Northam situation shows our nation still has issues with race relations

It is easy to understand why some Virginians may not be paying the same amount of attention as they would in a normal year to the president’s State of the Union address on Tuesday. Residents of the Old Dominion have their own political preoccupation this week.

Credit Gov. Ralph Northam for that. He has posed a series of questions to Virginians: Is our governor racially insensitive? Is his dishonest? If he is neither, what, exactly, happened in 1984?

Northam made headlines first last week when he was asked about a proposed change in Virginia’s limits on abortion. If enacted, a bill under consideration in Richmond would allow some abortions during the third trimester of pregnancy. Northam’s comment seemed to suggest parents of a child born alive after a botched abortion should decide whether to let the infant live — though a spokesperson insisted that is not what he meant.

Controversy over that was barely gaining momentum when Northam became embroiled in something else.

Call it Yearbookgate: A page in the 1984 yearbook at the medical school Northam attended featured him. One of the pictures shows two people, one appearing to be a white man in blackface, the other dressed in a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood.

At first, Northam apologized, but said he wasn’t certain which of the two people was him.

Within hours, he was insisting he was not in the picture at all — and had never seen the page.

It should not be difficult to determine whether Northam is in the photograph. No doubt a squad of journalists is working on that investigation now.

Clearly, Northam should resign if he is not being truthful — for dishonesty as well as racial insensitivity at a time in his life when he should have been mature enough to avoid that.

If he is right, of course, it raises other issues that are, in a way, even more troubling. Why would anyone think including such a picture on Northam’s yearbook page was a good idea?

Why should anyone outside Virginia care, one way or another?

For this reason: Whatever the situation involving the picture, it is one more reminder that race relations remain a challenge in our nation — all of it.

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