Monday, February 4, 2019

U.S. evolves at differing rates

So what should we think of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and the fact that racist imagery – including that of the Ku Klux Klan – turns up in his college yearbook?
The Washington Post made this obscure yearbook page public knowledge. Personally, I'm more offended by Northam's quote than the photo
Personally, I’m not totally shocked.

I REMEMBER back when I was in college (mid-1980s) and looking through the old yearbooks from Illinois Wesleyan University – my alma mater – seeing graphics of Klan nightriders and hooded people being used as illustrations.

Entirely on those pages devoted to the fraternities that existed on campus.

But there is one fact that should be pointed out – these particular yearbooks were from the 1890s. Meaning they already were nearly a century old, and the ideals that may have existed on campus back then had long evolved into something far different from its origins.

I’ve also seen old University of Illinois yearbooks from the early 1900s indicating that the Ku Klux Klan once was regarded as a fully-legitimate fraternity on the Urbana, Ill., campus – although I’ve also seen various accounts indicating the U of I KKK was never an officially-recognized chapter of the Klan.

SO WHAT SHOCKS and appalls me about the Northam situation?

It’s that these Klan-like hooded images were still being considered acceptable as recently as the ‘80s – Northam was a student at Eastern Virginia Medical School, and it was the 1984 yearbook that included the photo of people in blackface and a Klan hood on a page devoted to Northam himself.

As for Northam saying in response that the questionable photograph is not of himself, but that he once remembers dressing up in blackface as part of a Michael Jackson impersonation, I’d think that is something that falls into the category of something stupid he once did that is now embarrassing.
NORTHAM: Same person now as he was in '84?

Largely because it makes many of us question his musical tastes in general. It’s something more silly than offensive. Or offensive in the sense that he could ever have been so ridiculous.

BUT THE REALITY is that this kind of imagery that had long withered away in Illinois was still considered acceptable in Virginia. Just as some people are still willing to fight for Confederate imagery in the form of flags and statues that still linger in parts of the nation.

Personally, I don’t have trouble believing that Northam himself had long forgotten about this imagery attached to his name, and he may well have moved far beyond this type of thought in his own life.

The smart-aleck in me thinks that if Northam still felt such thoughts in his daily existence, he’d be a Republican. Which probably would put him more in line with the bulk of the southern region from which he comes.

He’d probably be doing whatever he could to tie his imagery to that of President Donald Trump and going around wearing one of those red “Make America Great Again” caps – which some openly say is the 21st Century’s version of wearing a white hood.

SO WHEN REPUBLICAN ideologues go about claiming that Northam is evidence of hypocrisy amongst those of the Democratic Party when it comes to racial issues, I see it more as evidence of trying to distract attention from their own racial hang-ups.

My point is that I’m not quickly jumping on board with those people who are demanding Northam’s resignation on grounds that he’s an embarrassment to his home state. Although I’m also wondering if the pressure is going to rise to such levels that he’ll have no choice BUT to resign!
Are the same people calling for Northam's resignation the same individuals who defend the continued existence of Confederate memorials?
I almost feel like the only people who’d win by denouncing Northam as an unreformed bigot are the unreformed bigots themselves – as though they’d try to claim this as justification for their own ignorant ways of thought.

While also expressing some thoughts indicating that they think we’d be better off going back to the past – such as an era where no one would give a second thought to anything being strange and hostile about the imagery stirred up by Northam’s college yearbook.


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