Virginia Blackface Scandal Widens With AG’s Admission

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – On the heels of a similar controversy embroiling the governor’s office, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring admitted Wednesday that he wore blackface in 1980 in an attempt to imitate a rapper. 

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring speaks at a press conference at his office in Richmond, Va., on Oct. 24, 2018. (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

“Although the shame of that moment has haunted me for decades, and though my disclosure of it now pains me immensely, what I am feeling in no way compares to the betrayal, the shock, and the deep pain that Virginians of color may be feeling,” the Democrat said in a statement this morning. 

Herring said the blackface stunt happened when he was attending a party as a 19-year-old college undergraduate. Imitating “rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow,” Hering said he and his friends performed a song while wearing wigs and brown makeup.

“This conduct is in no way reflective of the man I have become in the nearly 40 years since,” Herring said.

Herring’s admission follows the release of a photo from Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook, in which someone in blackface is posing beside someone in a Klu Klux Klan hood. Numerous other blackface photos have since been discovered in the same yearbook, and the college stopped printing yearbooks entirely in 2013 because of students being photographed in offensive garb.

This image shows a page of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s 1984 yearbook from Eastern Virginia Medical School. The page shows a picture, at right, of a person in blackface and another wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood next to different pictures of the governor. It’s unclear who the people in the picture are, but the rest of the page is filled with pictures of Northam and lists his undergraduate alma mater and other information about him.

Northam apologized for the photo when it was released last Friday but the following day he said he was not among those pictured in the offensive garb. In the following days, the Democrat has faced intense calls to resign from allies and opponents, including former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who was in office when Northam was lieutenant governor, and President Donald Trump.

But the governor has refused to step down, saying “the person I was is not the man I am today,” and has asked “for the opportunity to ask for your forgiveness.”

Northam’s second-in-command meanwhile, Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax, has faced accusations of sexual assault from his days as a campaign worker.

Fairfax has denied the allegation, and the state’s Democratic Party has said “all allegations of sexual assault deserve to be taken with profound gravity.” 

Fairfax’s accuser Vanessa Tyson has retained the law firm of Katz, Marshall and Banks, the same group that represented Christine Blasey Ford in her testimony against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Lamont Bag, a delegate who chairs the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, told the Associated Press that Herring’s statement has given his group “a lot to digest.”

Herring’s tenure as AG has been marked by a number of progressive efforts including his refusal to defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage before the U.S. Supreme Court made such laws illegal. 

Virginia also has Herring to thank for its attachment to several lawsuits against President Donald Trump involving, among other things, his immigration crackdown and his backing of a moral exemption to the contraceptive mandate in the federal health care law. 

After legislative maps in Virginia were found to have been racially gerrymandered to benefit state Republicans, Herring authored multiple briefs in support of redistricting efforts.

The three-punch-knockout of Virginia’s top three executives, all Democrats, has left state politicos whirling. Virginia hasn’t voted statewide for a Republican in almost a decade, but the resignations of Herring, Northam and Fairfax would put their successors in the hands of the state’s Republican-controlled General Assembly, a majority that the GOP achieved by a name drawn from a bowl. 

To further increase the steaks, Democrats are poised to retake both houses of the state government as all 140 seats are up for grabs this November. Adding even more drama, those who control the state house will decide voting districts after the 2020 census. 

This obscenely high-stakes moment has some thinking none of the three embroiled politicians will resign pending a GOP takeover. 

“Not even racism/sexism will cause one party to turn over state government to the other,” tweeted Theodore R. Johnson, a fellow at the nonpartisan Brennan Center, going on to noted that no Republican would step down in the same predicament. 

“Political expediency seems more important to the nation than racial justice/equality and a stingy adherence to our professed ideals,” Johnson added.

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