Virginia governor apologizes for ‘racist and offensive’ costume in photo showing people in blackface, KKK garb

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Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam confirmed Friday he was one of the individuals pictured in a photograph from his medical school yearbook showing one person dressed in blackface and another in the KKK’s signature white hood and robes, and apologized for his decision.

The photograph, which was obtained by CNN, appears in the 1984 yearbook for Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook. Northam did not say if he was wearing the KKK outfit or blackface.

The photo was first reported by conservative website Big League Politics.

The identity of the other individual in the photo is not yet known. The photo appears above Northam’s yearbook quote: “There are more old drunks than old doctors in this world so I think I’ll have another beer.”

Northam confirmed he was in the photo, and said in a statement that the costume was “clearly racist and offensive.”

“Earlier today, a website published a photograph of me from my 1984 medical school yearbook in a costume that is clearly racist and offensive,” Northam said. “I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now.

“This behavior is not in keeping with who I am today and the values I have fought for throughout my career in the military, in medicine, and in public service. But I want to be clear, I understand how this decision shakes Virginians’ faith in that commitment.”

He added, “I recognize that it will take time and serious effort to heal the damage this conduct has caused. I am ready to do that important work. The first step is to offer my sincerest apology and to state my absolute commitment to living up to the expectations Virginians set for me when they elected me to be their Governor.”

Northam, a former pediatric neurosurgeon and Army doctor, won the governorship in 2017.

The photo’s circulation comes following controversial remarks that Northam made Wednesday while voicing his support for a third-trimester abortion bill currently held in the state legislature.

Third-trimester abortions are “done in cases where there may be severe deformities. There may be a fetus that’s nonviable. So in this particular example, if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen,” Northam told Washington radio station WTOP. “The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired. And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”

The photo drew immediate reaction from state Republican leaders and Kellyanne Conway, White House counselor to President Donald Trump.

Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Jack Wilson and state Sen. Bryce Reeves called for Northam to resign.

“Racism has no place in Virginia,” Wilson said in a statement. “These pictures are wholly inappropriate. If Governor Northam appeared in blackface or dressed in a KKK robe, he should resign immediately.”

“I hope that this picture is inaccurate and that the Governor brings clarity to this issue,” Reeves tweeted. “This has no place in Virginia. If this is true, he should resign immediately.”

The Virginia General Assembly’s Republican leaders — House Speaker Kirk Cox, Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment, House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert and Senate Rules Committee Chairman Ryan T. McDougle — called for “an immediate explanation by the Governor” in a statement.

Conway belittled Northam with a comparison to the controversy surrounding Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, tweeting, “This should be easier work than parsing every word and semicolon in the Kavanaugh yearbook.”

By Caroline Kelly, CNN

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