Home Race Getting “Woke”: An Agenda for Ralph Northam on Racial Reconciliation

Getting “Woke”: An Agenda for Ralph Northam on Racial Reconciliation


by Glen Besa

Last Wednesday, we learned that Governor Ralph Northam had hired a crisis management firm out of DC, IRMedia, to manage the mess he made out of an already bad situation when he moon walked his way through a disastrous press conference the prior Saturday.

By this past weekend, our Governor was appropriately scripted by his newly hired handlers and ready to give one on one interviews to announce his intention finish his term and lead the state in racial reconciliation.

In his interview with CBS’ Gayle King, aired Sunday on Face the Nation, Northam said, Virginia needs someone that can heal. There’s no better person to do that than a doctor. 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.”

The interview and the sound bites from it seemed too rehearsed, too perfectly worded to come across as the words of a white man who is newly “woke.” To my ear, Northam’s words sounded more like those of a crisis management consultant telling a struggling politician what to say to survive.

The good news for Northam is that the #metoo allegations engulfing Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax have tempered calls for his own resignation, at least for now.  And Attorney General Herring’s own blackface incident further clouded the politics, if not the moral judgment.

Recent opinion polling as reported in the Washington Post also found that most Virginians, including African Americans, are not calling for Northam to resign.  I would not pretend to speak for African Americans, but my guess is that if you have put up with so much racial bullsh*t your entire life from overt discrimination to daily micro-aggressions, the Governor’s year book pictures disappoint, but fail to shock.

Whether Northam is newly “woke,” or just pretending like a politician caught in an ethical jam, may not matter.  If the incident prompts him to champion and effectively advance policies that begin to undo not only the harm he has done but the institutional racism which continues to harm our commonwealth and country everyday, that would be progress.  Politicians seldom do the right things purely for the right reasons.

Ralph Northam’s agenda of “right things” can begin with the short but impactful list shared by Reverend William Barber in his OpEd in the Washington Post   “If Northam, or any politician who has worn blackface, used the n-word or voted for the agenda of white supremacy, wants to repent, the first question they must ask is “How are the people who have been harmed by my actions asking to change the policies and practices of our society?” In political life, this means committing to expand voting rights, stand with immigrant neighbors, and provide health care and living wages for all people. In Virginia, it means stopping the environmental racism of the pipeline and natural gas compressor station Dominion Energy intends to build in Union Hill, a neighborhood founded by emancipated slaves and other free African Americans.”

One more thing, don’t just meet with crisis managers and your political advisors; meet with moral leaders like Reverend Barber to seek their counsel and meet with the actual people you have harmed like the African Americans in Union Hill.  Only then may we have some understanding of how serious you are in leading Virginians in racial reconciliation.


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