Ralph Northam was an Army doctor, pediatric neurologist, state senator and Lieutenant Governor before being elected as Governor of Virginia. On his website, Northam is shown working with sick children and veterans, but recently his past has come back to haunt him. A photograph from Northam’s personal page on his medical school yearbook surfaced recently, that shows one person in blackface with a beer in hand and another man wearing a KKK robe. Northam is alleged to be one of the men in the picture. There is also a quote under the picture that states: “There are more old drunks than old doctors in the world so I think I’ll have another beer.” This photo was not the only one of its kind. According to a team of CNN reporters who looked at the rest of the yearbook in question, the rest was filled with similar displays of racism, including many medical students in blackface. The frequency of these problematic pictures speaks to a larger issue of racism and accountability that Northam is currently facing.
The conservative news site, Big League Politics, was the first to report the photo, which was then quickly picked up by major news sources. Upon the photo breaking, Northam first stated that he was in the picture, and was quick to apologize, though he could not remember which costume he was wearing. He stated at a press conference at the Virginia state office that the costumes were “clearly racist and offensive” and he understands now that what he did was wrong. Northam has since stated that it was not him in the picture, although he did not give a reason as to why it was on his personal yearbook page. Throughout all of this, there were rumors circulating that Northam was planning on resigning, but he was quick to refute these claims to the press and constituents.
The Democratic Party of Virginia released a statement the Saturday, quoted by The Nation, following the news that Northam has no plans of resigning, stating that he no longer has the confidence or support of the Democratic Party of Virginia. They stated that he should step down and allow for the Lieutenant Governor to take his place. There have been similar calls from Virginians for him to resign because of the scandal, who told the Washington Post that he no longer represents their beliefs, as well as Democrats from across the nation who had similar statements. There were immediate calls from the Virginia Black Caucus for his resignation, and they remain very vocal on the issue, as they told the Washington Post as well. Across the nation, 2020 presidential candidates and other Democratic heavyweights have come out against Northam and called for him to step down, including those from the more moderate sect of the party. Even with all this backlash from constituents, state party members and the old and new Democratic elites, Northam has made it clear that he has no plans of stepping down in another press conference. Those who call for his resignation state that not doing so would normalize racism and that leaders must be held to a higher standard as they represent the state and its citizens.
The call for Northam to step down is enhanced by who would be replacing him. The Lieutenant Governor is Justin Fairfax, an African-American man, considered more progressive than Northam. However, there have been allegations of sexual assault made by staffers against Fairfax, along with other elected officials being found to also have worn blackface in their college and graduate years, including those who are in the line of succession after Fairfax, which muddles the problems even more. It remains to be seen what will happen to the Virginia government and its leadership.