The Black Face Mystery

One can see where mockingly wearing blackface can be seen as offensive to many people – black and white. Besides, any accusations of sexual assault – rape – must be taken seriously. Rape is among the most serious crimes while putting on blackface as a party costume is in very poor taste, but not a crime. Both activities, however, have resulted in calls for Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring to step down because of their youthful antics in going to costume events in blackface. And Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax to resign after two women have accused him of sexual assault.

The fact that long ago youthful high jinx appears to be equated with Class A felony crime is a bit unsettling. But in these days of hyper-sensitive political correctness, that seems to be the case.

The charges against Fairfax need to be investigated and adjudicated if there is sufficient evidence to warrant prosecution. If true, the Lt. Governor will not only be compelled to resign. He has a good chance of landing in prison.

Still, all this has become a comic opera – a situation comedy that is a satire of itself. It would not take much-scripted exaggeration to become a sketch on Saturday Night Live, or a front-page piece in the satirical publication, The Onion.

That is not to say that the wearing of blackface is not a seriously offensive activity – even considering the times in which it occurred. Of course, it was meant to be funny at the time but still reflected a contemptuous mocking of black people. Those who were laughing at the time, were not guffawing in sympathy WITH black people, but at them.

While the long events may not be considered humorous by today’s standards, the way they were handled – and how they unfolded — is what evokes that special you-gotta-be-kidding laughter. It is pure situation comedy played out on the real stage of life.

First, for a progressive Democrat governor being caught in such a politically incorrect situation is the kind of irony that evokes a humorous response – cynical as it may be. The comedic level increases as Northam explains that one of the persons in the photo – the guy in blackface or the person concealed by the Ku Klux Klan hook – is him. He just does not know which one it is. That is a laugh line, for sure.

As if that is not enough, Northam next claims he is not sure the that either of them is him. What? He then goes on to claim that neither of them is him. Such public floundering is the essence of “pratfall” comedy, but at least he is finally off the hook. Right? On no. His disclaimer turns out to be a set up for even a funnier line.
Though he is not in the offensive photograph – as questionable as his claim may be – he then admits that he did do black face another time to imitate Michael Jackson – with gloves and all, as he put it. When a reporter asked if he could do Jackson’s iconic moon-walk, Northam clutches and looks over to his wife.
She advises him that performing in front of the press would be in bad taste. Well duh! Northam probably should have known that without outside counsel, but then again, he IS the guy who put on the blackface in the first place and now cannot recall when or why.

This was just about the time that it seemed Northam would be resigning under pressure from every Democrat member of the Virginia legislature and virtually every Democrat presidential candidate and prospective presidential candidate.

This would mean that Lt. Governor Fairfax — a black man – would be taking over. Oh, the irony of it all. Northam does black face and a black person is in line to take his place. But this production is far from over. That is when Fairfax gets hit with a credible accusation of sexual assault – and then, in accordance with the modern #MeToo culture, he gets hit with a second accusation.

Now it would appear that both the Governor and the Lt. Governor were going to have to resign – turning over the office to Attorney General Herring. But this comedic farce is not about to come to an end. Great humor is always full of surprises.

Weeell … this is where the Attorney General sheepishly admits that he ALSO donned blackface way back when. (We should pause here until the laughter subsides.) Herring gets hoisted on his own petard as the guy who demanded Northam resign for doing exactly what he has done.

With the prospect of the three top Virginia Democrats all leaving office, who – pray tell – would take over the governorship? It would be the Speaker of the House – and he is a Republican. This has now become a comedic melodrama par excellence.

Suddenly, the Democrats have a problem. All those calls for Northam, Fairfax and Herring to resign based on the self-proclaimed “high moral ground” are suddenly muted as high morality comes in conflict with political pragmaticism. Northam’s transgression against political correctness and racial tolerance that commenced this bit of political theater is suddenly downgraded from a mortal to a venial sin. And, suddenly Northam’s mandatory resignation is no long a requirement of contrition.

Northam again goes for humor when he explains that he will not resign because he feels that he is the one person who can lead Virginia into a new age of racial tolerance. Laughter continues as the curtain falls – assuming that is the end of the last act.

In the final irony, it is the black guy in the middle who is likely to be the only political casualty. The gods of Greek comedy could not have spun a better tale.

So, there ‘tis.

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