The Slatest

Va. Gov. Northam Digs in, Wants to “Heal That Pain” of Racial Inequality

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam watches as the casket of fallen Virginia State Trooper Lucas B. Dowell is carried to a waiting tactical vehicle during the funeral at the Chilhowie Christian Church on February 9, 2019 in Chilhowie, Virginia.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam watches as the casket of fallen Virginia State Trooper Lucas B. Dowell is carried to a waiting tactical vehicle during the funeral at the Chilhowie Christian Church on February 9, 2019 in Chilhowie, Virginia.
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Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam isn’t going anywhere. In his first interview since he was engulfed in scandal after he admitted to wearing blackface, Northam said he wants to spend the rest of his term easing racial tensions in the state. “It’s been a horrific week for Virginia. A lot of individuals across Virginia have been hurt,” Northam said in an interview with the Washington Post that was limited to 30 minutes. Under the ground rules of the interview, the Post can’t publish the audio nor a complete transcript of the sit-down.

In the interview, Northam once again insisted he is not the person in the photograph that shows one person in blackface and another in KKK robes but he was at a loss to explain how it ended up in his 1984 medical school yearbook page. “I overreacted,” he said as he tried to explain why he apologized for the picture at first only to take it back later. “If I had it to do over I would step back and take a deep breath.”

Northam says he wants to spend the rest of his term focusing on fixing persistent issues of inequality in Virginia. “It’s obvious from what happened this week that we still have a lot of work to do. There are still some very deep wounds in Virginia, and especially in the area of equity,” he said. He said he has asked his staff to come up with specific actions they can take on the issue but when asked for details, Northam didn’t have much to say beyond taking a harder line on Confederate monuments. Throughout the interview it seemed as if Northam had suddenly just become aware of what white privilege means and why blackface is offensive. “We learn from our mistakes and I’m a stronger person,” Northam said.

When the Post’s Gregory Schneider asked why he should stay on the job while he learns about his own state rather than just resign, Northam said that he wants to be the one to work through these issues with the voters who elected him. “I have a lot more to learn…The more I know, the more I can do,” Northam said. “I want to heal that pain, and I want to make sure that all Virginians have equal opportunity…and I think I’m the person that can do that for Virginia.” Northam, who is planning a “reconciliation tour,” sees everything that happened as part of his “calling.”