Sunday 21 July 2019

Democrat flip-flops over racist school photo as resignation pressure grows

Mystery: The photo on Ralph Northam’s yearbook page, featuring a man in blackface and a person wearing a Ku Klux Klan outfit
Mystery: The photo on Ralph Northam’s yearbook page, featuring a man in blackface and a person wearing a Ku Klux Klan outfit

Alan Sudderman

The governor of a US state has refused to quit over a racist photo in his medical school yearbook, despite growing calls for him to resign.

Virginia's Ralph Northam claims it is not him pictured, despite originally apologising on Friday for the photograph that featured a man in blackface and a second person in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe.

In a video he posted on Twitter, the Democrat said he could not "undo the harm my behaviour caused then and today". But Mr Northam later said he was not in the picture after all, adding he had not seen the photo before Friday because he had never bought a copy of the 1984 yearbook or been involved in its preparation 35 years ago.

"It has taken time for me to make sure that it's not me, but I am convinced, I am convinced that I am not in that picture," he said during a press conference in Richmond, the state capital.

Calling the picture offensive and horrific, Mr Northam, who is one year into his four-year term, again rejected demands that he step down.

The governor later admitted he once used shoe polish to put on blackface as part of a Michael Jackson costume for a 1984 dance contest in Texas while he was in the army.

Legacy

He said he regretted that he did not understand "the harmful legacy of an action like that".

Asked by a reporter whether he could still do Jackson's famous moonwalk, Mr Northam paused before his wife Pamela interjected to say it was "inappropriate circumstances". The governor's shifting explanations did little to sway prominent Democrats and Republicans calling on him to resign.

Both of Virginia's US senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, joined the dean of Virginia's congressional delegation, Representative Bobby Scott, in saying they no longer believe Mr Northam can serve effectively.

Mr Northam was pushed repeatedly by reporters to explain why he had apologised if he was not in the photo.

"My first intention ... was to reach out and apologise," he said, adding that he recognised that people would be offended by the photo.

But after studying the picture and consulting classmates, Mr Northam said: "I am convinced that is not my picture."

In a tweet on Saturday, President Donald Trump weighed in on proceedings, calling Mr Northam's actions related to the photo and abortion debate "unforgivable!"

Irish Independent

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