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Tuesday, 05 February 2019 13:31

Blackface Is Just One Part of the Problem

Written by Jamil Smith | Rolling Stone
Vilma Seymour speaking at Resign Governor Northam protest on Monday, February 4th Vilma Seymour speaking at Resign Governor Northam protest on Monday, February 4th

Interview with Rev. William Barber. The furor over Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s yearbook photo has America once again asking the wrong questions about racism.

Not long after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam immolated what was left of his political career, I got the Reverend Dr. William Barber on the phone. The fiery civil rights leader, known for founding the Moral Mondays movement and for reviving Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign, did not focus on Northam’s current troubles — including the governor’s reversal that he was dressed as either a Sambo or Klansman in that 1984 medical school yearbook photo. Nor did Barber zero in on Northam’s derogatory “Coonman” nickname. Barber and I did not discuss the governor’s admitted use of blackface during a Michael Jackson dance contest in San Antonio, either. (Speaking Saturday morning, the governor claimed to understand that putting shoe polish on his face to imitate the King of Pop was racially insensitive. His wife, Pamela, had to more or less restrain him from moonwalking in front of the press.) From the start of our dialogue, Barber shared my desire to reshape the national discussion about Northam and racism into something more constructive and comprehensive.

The photo in question first appeared on a conservative site associated with white nationalism, and went viral after The Virginian-Pilot picked up the story on Friday afternoon. The image is precisely what modern right-wing ideology wants us to believe racism looks like. Republicanism bolsters policy that sustains systemic racism; it only makes sense that it thrives on the overly strict notion that X person if and only if he or she says “nigger” or shows up in a Klan hood. Sometimes not even then

“America keeps trying to have conversations and keeps attempting to deal with racism when quote-unquote cultural things erupt,” Barber says. “Or when something like Charleston happens, as gross and ugly and murderous as it is, and then we have an eruption, and then it goes away. And part of the problem is in that kind of reaction itself, because racism ultimately is aboutsystems and structures.”

It’s too easy to distract ourselves with the varying ways that Northam is embarrassing himself and his office. Saturday’s reversal was an insult to the intelligence of every black voter who helped elevate Northam to victory in 2017, mere months after the murderous white-supremacist chaos in Charlottesville.

I want Northam to resign not merely because he can no longer credibly govern the state. Every moment he stays in office advances a misconception that racism is merely about imagery. “Even if the governor resigns [because] of this picture from ’84, that doesn’t heal racism,” Barber says. “The courts are finding, over and over again, that these voter suppression tactics — from gerrymandering to photo ID to blocking same-day registration — are full of racism. They’re ruling that! They ruled that the [North Carolina] legislature had targeted blacks. The architect of that legislation never said the N-word.”

Read the complete article on Rolling Stone

Read 1313 times Last modified on Tuesday, 05 February 2019 14:11

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