Ralph Northam Set To Take Refresher Course In Not Being A Racist
Ralph Northam is still the governor of Virginia and is likely to remain so. Two women have credibly accused Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault, and that tends to make an Al Jolson impersonator seem almost statesman like by comparison. Black Virginians have frankly thrown up their hands, as well. A recent poll shows that 58 percent of black voters think Northam should remain in office. They have no great options because the line of succession after Gov. Smooth Criminal is rapist, another guy who wore blackface, and a Republican who for all we know is blackface-curious.
Northam isn't going anywhere, but he wants us to know he feels real bad about the blackface (and presumably the guy on his yearbook page who's wearing a frickin' KKK uniform). Like someone who's gotten too many speeding tickets and has to go to traffic school, Northam has not-so voluntarily enrolled in a GED-level anti-racist course. Let's take a look at the challenging curriculum his advisers have prepared:
[Northam] has met with African American legislators and faith and community leaders, and has begun reading up on race - "The Case for Reparations" by Ta-Nahesi Coates, a few chapters of "Roots" by Alex Haley. He said he has reflected on his own origins and tried to confront his lack of understanding.
Everyone -- except apparently the governor or Virginia -- already knows this, but Roots: The Saga of An American Family is a book about slavery. We assumed Northam was already anti-slavery. Does he really need Alex Haley's masterwork to get him on board with abolition? He can't commit to more than just a "few chapters," either. Yes, it's 704 pages, but Avery Brooks from "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" narrates the Audible version.
Gotta admit this seems strange. If we were to offend white people in the most dehumanizing way possible, it's hard to imagine someone just assigning us Hamlet as "homework" and calling it good. "Ahh! To be or not to be! How all occasions do inform against me! Yes, it all makes sense now! We will take mayonnaise with those fries."
We've already read Shakespeare, of course, because we're reasonably well-educated and that's what's expected of us. Black culture and history, meanwhile, is apparently an elective that someone can avoid their entire life and still graduate from medical school and go on to become governor of a state that's 20 percent black. Eighty percent of black Virginians voted for Northam, which is the only reason he defeated his Republican opponent, Ed Gillespie. But he hasn't read Roots (and likely never read Haley's Autobiography of Malcolm X). He was probably too busy practicing his minstrel act to see the 1977 Roots TV event that won nine Emmys and a Peabody. The ratings set records. David Duke probably watched some of it, if only to root for the slave owners.
Black women exist and are awesome, so Northam should also consider reading Lorraine Hansberry, whose play A Raisin in the Sun debuted on Broadway the year Northam was born and addresses the housing discrimination black families faced at the time (and still do). There's also Maya Angelou, Angela Davis, Kathleen Cleaver, Nella Larsen, and Zora Neale Hurston. That's just a start if Northam truly wants to devote the rest of his time in office to "equity."
Four hundred years ago a ship with "some 20 and odd" kidnapped Africans landed at what is now known as Virginia. Whether that's the actual beginning of slavery in the New World is up for debate, but regardless, black people have been here a long time, long before anyone considered putting up walls to keep out desperate but at least willing travelers. Yet Virginia's current governor, who owes his political career to black people, is only now getting around to meeting us. Isn't that just the way?
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).