There is no other logical or fair conclusion to the controversy surrounding Gov. Ralph Northam than his immediate resignation. As someone who interned on his campaign and worked for months to get him elected, he made me excited because of his socially progressive stances and especially his commitment to reproductive justice. However, I definitely think this is a moment where a call for Northam’s resignation is both necessary and even more important to come from the mouths of those who played a role in helping him to achieve the governorship. I canvassed for hours every week, made hundreds of phone calls and even vocally argued for his platform in front of hundreds of students, and I take full responsibility for the role I played in his victory.
While I’ve also heard some people attempt to argue that this was the stupid action of a young boy, these individuals need to be reminded that he did this at the age of 25. Northam wasn’t in high school and he wasn’t starting college. He was going off into the world to work as a doctor. If we are expected to trust someone to perform surgeries and write prescriptions, we should expect them to be fully capable of straying away from blatant racism. In conversations I have had with several older friends of mine who were alive in 1984, they have all conveyed to me that these actions were equally unconscionable in that time period and equally jarring to individuals of color as they would be today.
Furthermore, many have made the claim that everyone acts with stupidity in college and that this time period is one where you get a “get-out-of-jail-free card” for your actions. This is quite possibly one of the most destructive mental frameworks I can imagine for dictating who we hold accountable for what and when. Do we disregard individuals who commit sexual assault in college just because it was a “poor decision of their youth?” The fact of the matter remains that while in college you are legally recognized as an adult and should therefore be held fully accountable for your actions.
Also, this is not to say that people can’t grow and learn but, rather, to argue that it doesn’t seem like too much to ask that individuals seeking elected office have no clear history of racism, sexism or homophobia. We should hold our elected officials to a higher bar than we hold most human beings and despite this, the bar of not expressing racist sentiments does not seem to be one set in the clouds. I can’t make any judgement about whether or not thoughts that are influenced by racist ideologies continue to be present in his mind and soul today, but I can say that every argument I have seen in his defense has come from a white individual who clearly has no reason to view these actions as violent or dangerous.
Furthermore, in his talks and discussions on his progressive platform, he has consistently mentioned the institutionalized struggles of LGBTQ individuals and women, but consistently failed to directly mention the issues that many black Virginians face in terms of voter discrimination, pay gaps and lack of access to adequate forms of medical care, as well as the ways that many medical care providers tend to undervalue claims of pain that come from patients of color.
In moments like these, it is central to recognize the individualized privilege that comes with being white in order to understand why this is an issue that both divides us as a community and minimizes the pain and struggles of people of color, both in Virginia and across the country. The people of Virginia deserve better, and any history of blatant hatred and racism should be deemed unacceptable to hold public office.
Email Cody Mills at firstname.lastname@example.org