Virginia was the first colony to enslave Africans. Virginia can be the first state to reconcile with that sinful past, if it approaches the present crisis with an open heart. Demanding wholesale resignations will simply avoid facing the underlying problems and delay resolution.
Putting on black makeup at first glance appears no different than putting on a clown’s whiteface; both permit the user to shed his (and it is usually a “he”) persona for a time. But blackface carries a darker burden, recalling that “… minstrel shows lampooned black people as dim-witted, lazy, buffoonish, superstitious, and happy-go-lucky,” according to Wikipedia.
These stereotypes became fixed in white folks’ minds from the early 1800s to the present, such that putting on blackface identifies African Americans as something to be made fun of, less than human.
In a Daily Press article, appearing Feb. 10, Gov. Northam is reported to have had his eyes opened to the history of minstrelsy and the deep prejudices they foisted on African Americans, which remain alive in some people to this day. His failure to know these facts is the direct result of the education he received in his public and undergraduate schools, or did not receive because black history was censored.
We are justifiably shocked when we learn some of our revered leaders once wore blackface, leading to demands that the perpetrators resign immediately. We would be better served to have calls for truth and reconciliation rather than vengeance.
This is Virginia’s teachable moment, when we can at last grapple with white male privilege that says putting on blackface is just a prank, and with the failure of public education to teach accurate black history.