Mara Gay is a member of The New York Times' editorial board, and she had a word or two to say about the clusterf*ck going on in Virginia at the moment. The trifecta (or trif*ckta, a word I just invented this minute) involves two of the top three state officials having donned Blackface in the 1980s. Governor Ralph Northam was outed last week by Breitbart spawn, Big League Politics. The same right-wing propaganda organization dug up the allegations of sexual assault against Virginia's Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax. Before they had the chance to get their claws into the third in the line of succession, Attorney General Mark Herring, he came forward with his own past racist behavior, reflected in an incident from 1980 in which HE, TOO wore Blackface.
This, as so much of today's news, has unraveled so quickly, it's been rare to see a person cut right to the heart of Gov. Northam's colossal failure and how to heal. Mara Gay did that when she visited Andrea Mitchell's show on Thursday. It was immensely instructive and frankly, a bit of a relief. Primarily, she outlined the vast difference in the ways Gov. Northam and AG Herring handled their respective histories of having worn Blackface, and why Herring's was the example for people to follow.
I actually was so impressed by his statement, taking full responsibility for the one time he said that he wore blackface. Of course there's nothing acceptable about blackface, it's horrible. But you know what, he said in his statement it was the most painful, shameful moment in his life. And he talked about having to spend the past 40 years to make up for that and do so genuinely by taking responsibility publicly and by working toward racial justice. That's what you want to hear, because I will tell you right now there is not a single American who does not have some share in an inheritance we all have of our country's painful racial history. So the question is, what do we do about that, how do we ask for forgiveness, how do we forgive. And there's a real opportunity to have a conversation when someone comes forward and takes personal responsibility the way he did. I thought it showed immense public courage.
Andrea Mitchell asked her how to justify pressing Northam to step down, but not Herring, and also how people should approach the sexual assault allegations against Fairfax. Gay wanted to focus on the issue of racism and Blackface, though, because as she put it, we keep avoiding it. We keep trying to hide our racism, hoping it won't come out or running when it does. We (as in white people) keep making excuses after it's been discovered (Oh, it was more COMMON back then. Not TABOO like it is now...can't people GROW?) We need to stop doing that. One way to do that, as I argued in a previous article about Northam, is to be up front about these things immediately, and be willing to accept the consequences. We do not get to choose our consequences. We need to listen to the people who have been harmed, and accept their guidance about what constitutes true reparation and healing. As Gay pointed out, this is exactly the way Herring chose to handle it.
The offense is not just the blackface. The offense is what you do and how you respond once you've been confronted with a mistake that you've made. And, you know, stretching back to Watergate, I don't have to tell any of you, sometimes the coverup is worse than the crime. And truly, you know, people make mistakes in public life. And i'm not talking about the sexual assault allegations here. I'm talking about the Blackface. People make mistakes in public life. What you do when you're confronted with that really does matter. I mean, lots of people make mistakes. It's up to the people of Virginia, certainly not me, to decide whether this is forgivable. And even -- Mark Herring even said that, "I don't know if I'm even worthy of forgiveness." That's the right way to handle this. Whether or not he survives is a different conversation. But it would be really nice if instead of just piling on, we took an opportunity as a country to have a real conversation about all of our history, shared history on race. And we keep avoiding that conversation. And I think that's why this keeps happening.
"I don't know if I'm even worthy of forgiveness." Let that sink in. THAT is the bar that should be set.