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Governor Northam is Exactly Who I Thought He Was
It’s day two of Black History Month and here I sit writing about another white man who has wronged me. Another white man who turned out to be precisely who I’d imagined, though I hadn’t quite expected my governor to have the most racist photo I’ve seen in recent history under his name in his Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook. Goes to show even someone numb to these transgressions can be taken by surprise.
I’m not angry, though.
Let me clarify why.
My forever literary father, James Baldwin, said it best when he wrote “to be a negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage all the time.” Most Black people I know would agree and are, rightfully, constantly drifting between rage and anguish without reprieve. To simply exist as a Black person in this country is exhausting. The continuation of this quote is rarely seen beside it and we are meant to believe this is the end; that we are to exist and be enraged, but Baldwin wasn’t finished with his lesson. He continues, “the first problem is how to control that rage so it won’t destroy you.”
I remember the spiral that followed my first foray into the infantile idea of ‘wokeness’ that existed a decade ago. Pre-Ferguson wokeness. Pre-#blacklivesmatter wokeness. Pre-#metoo wokeness. Pre-45. I remember how debilitating the rage had been and I had yet to scratch the surface of what I now deal with daily. I needed therapy before social media activism took off and had to find some way to control my reaction to the pain of existence before the live deaths of black men were played on a loop from an iPhone with resolution I wish had been worse.
In Richmond, Virginia where I live, we have a fairly infamous avenue aptly named for its monuments to the confederacy. I drive down this road to work every day. Follow this road down into the city and you’ll find it ends at the Virginia State Capitol. Governor Ralph Northam sits at the end of this road, in a mansion built on the backs of slaves, in the Capital of the Confederacy. How quickly we forget this place was built for people like him.
In 2017, Northam was running for Governor after a successful tenure as Lt. Governor and was largely favored against his opponent Ed Gillespie especially in the major metropolitan areas along the coast. To win Virginia, however, you need support from the more rural cities and counties and the Democratic Party of Virginia knew this. Northam knew this well as he’d run for Lt. Governor already.
Enter Justin Fairfax.
Justin Fairfax is a Columbia educated attorney with charisma that will actually knock you off your feet (and an Aquarius, but I digress)—a perfect candidate for Lt. Governor now that Northam was running for Governor. Justin Fairfax is Black. No amount of fundraising and no number of think pieces about how great Fairfax would be for the Commonwealth would change that he’s Black. This, to many Democrats, would pose a problem for obvious reasons when attempting to get a certain type of Virginian to vote for him. So they came up with a crafty solution: take Fairfax off campaign materials in specific areas.
They omitted photos of him from the campaign materials. It’s well documented and honestly the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen happen in the Commonwealth. Now, you may be asking how this would solve the problem of Fairfax being Black and the Black folks reading this have certainly figured it out by now.
Before I spell it out, you have to know that there is a county, and city, in Virginia named Fairfax. It’s as familiar to most Virginians as Smithfield ham and arguing about the best Virginia-born president.
As you may have guessed, Justin Fairfax has a white name. Even by Virginia standards, it’s pretty white and he’s from Pittsburgh. So, take the Black guy off the campaign materials and tell people to vote down-ballot Democrat. It worked and Fairfax won his race by 100,000 votes.
The only people I knew who were talking about this egregious pandering to people who would never vote for Fairfax, were other Black people. We were either the only ones who knew what it meant about the Northam camp, or the only ones paying attention. To be Black in this country is to be hypervigilant. To be ever prepared because you don’t know who might be prepared to hurt you at a moment's notice. So we were prepared for the inevitable. Prepared for the proverbial shoe to do what it does best: expose people.
Make no mistake, had the yearbook photo been the first transgression, it would have made me violently ill. Thinking about it now makes my stomach turn, but it does not anger me. I have no reason to tear myself asunder over something I expected of a man who would gladly erase Blackness from his campaign materials.
Maya Angelou said “when people show you who they are, believe them.”
Start paying attention.
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