I can personally testify that racism persists today and I can say that with authority because I am a white male. That might seem like an oxymoron as you would assume a white male is the least likely person to notice. Let me explain further. Not too long ago, I was a doctor’s appoint where the medical professional was a white male in his 50’s. Myself, being a white male in business casual clothing pushing 40, the good Dr. seemed quite comfortable talking openly to me. Somehow the casual conversation shifted to the man unashamedly telling me how the slave trade was the best thing to ever happen to African-Americans and they should be thankful they are here. I wanted to have a more forceful conversation with the man to refute his assertions, but given that he was about to stick his finger up my butt I thought it was an ill time to agitate the man. I politely found my way out of the conversation and the encounter ended. You see, when you are a white male there are times in your life where a fellow white male will look at you think “instant teammate.” While I am certain I have my own biases and prejudices, I’m not an instant lock to be on Team White on any given issue. Yet, from time to time even as late as this year a white individual says something troubling and then looks to me for the ideological high five that is never to come. Racist ideology persists today. Of that I am certain, but that it is less than yesterday I am equally certain. However, Governor Ralph Northam reminds us that yesteryear was not so long ago. By the way, the MAGA hat was added as a sort of modern Rorschach’s test. If the that bothers you more than the other picture, its a call to reevaluate your thought process.
Racism is Still Pretty Fresh
I spent nearly 35 years of my 40 year existence in the South and it is of no surprise to me that racist ideology persists today. My mother went to segregated schools in Grand Junction, TN, and I had an uncle who liked to tease me as kid by jokingly accusing me of having a black girlfriend. I listened to another adult family member use scripture to justify the prohibition of interracial marriage and when my sweet grandmother developed dementia I listened to her say the most un-grandmotherly things about her African-American caretaker. This was the 1980’s and 90’s. If you believe racism doesn’t persist today, it definitely did just 20 years ago. There are many circles of Americans who look at Ralph Northam’s pictures with disgust. Sadly, I believe there are plenty who saw them looked something like this.
My High School, at least as late as 1997, equally separated their class awards by race. When it came time to vote for “most popular” and “most athletic” there was a category of white contestants and a category of African-American contestants. We were expected to vote for one in each category and if you look at those yearbooks today you will see that each category included one white and one African-American student. Too bad Asians I guess.
To be quite honest with you, it would be shocking to me if a Governor from Virginia wasn’t exposed to frequent and blatant racist ideology in 1984 Virginia. As with any ideology, it finds some hosts more receptive than others. Racist ideology and its artifacts still haunt us today just like landmines continue to haunt children in nations with war-torn pasts. Even today we are still finding unexploded ordinance from WW2 Europe. The wars are over, but the artifacts remain. Sometimes those artifacts are people for whom only death will correct and others are pictures. Ralph Northam came across one of his own and it blew up in his face.
Wrestling with the Past
As for Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, I could care less whether Virginia keeps him or boots him though I think he should go. That’s up to them, although if they don’t boot him I think the Democrats will have made a terrible deal with the devil of hypocrisy. If a kid smiling in a MAGA hat is worthy of such vitriol, I’m guessing a politician in blackface or a Klansman outfit warrants the same. Moreover, I think his defense that it wasn’t him is perhaps the greatest insult. The page is literally dedicated to the man. So as to not confuse him with another Ralph Northam, the page even includes his middle name to be certain as to the identity. The page wasn’t listed as Ralph Northam and his two racist college buddies. It was the man by name and if it wasn’t him, his silence on such an abhorrent message associated with him is equally damning. It’s you Governor, just admit it.
While I might be ambivalent as to the fate of Klansman Northam, I’m pretty sure he was the Klansman, I’m disappointed that America is again not honestly wrestling with racism in an intellectually honest manner. Governor Northam could have led America on a deep conversation as to the evolution of one’s views on race. Instead, the man is trying to fake news America by saying it wasn’t him. Again, there is a quote about the man’s affection for beer and both the man in blackface and the Klansman are holding a beer. It’s you Governor.
The Military and Race
I’ve always thought that the military was perhaps the best educator on racial progress of which I’ve ever been a part. I’ve watched racist rednecks from the hills of Tennessee and inner-city African American youth with every reason to distrust one another forge a bond. It would seem that after one endures enough suck together that the ignorant ideology impressed upon them by generation’s past tend to fade away. In the field, there is zero nuance when it comes to conversations on race. They are blunt, to the point and remarkably productive. So much so that a man who was taught by his parents to hate a race would die for a man of that race because he is his fellow Marine.
America is not honest with race like this and it is to our detriment. White people hide things like our racist uncles and grandmothers because it is a topic too unsettling. Mine are both dead now, so they good now I suppose. We do things like orchestrate a “separate but equal” most athletic because we feel the conversation students really need to have is too hard. We don’t offer grace for those who were once lost in a broken ideology but who are now found. Humanity is imperfect and broken and so we are still on race. Until we have more open conversations that allow for the evolution of thought racism will continue to haunt us into the future. The good Governor could have led us down a conversation to an honest conversation, but instead he pulled “it wasn’t me.” America is worse off for it. We could have used a good a conversation Governor. Too bad.