Peter Wallenstein Talks About Why White Supremacy “Must Die and Yet Will Not Die”Historians in the News
tags: racism, African American history, Virginia, Ku Klux Klan, White Supremacy, Ralph Northam
“Yes,” declared a Virginia politics blog, “this is chaos.” After Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam clumsily defended a bill that would roll back a number of abortion restrictions, including rare abortions in the third trimester, a former medical school classmate sent a tip to (then) little-known conservative media outlet Big League Politics. The publication, which has tiesto white nationalists, published a photo of Northam in blackface from his medical school yearbook.
Amid calls for his resignation, Northam stumbled. He bungled his apology; he joked about dressing up as Michael Jackson. Now, it seems his advisers have assigned Northam some reading: Ta-Nehisi Coates and Alex Haley’s Roots. But he avoided talk of resignation, in part, because the rest of the top-tier of Virginia’s government is now engulfed in scandal too, potentially jeopardizing Democrat leadership. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D-Virginia) is facing allegations of sexual assault; Attorney General Mark Herring admitted he also wore blackface in college. It’s unclear what will happen next, but culturally, something already has: In Virginia, racism can now endanger political power.
Peter Wallenstein, a history professor at Virginia Tech and longtime civil rights scholar, says that’s new. “Any and all who take exception to the world of white supremacy…take exception to blackface as the image du jour of a world that must die and yet will not die,” he noted.
“That yearbook page has been there for the longest time,” Wallenstein points out, but only now is it being called into question.