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Maybe Gov. Ralph Northam should say, 'You first, Mr. President'

By Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

I'm disappointed in Ralph Northam, but not just for the reasons most people are saying. I'm disappointed that the embattled Democratic governor of Virginia didn't try to push back for a better deal.

True, he hasn't had much wiggle room. Even in these polarized political times, an impressively bipartisan blamestorm boiled up to call for his resignation after right-wing website Big League Politics unearthed a photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook of two men, one in blackface and the other in a hooded Ku Klux Klan robe.

Last Friday, Northam apologized for being one of the two young men "in a costume that is clearly racist and offensive," although he did not say which of the two costumed individuals was the governor.

The next day he suddenly reversed course. After further examination, he said, "I believe then, and now, that I am not either of the people" in the photo.

Say what? Suddenly Northam's narrative had slipped from merely bad to totally ridiculous.

But Northam stood firm, saying his memory somehow had confused the Halloween party in the photo with a dance contest in which he "darkened" his face with two dabs of shoe polish on his cheeks to dress up as Michael Jackson and perform a moonwalk.

Which raised a few new questions, such as how had Northam confused two such distinctly different events? Did he make a habit of wearing shoe polish on his face?

I don't think I would have trouble remembering an occasion in which I put on blackface makeup, but, since I am already black I've never felt much of a need to embellish what nature has given me.

One diligent reporter asked Northam if he could still do a moonwalk -- and he almost did. But his wife interrupted him with a firm note of caution. "Inappropriate circumstances," she said. He took the hint. Good move.

Adding to his misery, CBS News had reported another picture from Northam's 1981 yearbook says that he also was given the nickname "Coonman," which sounds a lot like a variation on a well-known racial slur. Northam would confirm only the nickname "Goose," branded on him by another friend.

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(c) 2019 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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