Virginia GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Campaign Bullies Teen Online, Totally Normal
Virginia GOP Governor Glenn Youngkin rode a wave of "critical race theory" panic to victory, and he’s spared no time demonstrating that he doesn’t care about actual American history, which involves slavery specifically, and Black people in general.
Archaeologist and historian Kelley Fanto Deetz resigned on Friday from her position as the Virginia Executive Mansion’s director of historic interpretation and education. She got the impression she was no longer welcome when she arrived to work last month and found her office emptied. A TV had been placed inside a room that was once sleeping quarters for enslaved workers. Youngkin’s staff claims this is all in service of a planned educational space for mansion visitors.
Deetz had worked with a broader team aiming to tell the story of descendants of workers who once lived and worked at the site, which is the oldest continuously occupied, purpose-built governor’s residence in the U.S. Former First Lady Pam Northam was a driver in the project and helped hire Deetz, but the archeologists’ position has been unclear since Gov. Glenn Youngkin was inaugurated.
Youngkin had already used executive orders to try to ban the teaching of any history in the state that bums out white people, so this is hardly a surprise. His predecessor, Ralph Northam, had established a commission on Black history education in 2019, not long after his own Blackface yearbook photo scandal.
Ethan Lynne, a 17-year-old student from Virginia, tweeted Saturday, “the historian tasked with teaching about slavery at the Virginia Governors Mansion just resigned after finding the Youngkins converted her classroom into a family room – and emptied her office.” (A previous version of the VPR story repeated Deetz’s mistaken impression that the Youngkins were turning her classroom into a family room, which the governor’s staff denies.)
In response, Youngkin’s official campaign account posted a photo of Lynne with Ralph Northam with the message, "Here’s a picture of Ethan with a man that had a Blackface/KKK photo in his yearbook.”
Lynne wasn't born when Northam’s Blackface photo was published, and it seems like the Youngkin campaign’s Twitter account exposed Lynne to this history for the purpose of making him feel bad for another white person’s past actions. Youngkin has arguably violated his own CRT ban.
Also, Black folks didn’t overlook Northam’s history because we're hypocrites. Northam spent the last half of his term making up for his transgressions. That Blackface yearbook photo is literally a better governor than Glenn Youngkin.
Lynne responded Sunday, "It is disgusting, disturbing, and unbecoming of the Commonwealth to see the Governor and his office stoop this low, especially on a public platform. We all know that Youngkin has an agenda to attack and endanger students, and last night proved that. I will not be intimidated by these attacks will continue to be a voice for students across the Commonwealth.”
Democratic Virginia state senator L. Louise Lucas called out the Youngkin campaign for trying to smear a teenager, tweeting, "Excuse me, did this come from an official account of the Governor of Virginia?!?! Every reporter in the state needs to get on this immediately. The Governor is attacking a high school student. Governor — this is a disgrace and you owe Ethan a public apology immediately."
The Youngkin campaign account deleted the tweet and Youngkin mustered up an apology Monday morning. He tweeted, "On Saturday night, an unauthorized tweet came from a campaign account. I regret that this happened and it shouldn’t have. I have addressed it with my team. We must continue to work to bring Virginians together. There is so much more that unites us than divides us.”
This doesn’t sound like someone got fired. It’s quite the muted response considering that Youngkin has set up a tipline to help “root out” teachers who remind students that racism exists. Also, that tweet might’ve been “unauthorized” -- he obviously doesn’t literally approve every one that’s sent -- but Youngkin sets the tone.
His apologists will also point out that Ethan Lynne is not your average teenager. He’s co-founder and co-chair of Virginia Teen Democrats, and he interns for state Senator Scott Surovell. That doesn’t justify the tweet. It’s a low blow nonetheless, more typical of Donald Trump than whatever fake moderate mask Youngkin wore during the campaign.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."