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Herring and blackface

3/8/2019, noon
We listened to Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s radio interview Monday on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU in Washington.

We listened to Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s radio interview Monday on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU in Washington.

It was Mr. Herring’s first public interview since confessing to his own blackface episode dressing as rapper Kurtis Blow in 1980 when he was a 19-year-old freshman at the University of Virginia. To listen to it or to read a transcript, go to https://thekojonnamdishow.org/shows/2019-03-04/mark-herring.

Mr. Herring said during the interview that he has spent the last four weeks since his blackface revelation in early February meeting and talking with legislators, community officials, friends and others across Virginia to apologize directly and to find out whether “they still trusted me to continue to do the job effectively.”

He said one theme throughout his conversations is the “renewed focus on race” in Virginia and the desire “to make something good come of this — that maybe we can have a more honest dialogue about our nation’s history and the legacy of white privilege and institutional and systemic racism that persists today as a result of that,” including “specific ways we might be able to rectify the ongoing discrimination that happens.”

We are glad that the 57-year-old Mr. Herring has awakened since his college days to the demeaning and humiliating statement blackface conveys. And we believe he owes the people of the Commonwealth an apology for his actions, as well as acknowledgment of what critical and positive change needs to happen now.

But we were struck at the numerous times Mr. Herring apologized during the interview for what he called his “shameful act,” as though he was reciting the Act of Contrition given him by a priest in a confessional to absolve his sins.

He also used his loop of apology to sidestep questions on why he is not holding himself to the same standard he demanded of Gov. Ralph S. Northam in calling for his resignation for a blackface routine in 1984 as Michael Jackson in a dance contest when the governor was a 24-year-old medical resident in Texas.

Mr. Herring also reeled off his apology in dodging questions about whether he still believes Gov. Northam should resign, whether the surfacing of Gov. Northam’s yearbook page showing a person in blackface and another in full Ku Klux Klan garb was politically motivated and whether Mr. Herring’s public disclosure about himself was prompted by media inquiries about the possible existence of a photo showing him in blackface at U.Va.

We believe Mr. Herring must answer those questions head-on rather than hiding behind an apology that started sounding canned and rehearsed. There is no ducking and dodging when it comes to issues of race. People in power, particularly Caucasians, have perpetuated many of the racist policies, practices and laws growing out of the long-held mistaken beliefs of white supremacy and white privilege because they want to dodge the mirror of truth when it comes to race. That time is up now in Virginia.

Mr. Herring, Gov. Northam and others cannot continue to hide or put off the deep and disturbing issues arising from this blackface scandal. Mr. Herring must come clean if he, like Gov. Northam, wants to remain in office.