The l984 yearbook photo of Governor Northam and the first allegation of sexual assault against Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax were both broken by Big League Politics, a right wing outlet that makes Breitbart look like the New York Times. It is widely viewed as a propaganda arm for the occupant and has little journalistic integrity in the news media community. The Washington Times reports that a “concerned citizen,” upset at Governor Northam for recent comments on abortion, tipped off Big League Politics to the photo. It begs the question, why now? What is the political agenda behind this coming forward now?
Virginia limits governors to one term. Revealing this photo now may cripple the rest of Northam’s governorship and put the recent Democratic leaning tendency of the state at risk. Virginia voted for Barack Obama in 2008, after backing Republican candidates for the previous ten presidential elections. Virginia is becoming a swing state, which may explain the timing and motivation of the story. By besmirching Democratic leaders, it may give Republicans an advantage in 2020, even if it is dirty pool. We live in an age where little can be taken at face value and we must always question motives in politics.
Justin Fairfax stands accused by two women of sexual assault. He may face criminal charges as the investigation unfolds, though he has vehemently denied the charges, stating the sexual encounters were entirely consensual. It is troubling that a black Democratic leader may face articles of impeachment before an investigation and before any potential charges, while a white Supreme Court Justice, Brett Kavanaugh, was accused during his confirmation hearing and was confirmed anyway. And let’s not forget the occupant and his alley cat morals. Again, one has to question the role of race and the motivation on the part of the Virginia Legislator anxious to bring articles of impeachment.
The attorney general, Mark Herring admitted to wearing blackface in imitation of rap legend Kurtis Blow at a costume party in 1980, when he was 19. His behavior is no less reprehensible than Northam’s and he has hinted that he may resign. Meanwhile Northam has, for the most part, stood firm in his refusal to resign even amid mounting calls for him to do so. One has to wonder if the call for his resignation by other political leaders and presidential hopefuls is self-righteousness masquerading as righteous indignation. After all, racism is an equal opportunity white person’s offense.
Initially Northam profusely apologized for his behavior and the photo and stated it was not reflective of who he is today. A day later he denied that it was he in the photo. Such flip-flopping burns a lot of relational capital. A few days ago, he said he was reading Alex Haley’s Roots and Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Case for Reparations, to try and understand the black experience. I am less than impressed.
Conversely, Herring came forward with the information of his own accord and has publicly stated that the harm he caused is “his greatest shame.” Further, he hoped this could be a teachable moment and stated a willingness to engage in a reconciliation process. This makes me hopeful.
While both of their political futures remain uncertain, the people who are in a position to call it one way or the other are the members of the black community. Northam and Herring have done nothing to me personally, except offend my sensibilities and remind me that my own racism continues to be a cause for repentance. The real wounds are the betrayal felt by those who worked hard for their election, trusted their promises and believed what they said. I imagine it must feel like a bit of a sucker punch. Still, the community wounded is the best decision maker about their political future.
The mark of true repentance is always changed behavior. It is never enough to apologize and continue to engage in the same hurtful behavior. Another sign of repentance is accountability for past behavior and absence of defensiveness when a revelation about the past is made. Herring has it all over Northam in this regard. There is a marked lack of defensiveness and openness to dialogue on Herring’s part. Not so much on Northam’s part. He is still overly concerned with his political future, stating he can do more good if he stays in office. Again, I am less than impressed.
People are already talking about forgiveness and reconciliation in this situation. Moving on is the luxury of those not wounded. At best, it is premature. Forgiveness and reconciliation is not the same thing and they are both a process. True reconciliation does not minimize the wrong done. The individual takes responsibility for his/her behavior and listens to those to whom harm was done. It is a long process and hopefully results in the restoration of relationship. At the beginning of the process there is no guarantee of forgiveness or restoration. One has to trust the process. One has to enter into the process honestly and openly, with both sides willing to hear what is said.
If a new relationship is to come out of the process, it is built on the ashes of the old relationship. Both sides acknowledging the wrong and the pain and indicating an ability and willingness to move on, having experienced a sufficient amount of healing and accountability. It’s too early to say, and when the time comes to say, the word doesn’t belong to us.