In an interview clip from CBS This Morning released today, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam explicitly said he will not resign in spite of controversy and calls for him to do just that. He also went on to say, incredulously, that slaves were “indentured servants from Africa.”
There’s an astounding amount to unpack in that one. Let’s recap how we got here and then dig in.
Medical school yearbook photos of a man in blackface and a man in a Klu Klux Klan hood went viral earlier this month. What happened next is mildly incoherent. First, the Governor apologized for the photo. Then, he stepped backward and said he actually wasn’t in the photo. Then, he said he had done blackface. Why? For a Michael Jackson dance contest. (Yes, he really, really said that.)
Fast forward to now:
“Right now Virginia needs someone that can heal. There’s no better person to do that than a doctor,” Northam said in defense of his decision to ignore what the American people want.
“Virginia also needs someone who is strong, who has empathy, who has courage and who has a moral compass. And that’s why I’m not going anywhere,” he continued.
Early in the clip above, Northam mentions that this will be the 400th anniversary of the first “indentured servants from Africa” coming to Virginia, at which co-host Gayle King immediately corrects him by saying, “also known as slavery.”
“Yes. While we have made a lot of progress in Virginia — slavery has ended, schools have been desegregated, we have ended the Jim Crow laws, easier access to voting — it is abundantly clear that we still have a lot of work to do. And I really think this week raised a level of awareness in the Commonwealth and in this country that we haven’t seen, certainly in my lifetime.”
Understandably, people are disgusted by his attempt to sidestep slavery. While indentured servants are a real part of America’s history, his word choice in this interview (coupled with his refusal to step down as Governor and notion that he, a white male who has done blackface, is what can bring racial equality to Virginia) reeks of a strategic attempt to use a euphemism and skirt accountability.
Twitter, in particular, has some powerful takes:
Words like “Indentured servant” is how people try to erase the pain and horrors of slavery. It is how they think it harmless to wear blackface. @RalphNortham is done. If he won’t resign, he needs to be forced out. https://t.co/2MfDIFtdX6
— Julissa Arce (@julissaarce) February 10, 2019
Ah yes, I do recall transatlantic indentured servant trade https://t.co/ilrIHFHDTa
— the boy. (@MichellCClark) February 10, 2019
My God, it just gets worse & worse.????
Asked about this week in VA, Northam responds by referring to kidnapped, enslaved, & trafficked Africans as “indentured servants.”????????♂️
— Qasim Rashid, Esq. (@MuslimIQ) February 10, 2019
I’m sorry my dude did you just say ✌????indentured servants from Africa✌???? https://t.co/R9pvSCpj8u
— Imani Gandy (@AngryBlackLady) February 10, 2019
The full interview is scheduled to run on Monday, February 11 at 7 a.m. EST on CBS This Morning. It’s anyone’s guess what will come out of the Governor’s mouth. Hopefully, it’s an apology.