Virginia’s Governor Northam Getting the Franken Treatment

By Karen

Virginia’s knickers are in a knot since Big League Politics, a conservative website, revealed that Governor Ralph Northam has a photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook showing two unnamed guys having a beer, one in blackface and one a hooded KKKer.

It’s like watching a replay of the Senator Al Franken (D-MN) lynching over a photo of his hands hovering above a woman’s breasts as a joke.

Big League says it got a tip from a “concerned” citizen and former Northam classmate who was motivated by Northam’s willingness to revise Virginia’s law on late-term abortions. (Northam was a pediatric neurologist before getting into politics.)

The story broke on Friday evening, February 1. Northam, who didn’t own that yearbook, issued an immediate knee-jerk apology before even seeing the photo.

By Saturday morning, Northam had been shown the photo and couldn’t remember being in it. He did recall wearing blackface playing Michael Jackson for a dance contest that same year.

But many prominent Democrats had spent all night binging at the GOP’s orange Kool-Aid stand and started screaming for Northam to resign, including Virginia’s two senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, and Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and most of the Democratic presidential candidates (don’t get me started on the hypocrisy of Kirsten Gillibrand).

Remember, we’re talking about Virginia 1984. I was born and raised up north, but I came to Virginia in 1972 and have always felt some racial undercurrent. It was finally brought to light after the mass shooting in a black South Carolina church raised questions about this whole eternal Confederate allegiance thing.

You can’t separate the South from the Civil War, and Northam was born here.

CBS News also uncovered that Northam had the nickname “Coonman” listed in his Virginia Military Institute yearbook. Strike two.

Mocking and persecuting races is unconscionable. Period. But given that Trump spews racist garbage like a fire hose to keep his base’s bigotry roiling and nobody does anything to stop it, I don’t think Northam should be drawn and quartered over a 35-year-old photo whose origin he questions, especially since he’s long proven himself to be a progressive Democrat with no discriminatory agenda.

What’s infuriating is seeing Democrats take the GOP bait AGAIN. Wasn’t sacrificing Franken enough?

Northam will probably end up resigning because it’s hard to govern through tar and feathers. Democrats are drooling to have Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax step in and take over. He happens to be black. The optics would be wonderful.

I think Democrats’ time would be better spent focused on ejecting the raving racist from the White House and white supremacist Steve King (R-IA) from Congress. How about fighting GOP efforts to rig elections by gerrymandering, discriminating against and disenfranchising black voters?

If Democrats don’t stop caving over stupid stuff, they can be sure the GOP won’t stop at Northam’s scalp.

I’m sure bottom-feeding conservatives can find in old southern yearbooks Confederate flags, blackface and KKK homages galore. If you were white and grew up down here, you were marinated in Civil War atrocities inflicted on your ancestors and you didn’t lose any sleep over slavery. Richmond’s Monument Avenue still has all its magnificent statues of Confederate generals intact.

I don’t mind leaving the statues there, by the way. They’re part of history and have no significance unless you can’t find enough injustice happening today to fester over. They’re like Ralph Northam’s old yearbooks. Irrelevant relics of the past.

Democrats have given the GOP a taste of blood. If Governor Northam can be destroyed so easily with a whiff of something rotten, there’s plenty more where that came from. Then the GOP can just sit back, sip their orange Kool-Aid, and watch Dems devour each other.

29 Responses to Virginia’s Governor Northam Getting the Franken Treatment

  1. bassgirl23 says:

    This story has received a lot of play in Canada, and we’ve been watching closely. At first I had no idea which party Northam belonged to, but given the initial outbursts on Twitter from the Dems I just assumed he was a Republican. I was surprised when I read more.

    I have no idea what Northam is like as a politician or a person, but my initial reaction on seeing the picture was an eye roll and “what an idiot”. I was still in high school in the 80’s, but even then most of us knew that blackface and white hoods were not appropriate (and why). Did ignorant kids still do stuff like that, not really understanding why it would be offensive? Of course. He just happened to have his stupidity immortalized in his med school yearbook. That says something both about his judgment and that of the entire yearbook staff involved, but those actions are also being judged in the current climate, and not in the context of what was (for better or worse) acceptable at that time. We know better now – or at least, hopefully, enough of us do that we continue to learn and to move away from that behaviour. But the bigger question is, how do we show that we’ve moved forward?

