Dear Governor Ralph Northam….

I can’t speak for my Black friends, nor can I speak for all white people, but I can speak as a white person.  And, I have decided that I must. Speak!

You and I are only a few years apart in age. I was finishing my first year of college the year you graduated from medical school.

We grew up in very different parts of the country, you in rural Virginia and me in semi-rural Minnesota, where there were very few Black people, and we were mostly immune to the Civil Rights Movement and the struggle of white resistance to school integration that were fought where you grew up in Virginia.

Despite growing up in this somewhat protected community in Rochester, Minnesota, I knew better than to use the “n” word.  I didn’t know then the history of Black face but I sure the heck knew it wasn’t OK to paint my white face Black. I only barely knew the history of the Klu Klux Klan (KKK), but I would never in a million years have dressed in a white robe and hood.  I didn’t need to grow up in a diverse community to learn the lessons of racism. My parents taught me, both directly and by example, that discrimination was wrong, no matter what. Period.

I was taught never to use racial slurs.  In fact, I never ever ever heard my parents use one.  

I learned indirectly about diversity, by example, by being exposed to people who were different from me, not just at school or church but in my home.  In spite of living in a community that was then, and remains, more than 95% white, my parents valued living a message of diversity by example.  They worked hard at it. They sought out people who were different from us in our neighborhood, in our schools and at work. But it wasn’t enough for them to encourage me to make friends at school or to attend work events with people not like me, my parents deliberately invited people of all backgrounds into our home.  The one Black family on our block was welcome in our home for dinner as were Jewish friends my dad worked with.  And, a lesbian couple from work joined us too. Not just once, but often. And, we were welcomed into their homes as well.

I am a very generous person, and I know we all make mistakes.  I might, maybe, be able to forgive a 25 year-old white person for dressing in Black face or donning a Klan robe.  Might. And, this is really really hard. Ok, scrap that. I have NEVER EVER been in the presence of a white person who was dressed in Black face or donning a Klan robe, so to be honest, I’m not sure I can understand or write this off as just a mistake. Because it’s not a mistake.  If it were a mistake, lots of people would make it. And, I’m but a small sample of one, yet I’ve never ever seen, in person, a white person make this mistake. And, even though it may be common, maybe just not in my experience, that doesn’t make it a mistake as you are insisting.

In fact, here’s why I’m pretty sure it’s not a mistake.  YOU CHOOSE TO PUT THAT PICTURE ON YOUR YEARBOOK PAGE. You didn’t choose a picture of you and your buddies fishing or playing catch or dressed up in costumes for Halloween.  You chose a picture of yourself expressing racism. Period. And, so I’m left asking, what message were you trying to telegraph, not so subtly, with that picture? I think there is only one message: “I am a racist, and proud to be one.”  You chose this picture as your enduring legacy, which is what yearbooks are all about, right?

I voted for you.  I drank the RALPH NORTHAM kool-aid.  But now I can only ask one question, what am I left to believe?  Perhaps that you are a wolf in sheep’s clothing. An act that we’ve seen so many times before.  A racist who has learned to code his racism so as to be palatable to progressive whites and the Black community, but who has not yet had the courage to perform the surgery necessary to amputate his racist beliefs and extract himself from the privileges that accompany the system of white supremacy.  No matter how many children or how many soldiers you have treated, the only way you can remove this stain is for you to acknowledge your own personal racist past, to acknowledge the vast privileges you had and continue to have as a white man, and step aside and allow someone without your generations of privilege to lead the Commonwealth into greatness.  Justin Fairfax, a man whose history no doubt includes his ancestors being owned by people like you, is waiting in the wings.

If you want to do the right thing, this is the obvious choice.  Use your privilege to open up a door for someone with less historical privilege than you.


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