Northam forcing Virginia to confront its racist past: He needs to confront his own

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Ralph Northam, pushing Virginia to confront its racist past, announced today that the state will remove the memorial to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Monument Avenue in Richmond.

“That statue has been there a long time. But it was wrong then, and it’s wrong now. We’re taking it down,” Northam said today.

The statue has towered over Richmond since 1890, 25 years after the end of the Civil War, and its presence has been controversial for generations.

It has become a particular flashpoint in the past week as thousands have gathered nightly in Richmond to protest the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis.

The removal of the monument is a symbolic first step to respond to the call for racial equality in the wake of the Floyd murder.

That Northam is the one pushing the button on this is noteworthy considering his own personal issues with a racist past.

You can’t tell the story about Northam announcing the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument without mentioning the events of February 2019, when a conservative blogger published a photo from Northam’s medical school yearbook that featured two men in racist garb – blackface and a KKK costume.

After first acknowledging that he was in the photo, Northam backtracked and said he had been mistaken, that he wasn’t in the photo, and that’s been his story on the matter since.

The blackface controversy wasn’t the first for Northam, who had come under fire in 2017 during his run for governor after it came to light that his campaign had created flyers that omitted Justin Fairfax, an African-American running for lieutenant governor.

The Northam campaign explained that one away at the time by saying the flyers had been created for a labor union that wasn’t endorsing Fairfax.

You also can’t tell this story without noting that Northam has responded since those controversies by making racial justice a priority.

He’s put time and energy into repealing racially discriminatory language in the Virginia state code.

And he pushed for legislation this year to give localities the power to remove Confederate monuments, which you might remember was the source of contention that helped fuel the Charlottesville riots in 2017.

He’s tried to make amends.

He’s also still the guy who was quick to admit that he’d appeared either in blackface or a KKK costume in a yearbook photo.

He still hasn’t addressed the photo controversy since issuing the backtracking statement.

Northam is to be lauded for making Virginia confront its racist past.

His personal redemption will come when he confronts his own.

Story by Chris Graham

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