Why we keep looking at the Northam photo

tags: racism, political history, Ku Klux Klan, Blackface, Ralph Northam

Jonathan Zimmerman teaches education and history at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author (with Emily Robertson) of  “The Case for Contention: Teaching Controversial Issues in American Schools” (University of Chicago Press).

This is not a column in defense of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. The racist images published on his medical school yearbook page are — quite simply — indefensible. They speak for themselves.

Nor is this a column urging him to resign or to remain in office. Perhaps there are some decisions that are so hateful and stupid that they should disqualify you for leadership, no matter how long ago you made them or what you’ve done since. For now, that’s up to Northam to decide.

Instead, this column is about you. And me.

Why, oh why, are we drawn so deeply to this story? As soon as the story broke on Friday, the airwaves and the internet exploded with vitriol against Ralph Northam. There are many other important events happening in the world, but for a few hours they came to a halt. And it was all Northam, all the time.

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