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Archive for February, 2019

Will All Black Face Wearing Politicians Stand?

Wednesday, February 6th, 2019

VA AG Mark Herring- Creative Commons

In the few days since we discovered that VA Governor Ralph Northam wore black face in a 1984 medical school year book photo while standing next to a costumed KKK member, VA Attorney General Mark Herring admits to wearing black face in college. Herring apologized.

As an African American, I know this racist problem is something that is not indicative of just Virginia politicians, Democrats or Republicans. It is indicative of white America. While many white Americans may not have worn black face, many still do not understand the pain it causes for many African Americans. And the racial backlash against African Americans continues today, without one having to wear black face.

The fact that whites believe it is appropriate to post photos wearing black face whether in college, medical school or elsewhere shows the race divide in America. These photos cut to the core of emotional pain for many African Americans. While for many white Americans, wearing black face is hilarity at the expense of Blacks.

Megan Kelly was fired from the Today show because she commented that she saw nothing wrong with wearing black face. Obviously, she was not alone in her thinking. VA Governor Ralph Northam faces resignation calls by nearly every politician except former Congressman Jim Web (D.VA).

Just as sexual harassment was once common place in the work place and elsewhere, it was never acceptable to women. Likewise, wearing black face may have been acceptable in certain white circles, it was never acceptable to African Americans. Just as women are not being too sensitive about sexual assaults, blacks are not being too sensitive about racism in America.

White actors and musicians during the time of slavery and up to an including into the 1900’s would cover their faces in black dye and create stereotypical and racist portrayals of slaves and African Americans. The representations would show blacks as being inferior to whites, being sub- intelligent with a low IQ and being less than human, childlike and acting like buffoons. The white Black faced actors and musicians played parts and sang in ways to dehumanize and ridicule African Americans, making them the butt of jokes for white audiences. These portrayals were funny to whites but degrading to African Americans.

For those who miss the racial tone of black face, consider the fact that many African Americans dress up in costume on occasion disguised as white persons. Most Blacks do not feel the need to smear white shoe polish on their faces in caricature. There is an undeniable racist element to black face.

There is nothing illegal about the use of Black face by white Americans. However, to many African Americans, it amounts to a betrayal by those politicians who they believed to be an ally on race issues. On a grading scale, the black face by Herring does not rise to the level of Ralph Northam’s photo complete with KKK member. However, we don’t need to give grades for racially insensitive and racist photographs. What we need are discussions.

Both Herring and Northam’s depictures of black face show the real need for discussions on race in America and white privileged thinking. Former Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking during Black History month in 2009, said that we are a “nation of cowards” on issues involving race. We never see the need to discuss race until the next event occurs. And then we punt on it until the next event. I suspect the same will be true of these incidences.

Maybe it’s time for all politicians who used Black face, laughed while someone else used black face or ever thought about using black face step forward. And maybe, it’s time to begin the race discussion in earnest. Like talking to your child about sex, it’s a very difficult topic to discuss. The race discussion is a necessary albeit a difficult and painful one.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is an attorney and former prosecutor. She appears regularly in the media on topics of law and politics intersecting at race and gender.

My Top Ten Wishes (Satirical) For the Fake SOTU

Tuesday, February 5th, 2019

Donald Trump, Public Domain

Donald Trump gives his second State of the Union Address (“SOTU”) tonight. I look forward to the Democratic rebuttal to be given by Stacey Abrams. Abrams who ran for governor of Georgia is the new face of the Democratic party.

Black women have supported the Democratic party by overwhelmingly voting in higher numbers than any other group in 2016, 2012 and 2008. Yet, the Democrats have often ignored Black women while trying to win back those whites who left the Democratic party beginning with President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960’s and have yet to return.

As I look forward to hearing Stacey Abrams tonight, I also wanted to share my satirical top ten wishes for the fake SOTU. In my David Letterman voice, here goes the top ten in reverse order beginning with number 10.

10. The wall becomes a non-issue and all federal government workers rejoice without the threat of a pending shutdown hanging over them.

9. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg arrives in her workout attire and begins her workout with her trainer on the House floor.