    Northam should have known there was at least the possibility of these kinds of photos turning up. He could have come out in front of the issue (starting with when he ran for office) and acknowledged that yes, he made some stupid and ignorant decisions in his past – but now he knows better, he’s sorry for what he’s done, and most importantly, explain why (and how) he’s tried to atone for it. But he’s said very little, and now it looks like he’s on the defensive.

    We can’t change the past, but a bit more self-awareness, humility and meaningful actions (not just reflexive apologies or denials) from those who participated in these racist activities would go a long way to making those (rightfully) offended feel that there is at least a willingness to change, and that there’s now a climate to encourage others to do so as well. If that includes removing statues which are a daily reminder of these injustices, particularly to those who were discriminated against, then maybe we should consider doing so – not to say that it never happened, but to acknowledge that we now understand how keeping them could be seen as an implicit endorsement of what those statues represent.

  2. bamboo.skewer says:

    This is the first time I disagree with you, vehemently. This is inexcusable:

    Minimizing it as a “joke” is part of the problem women face. In addition, other women accused Franken of groping them.

    I didn’t want to lose a Democrat Senator. But I’m not sure the accusations were unwarranted in Franken’s case, unfortunately.

    I don’t know enough about the Virginia governor to be granted an opinion about his situation. IMHO. His admission and then a denial is concerning. Is he showing typical narcissist behaviors? Or was he mistaken in an original admission? Hell if I know. I’m not him. I am also now very confused by CNN’s story about LBJ and Abraham Lincoln being openly racist, despite their support for major advancements for black people. I didn’t know about that. I don’t know what to think now. Do you keep someone in office because they might be in a position to support civil rights, despite previous racist actions? This is a fucked up world.

  3. catsworking says:

    bassgirl, I’m surprised this story has traveled all the way to Canada. Northam was a product of his upbringing in rural Virginia. I can’t emphasize enough how steeped in the Civil War Virginia is, and how deep the butt-hurt runs over the outcome. I thought they went on about it too much back in the 1970s and how it’s been DECADES and they still dredge it up. Hardly a day goes by in the local paper where they don’t find SOMETHING to report on the freaking CIVIL WAR!

    I’ve been told that high school history classes used to spend a whole YEAR studying the Civil War. I don’t know if that’s still the case. And the slant wasn’t how pointless and racist the war was. It was more like you’d see in Gone With the Wind. The noble southerners fighting to the death for their righteous way of life (owning people as slaves). The Glorious Cause.

    In my northern schools, Civil War was one chapter. I never saw a statue anywhere of any Civil War figure. Here, blackface, KKK, Confederate flag, all that stuff just went with the territory until fairly recently when the whole country started to turn around and realize how ridiculous it is.

    Where Northam made his biggest mistake was apologizing before he even knew what photo he was talking about. Backtracking looked worse than a flat “that wasn’t me” from the beginning.

    The Richmond paper had a bit today from a man who worked on the yearbook layout. A bunch of students did it in their spare time. He said students could submit 3 photos for their page in a sealed envelope. I don’t think they had any say over the captions, and they weren’t able to see or approve the final layout before it went to print. The photos would then be put back in the envelope and returned.

    The editor of the yearbook has been laying low and nobody can reach her. She might know if it were possible to mix up photos. Northam has said classmates have told him photos were mixed up. But, of course, no one has stepped forward to say they are in the photo.

    What Northam is up against is classmates who are all probably doctors today. They have their own reputations and practices to protect, so they’re not sticking their necks out for him when racial issues are so touchy.

    I voted for Northam and he hasn’t done anything as governor or in previous positions that would indicate any racist tendencies. I think it’s sad that so many Democrats pounced on him with immediate judgment before all the facts are out. I think he will be forced out and his political career will be over. He has been progressive and I will miss him.

