We have a lot of things going on in racial relations. Most of it is pretty confusing. It is hard to know what is proper – harder still to know how to proceed.
The Virginia situation is kind of mindboggling. Governor Northam botched his multiple responses to the blackface photo in his yearbook. It was like hearing fingernails on a blackboard. My first thought was he must resign. And I still think that would be the appropriate thing to do. But today, Northam says that he wants to focus the rest of his term on racial equity.
Asked why it’s in the best interest of the state for him to work through these issues while in office, instead of heeding the calls to resign, Northam responded that he has a responsibility to the people who elected him.
“I have a lot more to learn…The more I know, the more I can do,” Northam said. Speaking as a pediatric neurologist, he said he could feel the anguish of Virginians. “I want to heal that pain, and I want to make sure that all Virginians have equal opporunity…and I think I’m the person that can do that for Virginia.”
Northam said he is setting up a “reconciliation tour” that would take him around the state to engage in conversations about race and healing, but that he had no details yet.
This is actually intriguing. The cynic in me is that Northam is just looking to save his hide. But Virginia governors only get one term – so Northam has a very unique opportunity here. He has already learned a great deal. It is like he has awakened from a deep white privilege sleep and suddenly sees the plight of black America from a new vantage point.
Maybe he deserves a chance here. Maybe, if this is truly sincere, he can bring some actual healing to the Virginia Commonwealth. He will be closely watched and the opportunity for serious discussions are ripe for the asking. He will have a chance to have the media focus on him finding his way through the racial divide in a way no one has done before.
By all accounts, Ralph Northam is a decent person. He can be stoic and kind of bland, but everyone who knows him says that he really does want to always do the right thing. Maybe he does. I can’t see his heart. But there is opportunity here that I did not see before.
When you think about it, resigning would be easier than this. He will face scrutiny and skepticism. His every word will be judged. His every action weighed against his past.
I believe this is worth an effort. With the mess that grips Virginia leadership right now, maybe this is the best path forward.
We will be watching, Governor Northam. Good luck.