Blackface Sparks Racial Controversy in Virginia


Photo Courtesy of Brice Anderson for the Richmond Times-Dispatch

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam is under fire for his  1984 yearbook page which contains a controversial picture of two men – one in blackface and another in a KKK hood and robe.

“I don’t think it’s fair to hold Northam accountable for something from a different time period,” said senior Braden Rountree. “I believe that he’s done what he can to make amends and the media is just too sensitive over everything.”

The photograph of Northam first surfaced on February 1.  At the time, Northam acknowledged that he was in the photo and apologized, although he could not identify himself in the picture.  However, by the next day, he denied being one of the persons in the picture. “It was 35 years ago and he apologized, so I didn’t think much of it. But when he denied being in the photo at all, I really just knew that he was lying, ” said senior Victor Adejayan.  While Northam denied being in the racially charged photo, he did admit to wearing blackface once for a dance contest where he dressed up as Michael Jackson. 

Not long after the initial yearbook photo surfaced,  another picture emerged of Northam in the Virginia Military Institute’s yearbook where one of his nicknames was listed as “Coonman”.

The concept of blackface originates from the mid-1800s, where white actors would darken their skin color and wear ragged clothing to portray black stereotypes and mimic former slaves. This type of acting, also known as minstrelsy, was meant to be funny to a white audience, but it was and is still considered offensive to a majority of the African-American community. “It’s definitely racist, and the act of blackface is still racist to me,”  Adejayan expressed.

Despite protesters outside the Executive Mansion in Richmond, Northam refuses to resign and remains in office hoping to earn the forgiveness of Virginia constituents.