    The only bright spot in all this is that the lieutenant governor who’s next in line is also a Democrat, so the GOP gained nothing there. He’ll get 2 years now, and then he can run on his own for 4 more. Virginia usually limits the governor to one 4-year term. So if this new guy is good, we could have him for 6 years.

  4. catsworking says:

    bamboo, I agree with you that this is a fucked up world. I am in the minority in thinking Northam is getting a raw deal, for sure. I want to know where all the outrage is over Steve King and Trump. Why isn’t everyone screaming for them to resign? They actively, deliberately stoke racial hatred NOW with hate speech. If Northam’s in that photo, that’s not what he was trying to do 35 years ago. He was being an idiot with poor judgment at a party.

    Our thinking has become so black and white (the colors, not racially) on so many issues. It’s either all good or all bad. There’s no gray area. That relieves us of all responsibility to think and reason. Just praise or condemn. Don’t bother trying to understand.

    Weinstein licked AA’s crotch and she calls him a rapist. What about the guy with the hard-on who presses up against you on a subway? Is he a rapist? The guy who flashes you? Rapist? To say yes diminishes women who survived the real trauma of actual rape.

    Franken wasn’t touching the woman. To call him a groper is to diminish women who were actually man-handled. I agree what Franken did wasn’t a joke, but being funny was his misguided intent. To destroy his whole productive political career over that was throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I blame Kirsten Gillibrand for Franken. She saw her chance to knock off a possible competitor for president and went after him with both feet.

    If the Democrats keep doing this to themselves, there won’t be anyone left but Republican pervs.

    If I really wanted to play devil’s advocate on Northam, I could say that a picture of a faux “black guy” and a Klan guy smiling and having beers together shows how much the South had healed and the picture was really a positive thing. Now, that’s ridiculous. But this stuff can be twisted in many directions.

    We’re headed down a slippery slope with this instant condemnation of every single freaking piece of dirt we can dig up on somebody.

    This picture of Northam has been sitting out there since well before he got into politics. It only came out now because he pissed off somebody who doesn’t like his position on late-term abortion. The anti-abortionists are painting it as murdering fully-formed babies for fun. Northam sees it as helping women who have to make heart-breaking decisions about babies born with HUGE problems that make them unlikely to survive or have a reasonable quality of life. He’s a pediatrician, for God’s sake. It’s not like he hates babies.

  5. muller says:

    That northam stuff made the BBC news here in UK. i don’t know why, nobody’s ever heard of him.
    and now there’s Liam Neeson in the news! my fellow countryman. we’ll see how that plays out. of course twitter is in meltdown. he said to the journo if you’re gonna use this show the context. having listened to the full audio I have no concerns. he was an idiot and admitted it and said he was ashamed and it was years ago.
    for a take on your old pals AA & RMG there’s somebody on twitter called leah mcsweeney who wrote an article for penthouse on the metoo thing. the article is linked to in her pinned ie always on view, tweet.

  6. catsworking says:

    muller, I’ve seen whiffs of something about Liam Neeson, but haven’t tracked down what’s going on. Sounds like he said some stupid racist shit?

    We really need to start drawing a line on these victimless “crimes.” If it involved generalities and no person was actually physically attacked or harmed, it happened ages ago, and the perp is remorseful about it now and has not continued to repeat the mistake, then let it go. Otherwise, we’re running around tracking down every stupid thing anybody ever did and destroying the rest of their life over it.

    Now, Virginia’s black lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, who would replace Northam, is accused of forcing a woman to give him a blow job in 2004 at the Democratic Convention in Boston. He was outed by the same website that went after Northam. There’s no corroboration of anything. He said it was consensual and she later asked to meet him in New York to introduce him to her mother. Who knows?

    Rumor is circulating that Northam’s people gave the story to the GOP site to get the heat off hims, which is preposterous.

    What I see is that the GOP is in full attack mode against Virginia to topple all our Democratic leaders and negate our last election in which they lost bigly, and they’ll seize any dirt they can find. Instead of crumbling and pointing fingers at each other, the Dems need to circle the wagons and tell the GOP, “We’re not perfect either, but we’re not letting you shame us and you need to fuck off.”

