View fro, the voice: Politicians should own up to their pasts

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In another case of elected officials’ pasts coming back to haunt them, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is trying to recover from the revelation that he dressed in blackface during his time in medical school.

A 1984 photo from his school yearbook page shows a person wearing blackface alongside a person dressed in a Ku Klux Klan costume. Northam has denied being in the photo but admitted to wearing blackface to a social event in the same year.

The controversy over the picture, coupled with state Attorney General Mark Herring admitting to wearing blackface in the 1980’s, has thrown Virginia Democrats into turmoil. Meanwhile, the party has urged Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax to resign after two women accused him of sexual assault.
Northam, Herring and Fairfax are all Democrats, and the party fears that the explosion of scandals will alienate its steadily-growing base in Virginia. President Trump lost the state in the 2016 election, making it a crucial battleground for any candidate hoping to defeat him in 2020.

In the last several days, Northam has been busy playing damage control on his “media apology tour,” which hasn’t gone well for the embattled governor. He referred to slaves as “indentured servants” during an interview with “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King, setting off a storm of questions about his knowledge of America’s racial history.

But we at The Voice believe that Northam, as blundering as his approach has been, is doing the right thing in owning up to his past and apologizing for his racist actions. Unlike a certain recently-confirmed Supreme Court justice, Northam has apparently realized that shouting your innocence when evidence points to the contrary inevitably does more harm than good.

He’s admitted that he was “born into white privilege” and is trying to learn the finer points of discussing racial controversies in America. “I’m still learning and committed to getting it right,” he said in an official statement released on Feb. 11.

Despite what Megyn Kelly and her Fox News cohorts might say, blackface is an inherently racist practice and was never “ok.” It dates back as early as the 1800’s, when minstrel shows, or “minstrelsy,” were all the rage. White actors wore poor-quality clothes and darkened their faces with shoe polish in stereotypical (and unabashedly offensive) portrayals of black people enslaved in the United States.

Whether the controversy will ruin Northam’s chances of reelection or result in his resignation remains to be seen. But at the very least, he’s trying to make amends, and that’s something public figures so often fail to do.

The lesson we can all learn from this is one that can’t be emphasized enough: your past can shape your future in unforeseeable and unpredictable ways. We may be tired of hearing it, but in the digital age nothing is ever fully “deleted.”

Think of the picture from Gov. Northam’s yearbook, which was printed long before the age of smartphones and still resurfaced, before you post or share something. Years, maybe decades from now, could it put your career and reputation at risk?      

– The Voice