Imagine responding to the doorbell some Halloween night, opening the front door and finding in front of you a youngster dressed as a Native American from the late 1700s, holding a doll smeared in blood.
“So, who are you?” “I’m a Shawnee warrior” he might respond, holding up a tomahawk also stained with red and proclaiming, “fresh back from a raid on settlers.”
Would you be shocked and offended? Chances are you would if you are either a white person with deep roots in this region or a Native American.
Or what if the trick-or-treater was dressed as a frontiersman, also holding a red-stained tomahawk and informing you he was a Revolutionary War militiaman coming home from Gnadenhutten, Ohio? Anyone with Native American blood in his or her veins would be nauseated by that.
So why do some white people think it’s acceptable to don white robes and hoods to portray Ku Klux Klan members “just in fun”? What’s funny about a gang of murderous thugs who, many decades ago, dedicated themselves to terrorizing black Americans — and often torturing and murdering them?
Ask Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam about all this. He’s in a fight for his political life as a result of a revelation last week.
Actually, he was involved in two controversies — but the first barely had time to get wound up before the second hit.
Early last week, Northam was asked his opinion on a bill in the Virginia General Assembly that would lessen restrictions on legal abortions, including those in the last three months of a pregnancy. Responding to a question about what would happen if a baby happened to survive a botched late-term abortion, Northam said, “the infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.” The italics are mine.
After critics accused the governor of endorsing infanticide, a spokesperson said he was doing no such thing but was merely “focused on the tragic and extremely rare case in which a woman with a nonviable pregnancy or severe fetal abnormalities went into labor.”
You be the judge of what Northam meant.
Days later, it was revealed that a page from the 1984 yearbook at the medical school Northam attended focused on him and included several photographs. One showed two people — one a white wearing blackface, the other in a KKK robe and hood.
At first, Northham apologized, saying he wasn’t certain which of the two was him. Later, he insisted he wasn’t in the photo at all and had no idea how it got on his page. He had never seen the yearbook, the governor claimed.
One wonders how such an objectionable portrayal of him could never have been called to Northam’s notice.
But one also wonders who at Eastern Virginia Medical School in 1984 thought such a picture was appropriate in a yearbook. Someone did.
It was no less objectionable than the two imaginary Halloween costumes mentioned above. Yet someone — perhaps a Virginia governor who got many African-American votes — thought it was worthy of a laugh.
Do we still have a race problem in America? What do you think?
Myer can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.