Eval­u­ate Northam, Her­ring on decades of ser­vice

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

ED­I­TOR, TIMES-DIS­PATCH:

The holier-than-thou ca­ble news jock­eys, in par­tic­u­lar, and politi­cians — and would-be politi­cians — of ev­ery stripe have been on the at­tack, rail­ing about Gov. Ralph Northam be­ing an out­lier in 1984, crow­ing that 1984 was the year be­fore Gov.

Doug Wilder’s elec­tion as lieu­tenant gover­nor and 20 years af­ter the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The at­tacks are both un­fair and, per­haps worse, mask the per­va­sive and in­sid­i­ous na­ture of racism and the broad swath that it cut across much of Amer­ica well into and be­yond the 1980s. In­deed, racism should be seen to­day — when hate speech and ac­tions are on the rise — as a very real prob­lem that has to be ad­dressed.

To put it in per­spec­tive, as late as the mid-1980s at the Com­mon­wealth Club in Rich­mond, blacks were not wel­come as mem­bers. What is more, some­what start­ingly, “Carry Me Back to Old Vir­ginny,” with ref­er­ences to “dark­eys,” was the of­fi­cial state song of Vir­ginia from 1940 to 1997.

And, per­haps most re­mark­ably for what it says about how racism pen­e­trates our cul­ture, the song re­mains Vir­ginia’s song emer­i­tus.

Gover­nor Northam and At­tor­ney Gen­eral Mark Her­ring ought not to be judged by to­day’s mores on what they did in the 1980s, but in­stead on what they have done in the decades since. In that light, their con­tri­bu­tions can be fairly eval­u­ated, and the per­va­sive­ness of racism can be rec­og­nized and com­bated. MICHAEL JAFFE.

GREAT FALLS.

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