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For Display of 'Uninhibited Racism,' Demand Grows for Virginia Governor Ralph Northam's Immediate Resignation

"This photo makes light of one of the darkest times in our nation's history and is offensive to the millions of people who were tortured, brutalized, and held against their will for hundreds of years. There is no excuse for such repugnant behavior."

A photo from Gov. Ralph Northam's medical school yearbook shows two men, one in blackface and one in a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood, on the section set aside for Northam. A half-page from the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook, photographed by The Virginian-Pilot on Friday, Feb. 1, 2019. (Source: Eastern Virginia Medical School)

Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is facing intensifying demands for his resignation from all sides on Saturday after a photo from his medical school days surfaced on Friday exposed "uninhibited" racist behavior from his past.

While the image shows one person in blackface standing next to another individual in a Ku Klux Klan uniform, Northam on Friday apologized for the photo but did not divulge which of the two people might be him nor tender his resignation. "I am ready to do the hard work of regaining your trust," Northam said.

But racial justice groups, civil rights leaders, and fellow Democrats are among those saying that an apology won't be enough and that Northam should step aside immediately.

"If Gov. Northam is in the photo that surfaced today he should immediately offer the people of Virginia his resignation," said Our Revolution president Nina Turner on Friday. "All elected officials are held to the highest standards and this photo is beneath that of any elected office, and especially that of a governor. This photo makes light of one of the darkest times in our nation's history and is offensive to the millions of people who were tortured, brutalized, and held against their will for hundreds of years. There is no excuse for such repugnant behavior."

"Though it brings us no joy to do so," said the members of the Democratic State House in a letter, "we must call for Governor Northam’s resignation."

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The NAACP has also called for Northam to step down.

"Black face in any manner is always racist and never okay," said the group's president and CEO, Derrick Johnson. "No matter the party affiliation, we can not stand for such behavior, which is why the NAACP is calling for the resignation of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam."

In a statement attached to a petition, the advocacy group Color of Change called the governor "not fit to represent the people of Virginia" and said his resignation must come "immediately":

The photos alone are enough to prove that Governor Northam is not fit to represent the people of Virginia, but the implications are even greater. This isn’t just a one off incident, but part of a disturbing history that includes him going by the name “coonman” — a racial slur — in high school. Though he won’t admit whether he was in Blackface or dressed as the klansman, both are unacceptable.

The fact that he was at this party at all demonstrates, at minimum, a stunning lack of judgment and calls into question his values and integrity. We know that when these types of degrading characterizations rule the day, it reinforces biases that have a devastating impact on our communities. The real-world consequences of normalizing these tropes include inferior medical treatment, harsher sentencing by judges, and a higher likelihood of being shot by police.

"We demand his resignation now," the group continued. "Black people are not a costume and our country’s racist history is not a light-hearted game. Blackface, previously considered an art form in this country, stereotypes and dehumanizes Black people, characterizing us as inferior and incapable. Paired with the man dressed in KKK garb, this yearbook page illustrates a disgusting display of uninhibited racism."

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