Last week, in a television interview, Gov. Ralph Northam referred to blacks who were transported to Virginia as slaves as “indentured servants.” Unfortunately, the Governor seems unable to grasp the reality, which he demonstrates with every utterance. In fact, indentured servants were employees within a system of unfree labor who were bound by a signed or forced contract to work for a particular employer for a fixed time. On completion of the contract, they were sometimes even given plots of land along with their freedom. (Emphasis added.)
This past week, the national Democratic Attorneys General Association issued a blast email calling attention to Black History Month, fully two weeks after February 1. Virginia’s AG Mark Herring is a member and, until recently, head of the organization.
The following excerpt from The New York Times Week in Review of February 9, entitled It’s Great that we Celebrate Black History Month in Totally Normal Ways, by Kashana Cauley, takes a further look at Virginia’s celebration:
Black History Month is the shortest month of the year. It’s usually only 28 days long! This gives stubborn people 337 days to pretend black history doesn’t exist, thanks to what’s commonly known as the one-twelfths compromise.
Black History Month always felt like an obligatory celebration. But this year people are really leaning in.
Take Ralph Northam, the governor of Virginia, who recently revisited one of the darker parts of black history: blackface. Invented in the 1830s by stage performers who didn’t like black people, blackface, Mr. Northam taught us, was reinvented in the 1980s by Virginia medical students who also didn’t like black people.
Usually people dress up as Michael Jackson by putting on a glove, jacket or wig. But Mr. Northam method-acted his way into the role of a white person doing a bad imitation of a black person by painting his face with shoe polish, when he could have waited three years and used bronzer.
Mr. Northam wasn’t alone among Virginia officials in his past application of blackface. The state’s attorney general, Mark Herring, wore blackface to a party in the 1980s in order to not look anything like the rapper Kurtis Blow. The Senate majority leader, Tommy Norment, oversaw the publication of the 1968 Virginia Military Institute yearbook, which is full of blackface and racial slurs. Racism must have been a very popular major there.
The month has not yet ended; further celebratory events may emerge.