Governor Ralph Northam needs to step down

Zach Murphy, Contributing Writer

The history of the United States is one marred by past atrocities. Whether it is the institution of slavery, Jim Crow laws, or the rampant imperialist policies of the 19th and 20th centuries, America’s prior actions are by no means mere footnotes of the past. Recently, the past horrors of this nation came into the spotlight when a photo from Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook surfaced. The photo depicts two white students at what appears to be a party, one in blackface, another in a Ku Klux Klan outfit, holding beers and smiling for the camera. Within hours of the photo surfacing, calls from both the public and Virginia legislature for Northam’s resignation were made. While it may be appealing to cast off these calls as “too extreme,” the deeper one looks into the past and present, the clearer it becomes that Northam’s resignation is necessary.

 

For hundreds of years, black Americans have faced oppression from both government policies and grassroots groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan. Even today, the effects of this history are evident, as racial disparities in education, living conditions, and violence exist throughout the country. With this information in mind, it would make sense that, as Americans, our society needs to develop a zero-tolerance policy towards racism, regardless of when it took place. If the eventual goal of society is to be post-racial, then condoning the past racist acts of current government officials cannot be tolerated. This is not an issue surrounding the local cashier; this is an issue about a person who represents over eight million people, 20 percent of whom–according to the U.S. Census Bureau–are black.

 

With our nation’s history in mind, Northam’s actions stand in contrast with what we as a society strive for. By allowing Northam to remain in office, we normalize the blatant racism of our past, giving it a pass because of the large time gap between then and now. Not only do we embolden white privilege as well as harmful black stereotypes, but we also say to the black community that their views about racism and this issue do not matter, placing the reputation of Northam above the concerns of black Virginians–and black Americans as a whole. This is not to say that removing Northam from office will cure America of racism or alleviate tension between different demographic communities, but giving him a pass will end up doing more harm than good.

 

To be clear, this is not a partisan issue. There appears to be a great deal of discussion, especially in news outlets such as The New York Times, about how the Democrats should handle this, or what this means for the Democratic party in Virginia. This issue goes beyond Republican or Democrat; it is one that every American should confront sincerely. By relegating this to the Democratic party, one dismisses the weight of this issue, treating race relations–as well as the problem of racism–as being exclusive to politics. By ignoring party lines and uniting under the banner of anti-racism, our society can hopefully move in a more progressive direction; one that holds the values of equality and social justice in high regards, not simply as tools of political advancement.

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