    Leah McSweeney wrote the article on “Toxic Femininity” using AA and RMG as examples shortly after Bourdain’s death. I’ve watched her on a few podcasts with another woman whose name escapes me talking about the same thing.

  7. muller says:

    it falls under “no person was actually physically attacked or harmed, it happened ages ago (40 years to be exact), and the perp is remorseful about it now and has not continued to repeat the mistake…” and see this from DM

  8. muller says:

    Liam and I were born in the same town. one of us went on to have a successful career, the other became an actor 🙂

  9. catsworking says:

    muller, thanks for that link. Yup, it sounds like Neeson said something incredibly stupid based on what he learned growing up, he knows he was wrong, and we need to let it go.

    One more tidbit from the Northam situation from today’s paper. EVMS, the medical school he attended, hired a diversity officer at some point, who found a photo in the yearbook — in 2013 — of three white guys posing in Confederate uniforms in front of a Confederate flag. The president of the school banned yearbooks going forward, but said he didn’t think to go back and look at older ones to see how racist they were.

    The Civil War runs DEEP here and people who grew up on it can feel there’s absolutely nothing wrong with displaying its symbols. They say they’re extolling the brave ancestors who fought for states’ rights, which is how they were taught (not for the actual wrong-headed cause of slavery) and it has nothing to do with slavery or dissing blacks. Black people see it much differently. I don’t think it will ever be resolved until another generation dies off and they teach it honestly, and without undue emphasis on how the South was “wronged,” in schools to the next generations.

  10. muller says:

    i know zero about your civil war. we were schooled in WWs1&2, english history, irish history in a thoroughly boring fashion. i’m sure today’s kids are taught with exciting hi-tech methods. however i shall educate myself on the civil war! my impression, perhaps unfairly, from recent events is that the confederate supporters are a bunch of trump supporting rednecks, although not all supporters of trump are rednecks or “bad people”. a lot of them just didn’t want HRC or anything like her.

  11. catsworking says:

    muller, you’re right in that people who still cling to the Confederacy tend to support Trump. Virginia was the only state in the South that Trump didn’t win.

    The South didn’t like losing its slaves after the Civil War, and the defeated whites got back by keeping the now-free black people separate in the belief that they were “inferior.” This lasted into the 1960s when the Civil Rights movement finally gained traction.

    To this day, there are people who think the war’s outcome (freeing the slaves) was wrong and the only good people are white people. That’s why Trump the unabashed racist appeals to them. He makes it OK to hate blacks and other races again. And you’re right. The ones who aren’t ignorant rednecks just hated Hillary.

    My favorite history classes were the ones about European history, kings and queens. I found American history very boring. And we have relatively little of it, since we only became a country in 1776. The first time I went to Europe (England) and visited cathedrals with kings and queens dead a thousand years, I realized Americans are just babies, relatively.

  12. muller says:

    i couldn’t get into the kings and queens stuff. I blame the teaching method though. such a duill teacher. Bought a huge book on ann boleyn a while ago but found it tough going. if you like Henry 8th and his shenanigans watch the first class Wolf Hall series (BBC) from the books by Hilary Mantel. Brings it all to life.

  13. muller says:

    Uh-oh the Virginia att general in trouble now

  14. catsworking says:

    muller, I DID watch Wolf Hall and loved it. I’m a big fan of miniseries and movies about English history But I recently saw The Favourite about Queen Anne and hated it. Olivia Colman was great as the queen and deserves an Oscar, but the lesbian triangle plot left me cold and I’m baffled as to why they’re calling it a comedy.

    When I visited England at age 17, one of our excursions was to Windsor, and I remember walking through the St. George’s Chapel and being stunned to stand over the tomb of Henry VIII. I think they told us his third wife, Jane Seymour, was down there with him, and one of Queen Anne’s babies. That’s how I remember it.

    We also visited Westminster but couldn’t see the tomb of Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, because the room they were in (ironically) together was being renovated. Many years later I went back and it seemed the whole place had been rearranged. Elizabeth was certainly in a different spot. I don’t remember where they put Mary.

    Right now I’m watching Victoria on Masterpiece, but she’s one of my least favorites monarchs (except when played by Judi Dench), and I think Albert was an absolute drip, good for nothing but pouting and getting her pregnant.

