After Virginia Governor Ralph Northam apologized for appearing in a photograph that featured one person in blackface and another wearing a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood, I argued that he could best serve the public by resigning in a way that reaffirmed the hard-won stigma against white supremacy. Others calling for his resignation include Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Michael Bloomberg, Joe Biden, Eric Holder, the NAACP, the Virginia GOP, the Virginia House Democrats, Representatives Kevin McCarthy and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Al Sharpton.
An article published in The Nation went so far as to declare, “There Is No Argument for Ralph Northam to Keep His Job.” And it may seem that way within certain filter bubbles in American life. In reality, however, the controversy has prompted the publication and broadcast of many substantive dissents from the proposition that Northam ought to resign, grounded in a belief that our culture’s punitive policing of decades-old behavior is out of control.
Some would have us dismiss those dissents. “I’m pissed off that I have to write about the soon-to-be-former Virginia governor,” Elie Mystal declares in that Nation article:
It’s 2019 and I have actual work to do. There’s no way I should have to stop what I’m doing to join the ‘national conversation’ about why dressing up in blackface disqualifies you from a leadership position in society. They don’t make astrophysicists pause their search for a unified theory of gravity to convince an idiot cat to come down from a tree. The emotional labor this society puts on black people is exhausting. Nobody should have to waste time explaining why Doctor Blackface can’t have his career anymore, and black people shouldn’t be charged with administering the final dose of morphine to put Northam out of his misery.
But a majority of black Virginians disagree. A Washington Post poll conducted last week found that Virginians are evenly divided about whether their governor ought to resign, 47 percent to 47 percent, and that “Northam counts higher support among black residents—who say he should remain in office by a margin of 58 percent to 37 percent—than among whites, who are more evenly divided.”