A photo found in Virginia Governor Ralph Northam's medical school yearbook nearly 40 years ago

H2H: Should Virginia Governor be held accountable for his behavior in the past?

February 8, 2019

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has come under fire recently for a picture of him posing in black face in his medical school year book nearly 40 years ago. The scandal has emerged as a focal point in a larger debate about whether public figures should be held accountable for actions long before their political careers.


Everyone should be held accountable for their past

Racism has spanned for centuries, whether it has been directly presented or unknowingly passed along. Even though countries have tried to eradicate it, there are some things that cannot be ignored or overlooked.

Recently, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has encountered controversy for having a picture in his medical school yearbook from 1984 of him either wearing black face or being dressed as a member of the Klu Klux Klan, the notoriously racist supremacist group that was prominent in America post-Civil War.

“Racism is still very alive,” AP world history teacher Elizabeth Russell said. “The fact that there are people (in the government) who have public pictures of them with black face should be a red flag.”

Teachers aren’t the only ones to have strong opinions on the situation. Students are divided on the topic of whether or not Northam should stay in office.

“Think of it this way: What if you found out that the cashier at WalMart was a pedophile?” sophomore Skye Handley said. “Why is racism any different?”

Handley believes that Americans should make careful judgment about those who are in power.

“If someone fails a background check, it makes it hard for them to get a job,” Handley said. “If you used to steal, people judge you for that. If you used to act racist, the same should happen.”

Northam first confirmed, then denied that the picture is of him. However, he has admitted that he wore black paint on his face to portray celebrity Michael Jackson.

“Oh, he was Michael Jackson! Is that supposed to make it all right?” Russell said. “People used to paint their faces black and act dumb to portray African Americans as if they were daft. Those memories are still left behind from that. So, no, it’s not okay.”

Northam has said that he will not resign from his position, leaving many people feeling unsatisfied.

“I just want a (political leader) who isn’t a jerk,” sophomore Hannah Guiseppe said. “It shouldn’t be so hard for people to shut up and not be racist.”

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A slippery slope: the past is the past

Mutalibly of the past. This is one of the principle tenets of the Party, Ingsoc, in “1984” by George Orwell. The people currently excavating the past of Virginia Governor, Ralph Northam, are following the same principles that Orwell warned us against in his novel.

“For the most part, we shouldn’t be looking that things from almost forty years ago,” senior Allison Abrams said.

Orwell tells about a world where information is controlled and every single event in past is up for reconsideration and change.

It seems that while the past is being uncovered, the facts are shifting along with it.

“I don’t know if everything that people are saying is true,” Abrams said. “The events being talked about were so long ago.”

Even if the facts are true, the scale at which the public is acting as the jury, judge, and executioner sets a dangerous national precedent.

“It sets a dangerous precedent,” Abrams said. “That we just accuse politicians of being ineffective leaders based on mistakes they made in the past.”

This precedent won’t just apply to politicians; it could potentially affect high schoolers making choices right now.

One anonymous junior talks about some of their decisions.

“There are certain activities that  might be considered illegal that many have involved in, including myself,” they said. “I understand where the Virginian governor is coming from that people should be forgiving of other.”

Many of us have made unfortunate and unpleasant decisions in our past– this is simply human nature. While this by no means justifies racism, we ought to be looking towards people having the ability to redeem themselves instead of condemning them even after a fruitful life.

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