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Dumfries Mayor Derrick Wood

“The true measure of leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.” John Maxwell

After watching the events involving Governor Ralph Northam unfold over the past few days, I issued a statement expressing my disappointment as an elected mayor and military veteran and asked for him to resign.  

Service is a privilege granted by the people we serve. Some will question: Why should a man lose his job for something that happened more than 34 years ago? And some would dispute his knowledge of the picture. Whether the governor is or is not featured in the photo, his behavior was unacceptable and unbecoming of a leader. 

It is clear that the photos displayed on his yearbook page, along with his decision to appear in blackface at a dance contest, serve as an endorsement of behavior that has long been seen as objectionable in a post-Civil Rights era. Furthermore, the governor’s ability to offer a seemingly sincere apology one day, only to hold a press conference denying his involvement in the photo the next, shows a lack of trust. 

Once the public loses trust, a necessary trait that every public servant should possess, influence is lost. And if a leader doesn't have anyone following, then whom are they leading? For him to remain governor in title but not in position is to slow down the progress of our great commonwealth.

Just last year in Dumfries, we had the Ku Klux Klan threaten a church by leaving letters taped to the door. In these contentious times, where there are a growing number of reports regarding hate crimes and an increase in hate groups, it’s imperative that both the work and the character of our political leaders are representative of our community values. 

Needless to say, I do not believe the racist and violent imagery presented in the photograph on Gov. Northam’s yearbook page, nor his choice to appear in blackface at a dance contest, is indicative of those values. While we all make mistakes and should be given the time and space to learn from them, there must also be consequences for mistakes that perpetuate violence against people of marginalized identities.   

Now that the pictures have surfaced, and he has confessed to wearing blackface, many of his supporters, myself included, are rescinding our vote and would appreciate it if he would do the right thing and step aside so that we can move Virginia forward. 

The writer is a Democrat and the second black mayor of Dumfries, the oldest continously chartered town in Virginia.

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(1) comment

cbtaffel

It is unbelievable that Gov. Northram could not know that he was mocking Afro-Americans by wearing black shoe polish on his face and attempting to dance at a party in the style of Michael Jackson, a talented dancer, (which Northram is not). He was being condescending by making fun of African American people to get a laugh from the crowd, embarrassing any person of color who may have been in the area when the photo was taken, or anyone who might look through the yearbook at his picture.

At the party where he said that he wore his "shoe polished black face" imitating Michael Jackson, anyone of color nearby would have been embarrassed.

I believe Nordstram is pictured in the medical school yearbook wearing the "Black shoe polished face" because he stated that the shoe polish is difficult to get off if you put too much on.

Gov. Northram's friend, I believe, is wearing the Klu Klux Klan outfit next to him. According to the Gov., he is well acquainted with this medium of expression, because, he stated on TV, "If you put too much shoe polish on your face, it becomes very difficult to remove." Who does that in 1984?"

In 1984, at a time when the country was still going through the Civil Rights Movement, every adult was aware of the horrors, hurt, pain and ugliness associated with the hostilities, anger and fear instigated by the "Dominant Culture" against the Equal Rights for all Americans movement. Change was difficult. "Jim Crow" and the "Separate But Equal" movement was embedded in the American culture and it was difficult to change, "Black Face" was a demeaning tactic that was prevalent during "Jim Crow discrimination" used to demean, belittle, and instill fear in African Americans. How could a grown up man not know this in 1984?

The big question is,

"How could the medical school editors, staff, and administrators allow this photo to be printed in the medical school yearbook?
Clearly, it represents the university and its values as well. For years I worked as a Full Professor at a well respected local university, and I worked with the student yearbook volunteers overseeing the production of the university yearbook. It is standard procedure for the layout for the yearbook to be reviewed and proofread by a staff member and a representative from the administration before the book goes to the press for printing. The medical school yearbook had to have been reviewed by a representative from the staff and the student editors before it was printed and apparently, everyone at the university was in agreement that this photo of Northram in "Black Face" and his friend in a Klu Klux Klan outfit was acceptable, and by allowing it to go to press, they were fully supportive of it.

The photo should have been pulled at that time and Nordstram should have been reprimanded by the staff person or an administrator. What kind of university is this that apparently had no conscious about blatantly allowing racist, condescending imagery like this to represent them in their annual publication, on the page of one of their graduating medical doctors who takes an oath of "do no harm".

This photo should have been pulled and Nordstram should have been reprimanded by a staff member or administrator, had the university done its job without bias and with mutual respect for all of their students matriculating at the university.

Nordstram professes ignorance, but he is not believable. Even now, he recently stated that African slaves were "indentured servants" . This is not true. Europeans were Endured Servants who were freed after seven years of service to a master. Africans were captured or purchased in African, chained and packed like cargo into the the bottom of slave ships and transported thousands of miles from their families and home to what is now the USA to work as slaves for the remainder of their lives for European American slave holders toiling day and night making them wealthy.

Why does Nordstrom not know this well known history that is taught in elementary schools throughout the USA? This, again, makes me ask, "What were these white students taught about slavery in the "Separate but Equal" schools? Why does he not know the history?

Perhaps he was not paying attention or perhaps the subject was taught in a disrespectful manner mocking and making jokes about the abhorrent circumstances and disadvantages of being slaves in America. Perhaps the subject was not taken seriously and only briefly mentioned. Governor Nordstram's behavior is a reflection of the school system in which he was educated. The situation is sad, and I cannot believe that he has only now realized that he needs to read the book "Roots by Alex Haley" on the history of slavery in the USA to learn about African American people when he lives in the state of Virginia which is largely populated by African American people.

Apparently, he separated himself successfully growing up to the point where he is not aware or that he could not care if he is offensive faking ignorance as the excuse.

Democrats are not thought of in this light. They are supposed to be the caring party. I have no confidence that Governor Norstram will suddenly change and become a better person or that he is even a different person today that he was in 1984. He is who he is. He is only sorry because he was found out or caught, so to speak.

He should step down and take a university teaching job where he can educate and prevent others from going down the same road. We need to take a close look at the US school curriculum and how American History is being taught in the classrooms.

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