Justin Fairfax Goes Full Clarence Thomas
Justin Fairfax is, for the moment, still the embattled lieutenant governor of Virginia. It's never good when you're "embattled." It's not a strong position from which to launch any exploratory committees for higher office. For roughly 12 hours or so, it looked like Fairfax would replace Gov. Ralph Northam, whose yearbook photo revealed he might've experimented with blackface in college. Then two women came forward to credibly accuse Fairfax of sexual assault. We suggested Fairfax resign and resolve all this as a private citizen, but whoever listens to us?
Accused rapists almost always make admitted blackface artistes look good by comparison. If we weren't already on Team Moonwalk, Fairfax's actions this weekend would've cemented our position. In an impromptu speech to the state Senate, Fairfax compared himself to lynching victims like a common Clarence Thomas. You should never go full Clarence Thomas.
Earlier this month, the General Assembly passed resolutions expressing "profound regret" for "the existence and acceptance of lynching" in Virginia. Just profound regret? Were they RSVPing "no" to a cousin's wedding? Anyway, Fairfax had the gall to add himself to the tragic list of black people murdered by mobs.
"I've heard much about anti-lynching on the floor of this very Senate, where people were not given any due process whatsoever, and we rue that," Fairfax said... "And we talk about hundreds, at least 100 terror lynchings that have happened in the Commonwealth of Virginia under those very same auspices. And yet we stand here in a rush to judgment with nothing but accusations and no facts, and we decide that we are willing to do the same thing."
This would've been tasteless if a Fairfax supporter had said it, but everyone hates Fairfax now so he has to play the parts of both Atticus Finch and Tom Robinson in this regional theatre production of To Kill a Mockingbird. Fairfax's dumb ass was once a federal prosecutor so he knows that "accusations" are indeed forms of "evidence," and the accusations against him are filled with facts.
No one has suggested depriving Fairfax of "due process." Certainly, no one has recommended, as a fun way to pass a Friday night, brutally murdering Fairfax before a cheering crowd. Political death is not in any way a physical death. Fairfax can confirm that with his former boss, John Edwards. If Fairfax is going to give speeches about lynchings, he should brush up on the ones from his state. Back in 1897, Virginian Joseph McCoy was accused of assaulting the nine-year-old daughter of his employer and was killed before he could even stand trial.
"They dragged him out of the station house, up Fairfax Street to Cameron, down Cameron to Lee, where they quickly put a rope around his neck. It took but a second to jerk him off his feet. The crowd broke into great cheer as the negro was seen dangling in the air . . . "
Fairfax is standing on the brutalized bodies of dead black people to pull himself out of a hole of his own making. It's appalling. While vilifying his accusers, both of whom are black, Fairfax deliberately ignores a major historical fact: Few, if any, men were lynched because the alleged victim was a black woman. In fact, black people were often lynched for simply objecting to the assault of a black woman. Another example from Virginia is a Mrs. Wise, who was lynched in 1931 because she objected to white Klansmen taking her daughter on "rides." (We don't want to know.)
Fairfax is not the victim of a lynching, "high-tech" or otherwise. He's a powerful man who may have believed he could mistreat women with impunity. Now, like Bill Cosby and R. Kelly, he faces a long overdue reckoning. Virginia can do more than express "profound regret" for a shameful past. The state can choose right here and right now to listen and believe Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson. Virginia can show that these women's black lives matter. Every Virginia should now loudly demand that Justin Fairfax step down. This is no longer about politics. It's about what's right.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."