Editor: I am writing as a person of color, whose parents were imprisoned because they were Japanese, more than 60 percent of whom were American citizens. I grew up in the post-war years of World War II, experiencing the pain and confusion of discrimination in Washington, DC, a town that the blues singer Big Bill Broonzey described in the 1940s as a “Bourgoise Town.”
I understand the depth of the anguish that has been in the air since the publication on Feb. 8 of a 35-year old photograph of two figures, one in black face, the other in full Klan regalia. I understand the outraged response to that as well. One night, as a graduate student in North Carolina in the mid-60s, my friends and I were attacked by armed members of the KKK.
The photo was reportedly uncovered by a Breitbart operative, who found it on the personal page in the 1984 yearbook of the medical school attended by Gov. Ralph Northam. He initially acknowledged that he was one of the figures in the photograph, without any further indication of which figure was him. At that point, the answer to that question was irrelevant, for the damage had been done. The public response was swift and unambiguous: Universal condemnation of his participation in the clearly staged photo, coupled with calls for his resignation. His subsequent press conference was a disaster. He not only denied that he was in the photo, he then admitted to participating in a different blackface at a party in San Antonio, TX, in the same year. As a result, he has lost all credibility and with it the capacity to govern.
Shortly after the disclosure of the Northam photograph, it was reported that a woman had come forward with accusations of sexual assault against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax in a Boston hotel room during the Democratic National Convention in 2004. Initially, Mr. Fairfax did not deny the claim, but characterized it as “consensual.” This was similarly met with public calls for his resignation. An investigation is likely and determining the facts and penalties, if any, will be determined by the legal system, which may take many months, at a minimum.
Attorney General Mark Herring’s situation is completely different. He disclosed that he had appeared in blackface at a party as a 19-year-old university student. The attorney general chose to admit his participation and apologized for the hurt his thoughtlessness caused. He made no excuses. There was no dissembling, no equivocation.
Mr. Herring’s remarks stand in stark contrast to the earlier fervent denials from those confronted with similarly devastating claims. Accordingly, his response is worth recalling, both for its content and straight-forward authenticity.
“It sounds ridiculous even now writing it. But because of our ignorance and glib attitudes—and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others—we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup.”
“That conduct clearly shows that, as a young man, I had a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behavior could inflict on others. It was really a minimization of both people of color, and a minimization of a horrific history I knew well even then.
“I have a glaring example from my past that I have thought about with deep regret in the many years since, and certainly each time I took a step forward in public service, realizing that my goals and this memory could someday collide and cause pain for people I care about, those who stood with me in the many years since, or those who I hoped to serve while in office.”
The forth-rightness of is admission and self-critical oral condemnation of his callous “ignorance and glib” attitude is admirable. He condemned his “inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behavior could inflict on others…a minimization of both people of color, and a minimization of a horrific history I knew well even then.”
There are two aspects of these remarks worth noting: First, these thoughts were not deeply buried and out of mind, only to re-surface during the current controversy. The memory was active and the source of his chronic sense of “deep regret,” the moral basis motivating his personal commitment and dedication to those he “hoped to serve while in office.” The second is its structural congruence with the ecumenical, moral logic of confession, the act of contrition and repentance that precedes forgiveness and grace.
I, for one, urge that we, his neighbors, friends and residents of Loudoun, grant him that sacrament.
Randy Ihara, South Riding