Editor-in-Chief Editorial: The Virginia Issue

The Editors-in-Chief call for the resignation of Gov. Ralph Northam (D) after racist photo surfaces.


Editor-in-Chief Editorial

In the story of the United States, Virginia is the first page.

Virginia has long served as a model for the rest of the country: it birthed the first colony, it created the first successful economy and its founding fathers provided the framework for our democratic government.

Yet Virginia’s history is not written by its achievements; instead, it is written by a deeply rooted racism that began when the first African slaves were brought to Jamestown. And after nearly four centuries, Virginia continues to be plagued by its past.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) seems to perfectly embody his state’s inescapable history of racism. The now-infamous picture of his yearbook page—where one man is wearing a KKK costume and the other is in blackface—has recently caused national outcry. Northam initially admitted to being in the photo without specifying which costume he was in. Later, he denied being in the photo at all.

Virginia must once again return to being an exemplar for other states, especially for those below the Mason-Dixon Line. This is why we, the four Editors-in-Chief, believe Northam has no choice but to resign. Virginia must serve as a leader in the progression towards racial equality. And Northam is anything but.  

There is no justifiable excuse for Northam’s action. When it occurred, he was not a child or even a teenager; he was a fully developed 25-year-old adult attending medical school. It was not the culture or a joke at the time; in 1984, the racist history behind both of those costumes was common knowledge. And despite Northam not identifying himself as the KKK member or the one in blackface, one costume is not less racist than the other—both are extremely odious and offensive.

For these reasons, the Editors-in-Chief also believe Attorney General Mark Herring (D) should resign. Herring admitted to applying blackface at a college party in 1980. And though no instances of blackface are alike, all should have the same consequence.

Northam’s lieutenant governor and next to take office, Justin Fairfax (D), is currently under a review for allegations of sexual assault. If these allegations prove true or result in an impeachment, then Fairfax’s resignation will also be expected.

If all three of these men resign, the Governor position will be turned over to William James Howell (R), a Republican who stands ideologically opposed to Northam.

However, there is no justification in wanting Northam or Herring to stay in order to maintain the Democratic Party’s political power. We as a state cannot prioritize party loyalty over morality. To do so would hinder progress, shaming everything Virginians and Democrats stand for.

The Democratic Party and its leaders must condemn and chastise purposeful acts of racism, and create an expected pattern of consequences for all politicians. Therefore, when the next representative—Republican or Democrat—enters a similar situation, there will be no question of the outcome. Representatives must serve as model citizens, and past bigotry has no place in government. Northam must recognize his mistake and act as an example for his predecessor.

Although we believe Northam’s political future has been sealed with his yearbook photo, we cannot dispel the possibility that people can change and grow as humans. Opinions are not permanent, even those which are prejudiced. And we must encourage the idea that people can widen their beliefs, in order to eradicate intolerance. Without this, there is no hope that we can better society.

Northam is no longer able to effectively serve as Governor. Representatives should have no history of racism or prejudice against a group of people. And luckily, there are enough politicians to maintain that belief. The governor position serves as a representation for the state of Virginia, and Northam can no longer represent our state.