for atrocious behavior.
In fact, blackface is very familiar to Southern Utah where some of our most distinguished residents participated in annual minstrel shows within the past decade, where mock slave auctions were an annual occurrence, where Confederate flags flew and a local college mascot was a Confederate rebel. There’s a reason why this area is called Utah’s Dixie you know. But, this civic disgrace also took place annually in Iron County as well.
None of it, regardless of where it takes place, is acceptable.
All of it, no matter who does it, is morally reprehensible.
Minstrelsy became popular during the 1820s. Contrary to popular belief, it did not originate in the South. It came from the North, where the African-American population was sparse. The Northern states were anything but a bastion of civility. It was a place of massive prejudice and bigotry where the Irish, the Italians and anybody else who did not fit the mold was a social pariah. And, while the Yankees did not embrace slavery, they did believe in white superiority, which is why the blackface emphasis on the degradation of African-Americans played well.
These inaccurate portrayals of African-Americans were crude, dehumanizing, inaccurate portrayals that depicted “black people as lazy, ignorant, cowardly or hypersexual,” according to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture.
There were complaints, protests from the black community’s most distinguished leaders, including Frederick Douglass who, back in 1848, called the blackface minstrel groups the “filthy scum of white society, who have stolen from us a complexion denied them by nature, in which to make money and pander to the corrupt taste of their white fellow citizen.”
Of course those voices went unheard in a nation where slavery was legal in half of the states and racism was shared with the other half.
That racism has never been erased from the American landscape.
In fact, with the advent of white nationalism, there has been a resurgence of the hateful attitudes that have simmered over the centuries.
The argument has been presented that events that sparked the most recent scandals took place in the past, that they were innocent actions perpetrated by youthful ignorance.
That won’t wash.
Racism is racism, whether perpetrated by a drunken college frat boy or seriously twisted Klansman.
This is not harmless fun, this is contemptible behavior whose only intent is to further the inaccurate, ugly caricature of an entire race and if you don’t understand that, you don’t understand humanity.
The odds are, in lily white Southern Utah, you have never experienced racial bigotry.
You have probably never been denied a job because of the color of your skin.
You have probably never had your ethnicity slandered by vulgar personification and gross exaggeration.
You have probably never had to deal with the racial profiling practices of law enforcement.
You have probably never experienced the racism of the judicial system, the attempts to squelch your civil rights – from voting to access to public areas – the inequality of a system where minorities are very aware of the glass ceilings that often limit their careers.
You probably don’t have slaves in your ancestry, probably never experienced the discrimination that bars or discourages people of color from living in certain communities, probably never been ridiculed and demeaned by a racial slur thrown your way.
If you had, you probably would realize that the United States is not now and never has been one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.
No bad days!
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.
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