Top Virginia politician also wore blackface

Top Virginia politician also wore blackface

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Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has admitted to wearing “brown makeup” to a party, days after the state governor admitting wearing blackface.

The second-in-line to the governor’s seat said in a statement on Wednesday that he wore a costume to a party when he was 19 years old at university.

Democratic Governor Ralph Northam is facing calls to resign over a racist photo and admission of blackface usage.

The lieutenant governor is also under scrutiny for sex assault allegations.

What did Attorney General Herring say?

The Democratic attorney general said that in 1980, he and his friends donned costumes after “some friends suggested we attend a party dressed like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song”.

“It sounds ridiculous even now writing it. But because of our ignorance and glib attitudes – and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others – we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup,” he said.

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“That conduct clearly shows that, as a young man, I had a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behaviour could inflict on others.”

Image copyright Getty Images

Image caption The state’s top three Democratic are now all facing scandals

Mr Herring did not offer to step down and wrote of his “efforts to empower communities of colour” and “to combat the rise in hate crimes and white supremacist violence that is plaguing our Commonwealth and our country”.

“In the days ahead, honest conversations and discussions will make it clear whether I can or should continue to serve as attorney general, but no matter where we go from here, I will say that from the bottom of my heart, I am deeply, deeply sorry for the pain that I cause with this revelation.”

The scandals metastasise

Virginia Democrats are running out of top officials not beset by scandal.

With Attorney General Mark Herring’s revelation that he, too, once wore blackface, the situation has metastasised from a controversy ensnaring one man – Governor Northam – to an indication of a larger problem.

Cruel, intolerant actions that were once considered acceptable, at least among a certain crowd, are now, decades later, having political consequences.

In her response to the president’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night, Stacey Abrams – the black woman who narrowly lost her bid to be Georgia’s governor – obliquely addressed the issue.

“We continue to confront racism from our past and in our present, which is why we must hold everyone from the highest offices to our own families accountable for racist words and deeds and call racism what it is, wrong,” she said.

Virginians – and Democrats across the US – are now grappling with racist deeds within their own family.

It has thrown the state’s leadership into turmoil. Accountability, however, could be harder to realise. The cold political reality is that the more top politicians are touched, the less likely it is any of them will go.

What are the other Virginia controversies?

Mr Northam, the state’s governor, still denies he is either of two people – one in blackface, the other in Ku Klux Klan (KKK) robes – pictured in a 1984 medical yearbook photo that surfaced last week.

But in a news conference over the weekend, he admitted to wearing blackface in a separate incident that year while performing as Michael Jackson.

Image copyright The Washington Post via Getty Images

Image caption Ralph Northam’s page in the 1984 yearbook of Eastern Virginia Medical School

On Saturday, Mr Herring had joined a chorus of fellow Democrats calling on Mr Northam to resign, saying it was “no longer possible” for him to serve as governor.

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Media captionGovernor Northam: I am not the person in that photo

Meanwhile, Lt Governor Justin Fairfax, who is next in line to succeed Mr Northam if he leaves office, has stepped up his fight against a claim that he assaulted a woman during the 2004 Democratic political convention.

In Mr Fairfax’s latest statement on Wednesday, he called the allegations “surprising and hurtful”.

“I have nothing to hide,” he added.

He said it was “important” to listen to sex assault accusers, but insisted this allegation was “not true”.

In her first statement issued through lawyers on Wednesday, the accuser, politics professor Vanessa Tyson, recounted the alleged assault in disturbing detail.

She says Mr Fairfax invited her back to his hotel room during the political jamboree in Boston “to retrieve documents”.

While in the suite, she says, they kissed. But, her statement says, “what began as consensual kissing quickly turned into an assault”.

“I cannot believe, given my obvious distress, that Mr Fairfax thought this forced sexual act was consensual,” she said of their encounter.

“After the assault, I suffered from both deep humiliation and shame.”

Mr Fairfax’s office has meanwhile denied an NBC report that he used an expletive-laden outburst in reference to Prof Taylor, during a private meeting on Monday night.

What’s the reaction?

Virginia Senator Mark Warner said he was “shocked and incredibly disappointed” to hear of Mr Herring’s addition to the slew of scandals.