Northam Says Blackface Photo Scandal Has Been An ‘Awakening For Virginia’

Alex Edelman/Getty Images North America

In his first interview since the release of a blackface photo in his medical school’s yearbook, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam told the Washington Post Saturday that he vows to spend the remaining three years of his term pursuing “equity.”

Despite mounting calls for his resignation, Northam told the Post that he sees the “horrific” reckoning that came out of the scandal as a way to refocus his governorship.

The Post reports that Northam seemed “chastened and subdued” as he recalled the past week of recognizing his personal failures upon the racist photo’s release.

“It’s been a horrific week for Virginia. A lot of individuals across Virginia have been hurt,” Northam said during a Saturday morning interview with the Post that was limited to 30 minutes and restricted release of audio or a full transcript.

Northam maintained that he is not in the photo — which shows one person in blackface and another in KKK robes — but could not say why he initially took responsibility for it.

“I overreacted,” Northam said, referring to the statement he released that took blame for the photo. “If I had it to do over I would step back and take a deep breath.”

In light of the controversy, Northam said he asked his cabinet secretaries to begin reporting suggestions Monday on how to tackle issues of inequality such as expanding access to health care, housing and transportation.

“It’s obvious from what happened this week that we still have a lot of work to do,” Northam said. “And so this has been a real, I think, an awakening for Virginia. It has really raised the level of awareness for racial issues in Virginia. And so we’re ready to learn from our mistakes.”

During his seclusion this week, in which he used tunnels to shuttle between the mansion and his office in a building nearby, Northam said he had “painful” conversations with black lawmakers who continue to call for his resignation.

Northam told the Post that there was “no question” about whether he felt liberated by the opportunity to atone for his mistakes.

Northam also said that the sexual assault allegations against Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax are “horrific” and must be “taken very seriously,” but that he has not come up with a potential replacement if Fairfax resigns.

“Lt. Gov. Fairfax has suggested and called for an investigation, I strongly support that,” Northam said.

Read the Post’s interview with Northam here.

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