Quote Of The Day
Democracy is wonderfully unpredictable and repressively damnable; I’d have it no other way. -Me
Post#: 035-19 – Words: 2262 – Audio: N/A
If it matters, then what about it DOES matter? (Ooops.. am I being racist?)
As this is being written it looks as though embattled Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam may resign amid all the fervor over his college year book “black-face” photo admissions and non-admissions. In his particular case it turns out that his explanations were as confusing as anything else about all this. For that alone he will likely end up being put out for credibility reasons. My own personal take on this is a bit multi-faceted. He either got bad crisis advice or was just plain unaware of how one might handle this PR nightmare when others in public life have fallen before him to set some example. Someone on his team also failed along the line to vet these kinds of things along the way to public service. Under former Gov. Terry McCauliff, Northam was Lt. Gov., so being politically wary of these kinds of things existing in one’s past is rather routine in politics at that level. It’s not so much trying to cover up these kinds of images/events but being prepared for the “if and when” such things do pop up along the way. Him and/or his team failed here apparently.
Then there’s the photo itself. If he’s the guy on the left in black-face then he’s obviously pretending to be a black person (for the moment let’s put aside the fact that somehow it’s wrong for a white person to impersonate the appearance of a black person because it’s obviously racism). If he’s the guy on the right in a KKK garb then he’s a guy displaying his ultimate racism toward blacks.. or.. as it appears they might be at some party, they are drinking beers together within a pose that might suggest a gag contrast between a black guy enjoying drinking a beer with a KKK person, and vice versa. One might even think it’s a political satire of the possibility of blacks and Klan getting along in harmony someday. We have 340 million Americans in this country.. and each one looking at this picture will walk away with their own idea of what they are seeing… except if you are black.
(Oh.. wait… wasn’t this what the MAGA hat Covington event was all about.. jumping to conclusions?)
So.. as the enraged viewers of this photo began to extrapolate 30 years into the future if the current governor of Virginia is some sort of closet racist.. one of the defenses has been that, indeed, this was a 30 year past event while Northam was (only?) 25 years old in medical school. But then again, being 25 is an adult.. and therefore there is no excuse that might be attributed to some teenage immaturity. Right? Well, sorry… at the age of 25 and a med student there’s not a lot of thought toward a run for a governorship 30 years down the road… much less thinking about future political correctness. I would challenge anyone that their decision to run for public office is determined only by what’s in the family photo album or school yearbook 30 years prior. “Oh dear, I guess I can’t run for public office because I have this embarrassing year book photo.”
Let me be clear with all of this.. I am not necessarily defending Gov. Northam’s explanations.. or even the photo itself. Whether he’s in the photo or not… whether people go along with the other Michael Jackson impersonation story or not… he’s got to float on his own record in public service and the explanations he chooses to use to try and explain all this. The photo is dated at the mid-1980’s.. which many are using as a time period well-past civil rights reform, and presumably inside a period of racial and racism awareness; it was not just a dismissive time of “racism was commonplace in society”. My issue with all this is what exactly does this photo suggest.. and why and how does it suggest that which is worth a duly elected public servant to resign from office? Is there violence toward blacks being depicted in the photo? Is the KKK dressed person threatening the black-depicted person in any way? Is one or the other person displaying any sort of power vs. inferiority over the characters they are depicting? Could it be that the only negative connotation of the photo is that which is implied and not face value?
There are some folks who will assign to me that simply asking that question is being an insensitive white racist. Obviously I am not black… and if I were black then I would understand. Soo.. does that mean I am disqualified from an opinion.. or.. could it be that I am a flat out racist of the worst kind?
Ohh.. it’s the implied symbolism of the photograph, you say? Would that be the symbolism of the white person in black-face.. or.. the KKK person just standing there with a beer? Maybe it’s the satire symbolism of a black person drinking socially with a dressed Klansman.. something that would never happen in the real world? What exactly is it that we are supposed to be enraged about in this photo? Would a photo of someone disguised as a Jewish rabbi (beard and black hat thing?) standing next to a person dressed in SS nazi regalia, both laughing it up with a beer in hand, be equally as objectionable? I dunno.. maybe. I’m not Jewish, so I suppose I don’t understand their struggle either.. hence I am obviously an anti-Semite.
Let’s try this one… a guy holding a beer dressed as a 19th century native American standing next to a 19th century member of the Seventh Cavalry, also holding a beer and laughing it up. I’m not native-American to understand the struggle of native-Americans (Trail of Tears, Wounded Knee, etc.) so I am just another white person racially objectifying their existence? Heck, let’s take this one further… my great-great grandfather immigrated here from Ireland in the 1880’s.. enlisted in the army, and ended up in Company G, Seventh Cavalry, Custer’s former unit which was “guarding the western frontier from Indian savages”. There’s no family or military record of any engagements my ancestor was involved in, but soon he ended up with severe back problems (common with cavalrymen) and in 1884 he was mustered out on a medical discharge. Five years later his Company G went on in his absence to engage in the slaughter at Wounded Knee. So perhaps I am guilty by association for racism against native-Americans? Gotta be in my blood, right?
