As scandals involving Virginia’s top three elected officials erupted this month, even “Saturday Night Live” weighed in with its usual hilarious skit involving white officials — all of whom were forced to admit that at some point they donned blackface.
In reality, for Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring, it’s no laughing matter.
There remains demands for both to resign — not to mention the same call for Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who two women claim sexually assaulted them years earlier.
Northam’s incident occurred in 1984 while Herring later admitted he attended a party in 1980 clad in blackface.
Northam has since walked back his admission of being in a photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook that showed a person in blackface while standing next to another individual in full Ku Klux Klan garb.
He later clarified that he once attended a costume party in blackface to imitate singer Michael Jackson. Ironically, Herring has said he was dressing as hip-hop icon Kurtis Blow.
Northam said this week that he has no plans to resign.
Herring and Fairfax also said they have no plans to step aside despite calls from various individuals and groups, including top Democrats.
Forgiveness appears in the offering for each.
At a news conference at Virginia’s Capitol on Monday, a group of Black clergy and community leaders asked for a moratorium on the widespread calls for the governor and attorney general to resign.
The Rev. Rodney Hunter, co-director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and pastor of Richmond’s Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church, said that the records of Northam and Herring show “they are different people” than they were when they wore blackface more than three decades ago.
Hunter said the group is also calling for an end to the push for Fairfax to resign. Hunter said Fairfax deserves due process in the assault allegations.
Blackface dates back to 1830s minstrel shows in which White actors would perform exaggerated stereotypes of Black people — caricatures that came to stand for segregational racism, according to curators at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Northam, who also referred to African-American slaves as “indentured servants,” said he’s prepared to continue his job as governor.
“I really think that I’m in a position where I can take Virginia to the next level,” Northam said in an interview with CBS’ Gayle King. “I have learned from this. I have a lot more to learn.”
He said he had been in more difficult situations in his medical career.
“Right now, Virginia needs someone that can heal,” he said. “There’s no better person to do that than a doctor. Virginia also needs someone who is strong, who has empathy, who has courage and who has a moral compass. And that’s why I’m not going anywhere.”
While calls for each of Virginia’s top three elected officials have come from far and wide, Kurtis Blow said he was particularly “blown away” by Herring’s admission that he wore blackface to impersonate him in 1980.
“It was shocking to me,” the rap legend, whose real name is Kurtis Walker, told the New York Daily News. “It’s just shocking that we still have blackface representing what this country or this society is really all about.”
Walker, 59, whose now an ordained minister, said he wants to meet with Herring to possibly reach a place of forgiveness, but added that Herring should do what his constituents in Virginia ask of him.
“We all do stupid things when we’re young, and this was done so long ago with Mark Herring, but there are many different ways to pay tribute to someone if you really like their music or style,” he said. “When you paint your face, that is the most egregious and disrespectful thing you can do considering what we’ve been through. It’s opening up some deep, historical scars.”