  15. catsworking says:


    This guy is third in line to be governor. It’s exactly what I’ve been saying about people in the South and this shit. The better question to ask these guys is, “Who DIDN’T wear blackface at some point in your life?”

    Today the Richmond paper ran a full page of letters to the editor, most in favor of Northam remaining governor, but some still distorting his stance on late-term abortion. Trump even took a swipe at Northam about it without naming him in the State of the Union speech.

    As Democrats begin to realize there’s going to be no one left if they stick with this silly absolute zero tolerance of EVERYTHING attitude, they’re coming around to my way of thinking that it’s all relative.

  16. muller says:

    I haven’t seen the favourite and have no interest. Olivia is superb in the acerbic Fleabag (BBC) the actress/writer in which did some big prog on US TV. Phoebe something. Fleabag is amazing.

  17. catsworking says:

    muller, I’ve seen the first season a Fleabag. Don’t remember much about it, but I did like it, and I see there’s a new season coming. Don’t remember Olivia Colman in it. My favorite role for her was in Broadchurch.

    I watch a LOT of British TV. Right now I’m just getting Season 8 of Doc Martin. And I recently went through all of Upstart Crow, which is hilarious. Also enjoy Father Brown. Any show set in a time that predates cellphones so they aren’t texting everything are my favorites. I have to pause the TV, get up and walk across the room to read the damn texts.

  18. Ida says:

    Hi Karen,
    I’m so happy I found your blog, even though it was for the sad reason of AB’s death that I sought it out in the first place. Though that’s still upsetting, the silver-lining (sort of) is that you write so informatively about what’s happening in American politics at the moment and I feel like I’m learning a lot from reading your blog. So thank you for that.

  19. muller says:

    Olivia was the painter/sculptress partner of the main character’s father, scottish guy. She was so patronising and middle-class smug. typical guardian reader. i watch hardly any telly but fleabag was on catch-up so caught it one night and was immediately hooked, much to my surprise. try Line of duty for your next brit TV experience and watch in sequence! i hear broadchurch is good.

  20. catsworking says:

    Oh, Ida, thank you so much for the kind words. Virginia politics is a total mess at the moment. Now our top THREE guys, all Democrats, are in the soup for either wearing blackface in college or having a hookup 14 years ago that caused the woman to have, apparently, much belated “BJ remorse,” if anyone can believe what anybody involved says.

    At first, when it was only the Governor Northam, everyone was screaming for his head. But now that it’s all three, who would step in when the governor resigns, and the next in line is a Republican, people aren’t being quite so judgy. When I wrote this post about Northam, nobody was cutting him any slack, but the tide is already turning and I suspect no one will resign (well, maybe the next in line, the lieutenant governor, if it’s found he committed sexual assault).

    I think the world is finding out just how racially insensitive the South has always been, even among people who don’t walk around waving Confederate flags. When it comes to blackface, I don’t think they really thought there was anything terribly wrong with it.

  21. catsworking says:

    muller, I found Fleabag on Amazon Prime. Now that you describe Olivia, it’s coming back to me. I really like her in anything she does.

    My problem is that I find these shows and binge-watch them several episodes a night, and then forget them as soon as I’m finished. It’s not like the good old days where you got one episode a week and it had a chance to sink in.

    Broadchurch was so good, they also made an American version of it. I think the British one ran for three seasons. I’ll be on the lookout for Line of Duty. Right now I’m catching up on The Orville, which is sort of a humorous homage to Star Trek. Next will probably be season 8 of Doc Martin, which is being shown weekly here right now.

  22. muller says:

    ive heard of doc martin but not seen it. the main actor is a TV staple over here. i think it’s set in somerset or bristol or somewhere,i might try finding it on catch-up. try inspector morse sometime, old stuff from the ’90s. no need to watch in sequence.

  23. catsworking says:

    OMG I LOVE Doc Martin. Martin Clunes is the actor. I’ll watch anything he’s in. You have to watch that series in order. It’s filmed in Cornwall, but they call the little village Port Wenn. It’s idyllic.