8. No Democrats show up for the SOTU except Speaker Nancy Pelosi who remains to protect the House.

7. Trump accidently takes a truth serum before giving the speech and provides special counsel Robert Mueller with everything he needs to indict Trump. Trump doesn’t realize he is speaking the truth for the first time in his life as he begins talking to the American people for over one hour.

6. Senator Mitch McConnell apologizes to the American people for failing to do his job during the Trump regime and hastily resigns.

5. While Trump is still speaking, armed FBI agents arrive to arrest and take Jared Kushner, Donald Trump, Jr. and Ivanka Trump to an undisclosed location. Melania Trump, Baron Trump, Tiffaney Trump remain listening to Trump finish his speech.

4. Vice President Pence goes into hiding after the speech begins which may implicate him in Trump’s doings.

3. Trump resigns. Mic drops.

2. Speaker Nancy Pelosi ends the SOTU with the gavel sounding marking the beginning of her presidency.

1. A new day begins in America on Tuesday, February 5, 2019 with the end of the Trump era/regime.

If only fiction could become fact.

Ralph Northam’s Photo Makes My Blood Boil

Monday, February 4th, 2019

Ralph Northam inauguration – creative commons

This Black History month marks 400 years since Blacks were forcibly brought to America. It started  with Virginia Governor Ralph Northam defending a 1984 racist black face photo standing next to a KKK member in his medical school yearbook page. As an African American, this photo makes my blood boil.

Virginia Governor Northam is the latest white person to be caught in a racist compromising position. When Northam first spoke about his predicament, he manned up. He stated that the photo was “clearly racist and offensive.” But then he flip- flopped to his current position—denying that he is in the photo. That position evolved apparently as many politicians called for his resignation.

To those many persons who are clueless about whites in black face, I suggest that you use the month of February to read up on it. White actors and musicians during the time of slavery and up to an including into the 1900’s would cover their faces in black dye and create stereotypical and racist portrayals of slaves and African Americans. The representations would show blacks as being inferior to whites, being sub- intelligent with a low IQ and being less than human and childlike. The Black face actors and musicians played parts and sang in ways to dehumanize and ridicule African Americans, making them the butt of jokes for white audiences. These portrayals were funny to whites but degrading to African Americans.

In Northam’s case, the 1984 yearbook photo was the same portrayal as earlier Black face actors. It was likely humorous to his white friends but appalling and disgusting to African Americans. Northam’s depiction goes even farther. It shows a white man in Black face standing next to a KKK member. How did he ever think that was humorous and not racist? Even if Northam was not well versed on Black history, the photo speaks volumes of what he really thought about African Americans over 30 years ago. The only thing possibly worse would have been if the KKK person was holding a noose.

Many people have something in their past that they regret doing. The problem with Northam is he failed to acknowledge the photo much earlier in his career, apologize for it and ask for forgiveness—like before he ran for Governor. It makes me think what else is Northam hiding. Northam has alluded to the fact that other photos may come up.

As for those persons who believe that 30 years ago is time enough for folks to change. I agree. However, I do not agree with persons who get caught holding the racist cookie 30 years later and only then saying—that was back then.

Ralph Northam should not get a pass on this one. And yes, he along with many others like him in both political parties should resign. Northam is the latest white politician caught in a racist web. Nearly every state and national political ally and the University of Virginia President James Ryan have asked for Northam’s resignation. The one politician supporting Northam is former Virginia congressman Jim Moran.

If Northam’s photo involved something  of a serious nature involving sexual assault, I doubt if there would be much debate about his resignation. And he may have already resigned. Former Senator Al Franken resigned over a photo implying that he forcibly kissed a woman on an airplane while she was asleep.  The photo in Franken’s case was nowhere nearly as offensive as the Northam black face and KKK photo. While I don’t believe the photo warranted Franke’s resignation, he became a casualty of the MeToo movement.

The nature of Northam’s photo is racism. The offensive nature and outcomes of the two—race and sex, should be equal. Anything involving racism always carries a higher burden in America—even 400 years after the first Africans arrived.

Being an effective leader means being able to lead. It will be difficult if not impossible for Northam to lead the Commonwealth of Virginia after this debacle. The clock ticks. It’s only a matter of time before Northam resigns.

Washington, D.C. based Debbie Hines is an attorney and former prosecutor.