The Slatest

Gov. Ralph Northam Is Defiant, Says He Won’t Resign Because He Isn’t the One in Racist Photo

Gov. Ralph Northam
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam speaks with reporters at a press conference at the governor’s mansion on Saturday in Richmond, Virginia.
Alex Edelman/Getty Images

The apology was premature. Or at least that’s what Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam wants us to believe, saying that upon further inspection he has come to realize he isn’t either person in a racist photo that was in his 1984 yearbook. Never mind that he had apologized the day before for the photo in his medical school yearbook that features someone dressed in Ku Klux Klan robes and another person in blackface. On Saturday he said “it was definitely not me.” And apparently it wasn’t hard for him to figure that out: “I can tell by looking at it.” So, why had he apologized Friday? “My first instinct is to reach out and apologize because this was so hurtful,” he said. “After I did that, I had a chance to reach out to classmates and my roommates and I am convinced, that’s not my picture.”

Northam said he had wanted to “take credit for recognizing that this was a horrific photo that was on my page with my name on it.” But then he was able to take a detailed look and realized it wasn’t him. “What has happened, I finally had a chance to sit down and look at the photo in detail. It is definitely not me,” he told reporters. Northam also made it sound as if he was taking the higher road by not resigning. “I could spare myself from the difficult path that lies ahead. I could avoid an honest conversation about harmful actions from my past,” he said. “I cannot in good conscience chose the path that would be easier for me in an effort to duck my responsibility to reconcile.”

Even as he defied calls from members of his own party to step down, Northam also revealed that he had in fact used shoe polish to darken his face for a Michael Jackson costume as part of a dance contest in 1984. “I look back now and regret that I did not understand the harmful legacy of an action like that,” he said. When he was asked why the yearbook also listed his nickname as “Coonman,” he said he only knew two people who called him that, and he didn’t know why they did so.

Northam also insists that he didn’t select that photo to appear on the page and says he never purchased the yearbook so had no idea the photo and nickname were there. The governor did recognize at one point that “many people will find this difficult to believe,” particularly since the racist photo appears next to others he did select. Two classmates at Eastern Virginia Medical School told the Washington Post that while they had never seen Northam wearing any kind of racist costume like the ones that appear on his yearbook page, they can’t quite explain how the image could have been placed on his page in error.

Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t seem many people are convinced by his explanation. The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, didn’t even wait for the news conference to finish to reiterate its call for Northam to step down. “In light of his public admission and apology for his decision to appear in the photo, he has irrevocably lost the faith and trust of the people he was elected to serve,” the caucus said in a statement. “Changing his public story today now casts further doubt on his ability to regain that trust.” The Virginia Democratic Party also said it stood by its previous call for Northam to resign immediately.