Ralph Northam Scandal: Why the Yearbook Photo is so Offensive

Earlier this month, a yearbook photo featuring Ralph Northam surfaced, in which he supposedly donned a KKK uniform or black face. There was an outrage about the Virginia governor’s behavior across the United States, and rightly so. Not only are both the KKK uniform and blackface highly inappropriate when the photo was taken, but also in today’s society, which is why the photo created such an uproar amongst people. Originally, Northam apologized for being in the photo, but later argued that he was not in the photo. Either way, the picture is racially unacceptable as most have argued, but some among those people don’t know the true background surrounding blackface and why it is so wrong.

The real reasons blackface is so horrid date back to the mid-19th century when Americans performed in minstrel shows depicting African Americans on Southern plantations, characterizing them as ignorant, indolent, hypersexual, and faint-hearted. The minstrel shows gave further bad credibility to the black race, tattering their name and embarrassing them time and time again by painting dark shoe polish upon their faces and mimicking them. The shows were targeted toward the white American audience as a comedy show, but the black audience was hurt by these stage shows. In later years, prominent entertainers such as Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, and William Henry Lane donned blackface, making the concept widely seen across America and viewed as acceptable.

In years close to the time we live in now, white people paint their faces black to imitate black figures for Halloween or other events. Olivia Tucker, ‘20, comments that blackface is “disrespectful because someone is mocking someone else just because of the color of their skin,” and that even if the people participating in blackface “had good intentions, the act is still bad.” She makes a fair point when saying, “You never see anyone trying to appropriate white culture.” When asked what her feelings were regarding the ignorance surrounding the history of blackface, Tucker comments she would “be as mad as I could be if they were aware.”

Regarding all situations – including Ralph Northam’s – due to the disgraceful history of blackface, blackface is a discriminatory act which should not be taken lightly in today’s society, and it is unfortunate that people are not taught the history behind such a crime and enlightened on why the idea is wrong.