Growing up in DC, I’ve worked, shopped and driven through northern Virginia all of my life. Drive just an hour or so down 95 and you’ll be greeted with a Confederate flag, waving proudly just 45 minutes from the state’s capital and the former capital of the Confederate States of America. Northern Virginia is a bastion of racism, a mixture of the nice white liberal racists who would never dream of calling a Black person a nigger and who place “Black Lives Matter” decals on their cars while retreating to their $600K townhomes in their all white neighborhoods and calling the cops on the “suspicious” Black man walking past their house, and the classic racists who put on no airs and look at Black people with all the disgust they can muster. And often times, which racist they are only depends on the setting, as many wear the mask of liberal covert racist publicly and unabashed overt racist privately.
Virginia’s recently disgraced governor, Ralph Northam, is that bilateral racist I know all too well. So when photos from Northam’s page in the 1984 yearbook Eastern Virginia Medical School showing his official school photo alongside a photo of two men, one dressed in Blackface and the other in a Klan robe and hood, neither the year nor the contents of the photo surprised me. Nor was Northam’s response surprising, as the politician quickly issued the typical apology. “I accept responsibility for my past actions and I am ready to do the hard work of regaining your trust,” Northam said.
A little more surprising, amusing even, was Northam’s timely recanting of his confession that he was one of the men in the photo. After saying he was “deeply sorry” for the “clearly racist and offensive” photo, just days later, Northam denied that he was either of the men in the photo. Virginia’s governor told reporters, “That is not my picture. That is not my person in that picture.” He went on to say that while he had apologized, he did not remember ever wearing a Klan robe but had worn Blackface once when he dressed as Michael Jackson.
And what sticks out more than anything, what has me seething in anger, is the fact that virtually none of the power players — media and politicians alike — are acknowledging that in addition to this power this man holds as the governor of a state with a nearly 20% Black population and a 30% total non-white population, this photo was printed in the yearbook, a permanent record intended to memorialize the lives and minds of the staff and students during that year, of a medical school. Ralph Northam is a doctor.
How can we ignore that this man thought nothing of dressing in either Blackface or Klan regalia — because both are equally offensive and communicate a clear allegiance to racism — is a pediatric neurologist at Chesapeake’s Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughter. Yes, a man who thinks “I don’t recall” is an acceptable response to being accused of donning racist makeup and dress is charged with caring for sick children, many of whom are Black children like the children people in Klan robes routinely terrorized, fed to alligators and even lynched. So in addition to his ability to affect the lives of the Black people he courted heavily during his campaign through racist policy and the inequitable distribution of resources, he is in an indisputable position to medically discriminate against and underserve vulnerable Black children.
Black people have told of receiving inadequate medical care for centuries. Studies have confirmed what we already knew: White doctors believe that Black patients experience less pain than their non-Black counterparts. African American women are three to four times more likely to die during or after delivery than are white women. A Black woman who refused to leave a hospital after discharge because she couldn’t breathe and doctors didn’t believe her died from a blood clot in her lungs after being arrested for refusing to leave the hospital.
The medical industry is already racist. Now we’re faced with not only evidence that a man who was in medical school just 35 years ago is a verified racist, but also that he is a pediatrician, and that his medical school seems to have a history of churning out blatantly racist doctors, so much so that they had to ban yearbooks in 2013 after students posed in confederate garb. That’s as important to me as his ability to deny Black people clemency or enact racist laws regarding healthcare. He has Black children’s lives in his hands, and he, as a grown ass man saw nothing wrong with an association with Klan and Blackface being a permanent part of his legacy.
Am I supposed to believe this man has never seen this photo printed in his yearbook? He’s never pulled out the book to show his children and flipped to ol’ dad’s page to proudly show him how he and his friend were free to wear Black face and white hoods before everybody became all PC? Even knowing now that this picture is public knowledge, plastered all over the front pages of national newspapers, he’s still so arrogant and delusional about his racism that he believes he is qualified to lead an entire state with an abundance of Black citizens and voters? And his photo is still prominently displayed on the website of the hospital where he’s practiced medicine, smiling in the faces of Black patients, nearly a week after he was outed for memorializing his racist endorsements?
This is the reason I don’t ever trust or give a damn about nice white people. Ralph Northam smiled and hugged Black voters all during his campaign to gain their votes. I saw commercial after commercial lauding him for being a doctor, a man who cared about people. All the while, he’s still as racist as the Republicans his party would like us to believe are solely responsible for Black people’s oppression. And for more than 30 years, he has been free to deliver deficient medical care to Black patients, hiding his racist past and present in plain sight.