I watched Norman Lear’s All In The Family back in the day, and I laughed at Archie Bunker’s white racism. Am I a racist for that? I played “cowboys & indians” as a kid. Am I a racist for that? Dare I even think of being contrary here… one of my fave SNL skits was Eddie Murphy playing a white guy to research racism. Here’s the 5 min skit..
I guess Eddie getting white-face is ok.. and his satirical stereotyping of white people is just that.. satire, maybe with a tad of a hidden message. But that was SNL way back in the 1980’s, right? Wait.. same time as the Northam photo? But maybe that’s different because white folks were never oppressed by black folks, so it’s ok for a black person to stereotype them (me, us..). Like it was ok for actor Werner Klemperer, a Jew, to play a bumbling Nazi Luftwaffe commanding officer of a German POW camp in a comedy sitcom. Remember Col. Klink? As actor Bob Crane said when his agent was trying to sell him on the comedy role of Col. Hogan, “You mean, there were funny Nazis?”
One of the advantages in not being emotionally involved in a given situation is that there’s a bit of distance to help maintain some objectivity. Like TV cops getting too involved to investigate their own case, a lawyer having a conflict of interest, etc. This absolutely does not mean that those not experiencing an event is any less sensitive to it. Experiential bias sometimes can cloud objective thought. One of the concerning issues with an aging Jewish population is that with each advancing generation the idea that the Holocaust never occurred, or occurred in the way it is “alleged” to have occurred. Survivor witnesses are passing away… their accounts, written or recorded, are not as much explored in educational curricula. The passage of time, new world events take over, and history ends up blurred or less important to the here-and-now. The idea that history can repeat itself is largely fed by the idea that with passing generations so passes lessons learned from history. When the last Baby Boomer passes the lessons learned from the Vietnam War will start to fade into history.
Slavery in general, and slavery in the 300 years of Europeans in North America, is a long time in historical terms. Our own Civil War was a result of issues surrounding slavery. That’s a lot of years of oppression of blacks.. and persecution and oppression of native-Americans as a result of European application of infinite domain and ruthlessly removing “inferior” indigenous peoples. In my own lifetime, slavery having been abolished for a hundred years, institutionalized racial persecution was common… and much of that was relieved following the civil rights era. But there’s no question that individual racism exists, yet in my lifetime alone, with each passing generation, there’s improvement… but it is very slow because the generations have to come and go.
Given all that, the essence of my post here as it relates to that illustrated by the Northam photo.. is this rapid propensity to want to accuse and/or assign the term “racism” to seemingly insignificant verbal and/or written (or in this case, illustrative) communication. Whoa! Did I say insignificant!!? “You’re white and never suffered like African-Americans have with slavery and racial bigotry.. torture and death at the hands of racist fanatics.” Well, no I haven’t. But….. how many contemporary black Americans have experienced all that to a point where we have to guard our language for fear of being labeled a racist? A guy like Northam… elected into office.. gets publicly drawn and quartered and given the label “racist” because of a rather satirical-looking photo in a school year book 30 years ago.. and there’s no consideration for the man’s performance inside that 30 years since, in a professional career? Maybe the guy is a political klutz.. I don’t know his political service record or his performance… but so far no one has alluded to some political impropriety. He’s a Democrat.. so maybe there’s some politics going on in all this screaming of racism.
So he should resign… why? What is it that an enraged contemporary black American wants me to know how this photo relates the struggles of slavery and bigotry toward current blacks? It’s one thing to be culturally aware of a past collective struggles of class, religion, race, etc., but to assume that has a relevance in a day and age when those that lived to experience those struggles are a minority or have passed? Fellow Baby Boomers who are African-American who lived through the civil rights era, especially those who took part in the movement itself, and even those who are Vietnam vets, I respect with a measure of high esteem for many reasons, among which is having to have lived through those times and experienced the hardships and even death to friends and relatives in the process of bringing civil rights to the forefront of social awareness.
But likely the reason he “should” resign is far more because his public support, and political support, is making an issue of this.. and few political leaders in elected positions can get much done without some level of support. Legislative processes will stop, maybe get consumed in lengthy impeachment processes, government can slow down. In the end, whether the interpretation of that photo is right or wrong, whether his explanation, varied as it has has been, are convincing or not… whether his apology is credible or not, he’s lost public confidence. Chalk it up to bad timing combined with poor crisis management. Sticking around in some misguided Trumpian “fight it out” mentality just wastes time all around. Maybe he should just leave, lick his wounds… and if you can sell yourself in the future then run for office again.
Yet, as of this writing, Northam is actually wanting to stay long enough to prove he is not one of the two in that photo. Maybe that shifts his paradigm from fighting to stay in office in some stubborn affinity to fight, to staying in office just long enough to defend himself. An interesting approach these days given these are times when simply accusations of being racist or accused in some #MeToo context automatically means adios amigo from public office… and don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. It’s also a bit interesting to learn that Northam’s Lt. Governor, the guy who would take over should Northam resign, is a black fellow, Justin Fairfax, who himself is being accused of some 10 year old sexual assault. Let’s see how this comedy of errors unfolds.
There was a time where a person’s actions spoke louder than words. If we are in a time where words matter.. and photos… why isn’t this applied to public servants all the way to the top?
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