Maybe this is getting a bit out of hand, but then again maybe it isn’t. No, it wasn’t just black students that comprised the entire class that visited the Virginia governor’s mansion last week, but First Lady Pat Northam probably should’ve known that this could have been a potential public relations iceberg. Now, it’s nothing serious in terms of sinking the ship, but it was unwanted media attention on a governorship that’s already politically dead.
Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam who played the race card heavily in his 2017 gubernatorial, unfairly and absurdly smearing Virginia Republicans and his gubernatorial opponent, Ed Gillespie, as bigots; remember the infamous pickup truck ad? And then, to kick off Black History Month, we find out that Ralphie wore blackface for a dance competition; he was dressed as Michael Jackson. The whole house came crashing down when a racist photo was found on his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook page; one person is wearing blackface, the other in full KKK regalia. Northam apologized and admitted to being in the photo, but then retracted the apology and said it wasn’t him, but did admit to doing blackface at this dance event. State Attorney General Mark Herring also admitted to wearing blackface and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, all Democrats, has been slapped with two allegations of sexual assault.
So, with race being extra sensitive in the Old Dominion, it shouldn’t shock us that black students who were handed cotton by the first lady were offended. She reportedly handed out cotton to all the visiting students and asked them how they would feel if they were forced to pick this crop as slaves. Pat Northam apologized last week (via NBC News):
Northam handed out the cotton while showing students an adjacent cottage to the residence that had once served as a kitchen, asking them to imagine picking the crop as enslaved Africans.
"I regret that I have upset anyone," Northam said. "I am still committed to chronicling the important history of the Historic Kitchen, and will continue to engage historians and experts on the best way to do so in the future."
Her apology came after a Virginia state employee whose eighth-grade daughter and another black child were on the tour complained to lawmakers and Gov. Ralph Northam's office, The Washington Post reported.
Pam Northam's actions "do not lead me to believe that this Governor’s office has taken seriously the harm and hurt they have caused African Americans in Virginia or that they are deserving of our forgiveness,” the employee, Leah Dozier Walker, who oversees the Office of Equity and Community Engagement at the state Education Department, wrote on Feb. 25.
Okay—maybe there’s a bit more nuance here than Mr. Northam’s total foul-up, though it also could speak to Mrs. Northam’s common sense as well. This is 21stcentury media. Of course, someone was going to make a fuss, even if the exercise was related to the history of the state. Second, the media is hypersensitive when it comes to race-based stories, even allowing itself to be taken by some dude name Jussie Smollett who was charged for orchestrating the hate crime against him in January. In the freezing cold on the streets of Chicago in the very early morning hours, Smollett took the media for a ride, saying two white guys in red hats, poured bleach on him, tied rope around his neck, and hurled racist and homophobic insults at him. It turned out to be two black guys that knew Smollett.
Mrs. Northam should’ve known this could have led to some bad press, which was not needed given how the Virginia Democratic Party has imploded and finds itself in a horrible situation with its top statewide leaders. They all can’t resign; the GOP takes over government again. They want due process for Fairfax but denied it when high-profile Republicans are accused. Northam and Herring should go for admitting to engaging in racist antics; you bet if a Republican did this, he or she would’ve gotten the electric chair by now. But Democrats want to hold onto power.
Mrs. Northam’s cotton mistake is a ‘you can’t make this up’ moment, given what has transpired over the past few weeks in Richmond. Is it the end of the world? No. Her negative press moment is 1.2 on the Richter scale. Her husband’s mess up, however, is a 15—and yes, he has to go, which is probably why Northam’s office cringed at this story. It rehashes the governor’s Al Jolson moment.