    I’ve never seen Inspector Morse.

    Very sad that Clive Swift of Keeping Up Appearances died last week. My sister met him at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh one year, found a used copy of the book “Hyacinth” wrote with the series’ name, and he wrote me a full page note on the front page. I keep meaning to reread it, because I don’t remember what he said. My sister said he was considered curmudgeonly and seemed kind of lonely, but for some reason he took a shine to her. He was doing a one-man show there.

  24. muller says:

    Clive yeah, sad. Cornwall’s really nice so I might watch that. I’m due a return visit one of these days.
    Morse is great, set in Oxford and surroundings. Episodes around 90 minutes + long. murder mystery stuff. There’s an offshoot called Lewis, also good.

  25. Donna says:

    Karen I didn’t know you were UK TV fan! I love Doc Martin,Father Brown,Upstart Crow,Keeping Up Appearances ,Midsomer Murders. My all time favorite has to be Foyles War. I keep my UK channel on all day,thank you PBS! And if you liked Fleabag,check out Game Face(I watch it on Hulu) the comedienne Roisin McConaty(sp) is too funny for words. One of the best escapist binges EVER

  26. muller says:

    If you like midsomer murders youll love inspector morse episodes available on YouTube

  27. muller says:

    Apparently available here

  28. bamboo.skewer says:

    About the Confederate flag, I admit I now get a knee-jerk reaction when someone supports it. I see it as a symbol of racism, or pining after a world that would look the other way at racist behaviors. Am I wrong in that?

    I’ve lived my whole life in Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois. The Civil War is never EVER a thought here. We heard about it in school, very distant memories of that. It was like, “huh” and a shrug. Move on to today’s times. I do think we need to pay attention to history so we don’t repeat it. But it seems hanging on to the Civil War is for reasons other than not repeating the tensions.

    Anyway. I’ve seen people who grew up in the south who now live here in the Midwest, defending the Confederate flag. They say it’s a symbol of culture and it’s been hijacked. Heck if I know. Are they tone deaf? Or am I jumping to a knee-jerk reaction?

    There are all kinds of symbols that have been hijacked and even if they once had more innocent meanings, you have to think long and hard before you use the symbol. Like the swastika. You see it all over India, flipped backwards from how the Nazis use it. It’s not a bad thing in India. But you can bet you’ll never see even the India version in my house! I don’t want to risk any misunderstandings. You’d think people in the north would have the same caution about the Confederate flag.

  29. catsworking says:

    bamboo, you are spot on. I went to school in Massachusetts, Ohio, and New Jersey. We studied the Civil War in no greater depth than any other war, and it never came up in conversation. Ever.

    But come down South and you’ll find all the battlefields lovingly preserved so they can hold re-enactments on them. Plaques all over the place commemorating events that happened on those spots. Richmond still has the building that housed the capital of the Confederacy. I worked for many years in downtown Richmond and don’t believe I have ever laid eyes on it. Or, if I have, I didn’t realize what it was.

    And then there’s Monument Avenue with the statues of Lee and Stonewall Jackson, most notably, with other lesser generals sprinkled around town.

    The way I see it, the South has never been able to face and accept the shame of why they really fought (slavery), so they have “whitewashed” it. The economy was mostly agricultural, and may not have been able to survive without slave labor, so they were fighting for their livelihood, even though how they earned it was wrong.

    I think the slant given in Southern schools that the war was over “states’ rights” to do whatever they wanted, de-emphasizing the part that what they wanted was to enslave human beings. The belief that white men were better than black was accepted as a fact of life. And still is, with some people.

    People who defend the Confederate flag and say it stands for their “heritage” have a bit of a point. Yes, they want to honor ancestors who bravely went to war and fought for their way of life. But their way of life was WRONG because it depended on keeping a race of people in slavery.

    And so it goes round and round in circles. The Confederate flag is a symbol of the Civil War, it’s been hijacked by white supremacists to perpetuate the lie that black people are inferior, which should offend everybody. As a consequence, like the swastika, it should have no place in this country except in museums.

    With me, anybody who displays or defends the Confederate flag outs themselves as racist. Period.

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