Ralph Northam’s Blackface Shows How Far America Has Come In Race Relations


It’s probably true that no one in the mid 1980s should have been wearing blackface – it was a bit archaically racist even then. And of course no one should have been dressing up in Klan outfits – Robert Byrd was already in the Senate. However, we do seem to be having something of a logic failure in the public reactions to those photographs of maybe or maybe not Northam at college. For they are not a sign that America suffers from some dreadful problem concerning race relations. They might show that it did but then we’re pretty sure we already know that it did.

The state of race relations in America today is being shown by the current reactions to those revelations about the past. And other than among Democrats who rather like their elected Democrat there’s nothing being said or done which shows race relations as anything other than entirely ticketty boo. Everyone is indeed upset about it, agrees that it should not happen today. The only disagreements anywhere – other than among those just defending their man for party political reasons – are about whether we should judge the past by the standards of today or not.

Fairly obviously, today should be judged by the standards of today and they seem rather robust really. Thus this is wrong:

In the wake of a firestorm surrounding Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, civil rights leaders and political experts expect others will also be called to task for racially insensitive actions from their past – but they noted the controversy shows how far the nation has to go to heal its thorny history on race relations. “We still have much work to do. We are far from the concept of a post-racial society,” said Derrick Johnson, president of the national NAACP. “Individuals and political parties have used race as a tool. The overarching question for us as a nation is: When are we going to address it – the issue of intolerance and racism and not seek to sweep it under a rug that can never cover it up?” Johnson, along with other civil rights leaders and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, have been quick to call for Northam, a Democrat, to resign after a picture emerged from his yearbook page of a person in blackface and another wearing a Ku Klux Klan robe.

Well, when are we going to address it? We have, obviously enough. Everyone does agree that those sorts of things today would be entirely outside any possible version of civil discourse. No one would be able to do that and still be part of any viable political party. A couple of decades back it might have been mildly frowned upon, decades before that positively approved of. But today?

Quite, we seem to have dealt with it rather well. We’ve certainly zeroed in upon a new and not racist in that manner set of public behaviours. Great, it’s done then.

That is, the Ralph Northam fuss shows how far we’ve all come about race relations, not how much further we’ve got to go.

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Of course, however, a central part of “identity politics” is that past racial injustices, real and imagined, never, that is not ever, can be relegated to history and are always available and handy for a certain part of the population to use to marginalize, degrade and shun others while expressing the justice/fairness/inevitability of the accusing parties to now receive special treatment.