“White guilt can be very useful, my friend.”
The Virginians who were most offended by Gov. Ralph Northam’s blackface yearbook photos are, according to a Washington Post-Schar School poll, white people.
The survey was conducted last week to assess public reaction to a number of scandals involving the state’s top Democrats. Chief among them was the discovery earlier this month of a 1984 photograph, found in the governor’s 1984 medical yearbook, showing two men wearing racist costumes: one in blackface and the other Klansman regalia.
The revelation led to bipartisan calls for Northam’s resignation, and an outburst of media (both mainstream and social) scolding. One NPR report even suggested that the scandal may further deteriorate the trust between African-Americans and medical institutions.
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The Post found that asked whether, given all that has emerged, Northam should remain in office, black Virginians answer yes “by a large margin.” To be precise, 58 percent of black residents say Northam should remain in office, compared to 37 who say he shouldn’t.
Among whites, by contrast, the vote is evenly split, with 48 percent saying Northam, who went back and forth on whether it was really him in the 1984 picture but did admit to beneficiary of some “white privilege,” should step down and 46 saying he shouldn’t.
Louise Butler, a 74-year-old African-American who still recalls the last throes of segregation, told The Post that she’s sticking by Northam. She admitted that the KKK costume, more than the makeup, upset her, but said she prefers judging the governor by his actions in office rather than by his behavior more than three decades ago.
“He’s been a good governor,” she said. “And he’s been good, as far as I know, to black people.”
Overall, Virginians are deadlocked in a 47-47 divide on the question of what should be Northam’s fate.
The Post’s lend further credence to the wisdom that culture war mobs — so vociferous on TV panels and social media — are out of step with actual public opinion. Where the progressive mob searches for any instance of misbehavior — whether past or recent, big or small, real or imagined — in order to condemn a person as a bigot, most people actually prefer a broader, more practical, and less purist approach to evaluating a public figure.
Even The Daily Show host Trevor Noah, a loyal ambassador of identity politics, showed a modicum of sympathy to Northam on Tuesday night, putting the controversy in its historical perspective.
“Think about it: To black people, especially in Virginia, every white guy serving in office has probably done some racist shit in their past,” Noah said, regarding The Post’s poll. “So you might as well have a white guy who has already been caught and feels bad about it, because you know that guy is never messing up again.”
“And now he has a racism debt he has to pay off. And let me tell you, white guilt can be very useful, my friend,” Noah added. The crowd cheered.
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