Black History Month 2019 is proving to be quite interesting.
February has been filled with racially charged controversies. Vintage symbols of racism like blackface and lynchings — matters we assumed were long-buried — are now revisiting us in the 21st century, from both sides of the political aisle.
First, there was the attack on actor Jussie Smollett last month. The “Empire” star was walking to his Chicago apartment when two men attacked him while shouting racist and homophobic slurs. One of the perpetrators placed a noose around Smollett’s neck and poured an unknown liquid on his head. Many celebrities and activists took to social media, sending their love and support.
Headlines by CNN and other media outlets labelling this incident as a “possible hate crime” were extremely problematic. Possible isn’t actual. As a journalist, I understand the importance of not jumping to conclusions; however, if someone puts a noose around a black person’s neck, that should be more than enough evidence. Does an actual lynching have to happen for people to wake up and say affirmatively that this is a crime done out of prejudice and hatred — in other words, an actual hate crime? And let’s be crystal clear, Smollett wasn’t attacked for being only gay or only black but because he is both.
Thankfully, he escaped with only bruises and minor injuries. Then, the headlines changed and we all thought that maybe that was as bizarre as it could get. But apparently, bad things really do come in threes.
In a synopsis of last week, both the Governor of Virginia and his attorney general admitted to wearing blackface in college. Let’s look at the overall significance of all of this and its possible consequences for the 2020 presidential elections.
Ralph Northam’s handling of this scandal has been unacceptable, and he has refused to step down in spite of calls for his resignation.
On Feb. 6, Virginia state Attorney General Mark Herring also confessed to having worn “dark makeup” back in his college days.
Personally, what has made these revelations particularly upsetting and hurtful is that both Northam and Herring are aligned with the party that I support.
African-Americans overwhelmingly voted for Northam. For him to refuse to step down is a slap in the face to the black people who helped get him into office. In the words of New York Times columnist Charles Blow, “Democrats owe Black people a debt.”
A scandal like this supports the arguments of many on the right, especially black conservatives like Candace Owens, that the Democratic Party cares about black votes and nothing more, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that the site behind the revelation of the Northam scandal has GOP operatives. Big League Politics, the far-right, pro-Trump website that posted a photo of Northam, is led by ideologically driven news publishers. They are using modern technology to commit the oldest trick in the book: divide and conquer. They know that they can’t get the majority of African-Americans to vote Republican, but they can make sure that they don’t give their votes to the Democrats.
Between now and November 2020, we will probably be seeing a lot more scandals like the one in Virginia, in addition to the surfacing of sexual assault allegations against Democratic lawmakers. The right’s plan is to cast the Democrats as an equally racist and sexist bunch, resulting in many black voters either voting as independents or not voting at all.
This isn’t to say that the members of the Democratic Party are angels; on the contrary, there are many things that need to change. But in politics, as in life, we have to pick our poison: the lesser evil.
Suad Patton-Bey is a senior journalism and Arabic minor from Oxford.