Over the weekend, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam went into his third stanza of the Shaggy inspired jingle “It Wasn’t Me”. I’ll admit, I’ve only casually been paying attention to this story. Yes I know it’s the “new, new” hotness in the news circuit. But, I haven’t been that interested. I guess because I fully expect for him to resign as soon as this merry-go-round of stupid excuses is done. Also, because as a Black American citizen I’m not surprised in the least that a white person could casually pose in blackface or as a Klansman, smile from ear-to-ear and not think anything of it, particularly in the ’80s. Contrary to popular opinion, the ’80s wasn’t some decade of self-reflection on racial indiscretions in this country; some age of enlightenment because we gave Bill Cosby a major show (oh Bill) or Michael Jackson permanent legacy status. Weren’t we all in full cowboys and Indians regalia in the ’80s running around casually celebrating the genocide of entire nations of people? Hell, I’m not surprised he’d do this sort of thing regularly and with such a cavalier attitude that he wouldn’t actually remember this specific occasion that he’d done it. That’s what happens when a group of people is dehumanized continually — the fact that you’re actually making light of their atrocities never even computes.
I want to look at it from this angle though. Northam was a doctor. A DOCTOR. A pediatric neurologist since 1992 to be exact — which hits home for me due to certain health issues in that very department within my own family — but I digress. This means this man saw absolutely nothing wrong while in medical school and just eight years prior to being board certified to care for children of all races, with dressing in blackface/KKK garb at a party. Let me make that clearer for the folks in the back. “Excuse me
And people wonder why black folks have high levels of stress and lack trust in any American institution.
It’s 2019 and women in the U.S. have the highest rates of maternal death of any developed country. And the group within those figures with rates described as “crisis level” because they’re four times as likely to die than white women, even when you account for socioeconomic factors, are black women. The medical profession is in full out sleuth-mode in an attempt to discover why — although as far as they’re concerned stress is the most likely culprit at this point. However, along with the stress of just being black in America, Black patients are often listened to less, not believed as often, and prescribed less pain medication. The bias is built into the system. You think there aren’t hundreds of
You think you can’t engage in professions and actively do things that positively affect people of all races while also having a subconscious racist bias that can rear its head given the right circumstances?
Do you know why Jordan Peele can create creepy often race-based stories that feel like eerie yet plausible scenarios? It’s because, for Black Americans, those monsters and concepts are real. Those themes can only come from the mind of people who have had to remain in the same space, under the rule, within the institutions, and surrounded by the legacies of all of their worst nightmares. They have to do this while smiling and pretending as though the residue from all that torment magically went away so that the very craftsmen of those structures can feel comfortable.
You think black parents who have to relinquish most of their control of a sick child over to a healthcare system with a record of treating black patients with less care; treating them like guinea pigs; and often delivering worse outcomes than their white counterparts aren’t terrified by the idea that they’ll one day find out their pediatrician with the cute caboose office and funny clowns was a KKK sympathizer or white supremacist behind closed doors? Because that’s our history here. Our minority status has more or less offered little choice in the grand scheme than to entrust our most valuable possessions — health, freedom, wealth, future — over to the very systems that have historically actively acted to take all of the above away from us. What’s more terrifying than that? We’re a traumatized group of people honestly.
Yet, we’re told to move on, just forgive. How? With every Northam, Tamar Rice, Trayvon Martin who would’ve been 24 years old today, families ripped apart at borders, we relive that trauma over and over and it becomes a constant reminder that those nightmares aren’t that far removed from our present.
I know Northam has gone on to do good things for the community and Black voters in Virginia. People can change. Forget dressing as a Klansman, there are actual former Klansmen who gave up the life and went on to be upstanding citizens that worked hard to make amends by working in minority communities. Yes, people can and should be forgiven for former terrible ideology and behaviors if they’ve truly been reformed. I could’ve forgiven Northam before all of his crazy excuses (I’m not so sure now). However, even with all of that said, if we are to try to begin the process of eliminating future trauma and actual healing to future generations of people of color, then folks like Northam have to pay a price. You can’t keep forgiving and allowing them to prosper. That transgression was too recent and too egregious even if he is “changed” and doing good things for the community as of late. He can still do those things. But for the sake of teaching younger generations that none of this is proper; that privilege comes in many forms, is real and with it comes a responsibility of understanding and respecting those who didn’t have that allowance; and that there’s a real price to pay for ignoring that responsibility; then Northam needs to moonwalk his ass right on to the sideline.