Ever since news broke that a college yearbook page for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) featured a photo of someone in blackface and another in a KKK costume, few communities have been more critical of him than the state’s African American residents.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus issued a statement shortly after the story made headlines calling on him to leave office. It said: “The damage that has been done by these revelations is irreparable. Our confidence in his ability to govern for the over 8 million Virginians has been eviscerated. Another moment should not pass before we hear Governor Northam do the honorable thing and resign.”
Northam has not resigned and has pretty much signaled that he will not, despite increased criticism from African Americans and others who say his past actions and/or his responses to the present crisis have been poor.
President Trump weighed in on Twitter on Sunday attempting to highlight how African Americans are processing the situation. He tweeted, “African Americans are very angry at the double standard on full display in Virginia!”
African Americans are angry about Northam’s past actions, and many are frustrated by his decision not to step down. And yet the only double standard many African Americans see is the spectacle of Republicans calling for Northam’s removal who seem slow to call out racism among politicians in their own party.
According to an Associated Press survey, most African Americans — 75 percent — say that Trump is a racist based on multiple statements he’s made, policy ideas he’s proposed, and a history of discriminating against black people on racial grounds and appearing to sympathize with white nationalists. But no GOP lawmaker has called on Trump to be removed from office for any of this. In fact, support for Trump among Republican voters is at record highs.
It is not exactly clear where Trump, whose White House notably does not include any African Americans in senior positions, got his information about how African Americans are processing this incident. But The Washington Post published a poll about how African American Virginians are responding. The article said:
Within the Democratic Party, Northam has greater support from African Americans than whites. A 57 percent majority of black residents who identify or lean Democratic say he should continue to lead the state, compared with 49 percent of whites who identify or lean Democratic. About 47 percent of African Americans overall say Northam has accomplished a great deal or good amount as governor, compared with 30 percent of whites.
While some might be surprised by these results, it is not exactly shocking that many African Americans are disgusted by Northam’s actions of more than three decades ago yet want him to remain in office. None of the calls for him to step down point to him demonstrating racism in 2019. And in fact, many African Americans still contend that Northam has shown a genuine interest in improving the lives of the state’s African American residents.
But it is also possible that African Americans are aware of something else. If Northam is forced to resign, Attorney General Mark Herring (D-Va.) could be, as well. Days after the Northam story broke, Herring also admitted to appearing in blackface at a college party. That would mean that Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D-Va.) could become governor and that Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights), speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, could become lieutenant governor.
And if Fairfax resigns from office following two allegations of sexual assault that he denies, Cox could become governor. Given African Americans’ lack of trust in the GOP — especially under Trump — many would prefer to have as the state’s top politician someone who is consistently critical of Trump’s policies rather than someone who is from the president’s party and supports many of his views.
This predicament is why some see African Americans in Virginia as caught between a rock and a hard place when thinking about the political direction of their state. And the past week has yielded no clear suggestion that the situation will be resolved anytime soon. But Trump inserting himself into the situation probably does nothing for African Americans except remind them that the last time he weighed in on a Virginia story this newsy was when he called white nationalists “very fine people” after a march aimed at protecting Confederate statues of men who enslaved black people ended in the death of an anti-racism activist.