Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam says 2019 racist photo scandal ‘opened my eyes’

“It made me a better-educated and more-informed person," Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam is opening up about his journey after a racist photo from his old yearbook surfaced in 2019.

Northam completed an extensive interview with the New York Times to talk about the moment, and the aftermath, which he said made him a better person leading to a commitment of more racial justice policies.

“It has really opened my eyes,” Northam told the New York Times. “It made me a better-educated and more-informed person. So it’s helped me to understand when people talk about Black oppression. And I don’t know that I was able to do that before February 2019. Not that my intentions weren’t there, because I’ve always tried to treat people equally and fair, but I understand more now.”

This came after a photo from Northam’s medical school yearbook page surfaced in February 2019, showing two individuals posing for a racist photo. The image included one person in blackface and the other person in a Ku Klux Klan outfit.

According to the recent interview, Northam said he did not know if he was either person in the photo. New York Times national political reporter asked the politician, “As a fact-checking thing, I know you said at the time you did not recall if you were either man in the racist photograph. Is that still true?”

Northam responded saying, “That is correct.”

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

The 61-year-old also weighed in on the calls for his resignation and why he felt comfortable saying he would not resign. 

“I know myself,” Northam told the New York Times. “I know how I was raised. I know that I got into this job because I want to help people. So I knew if people stuck with me, we could bring good.”

However, in the interview, he admitted to how some of his policy accomplishments would never have happened if the 2019 racist scandal never happened.

“I would have liked to have understood all this when I was, you know, sworn into office, but it wasn’t like that,” he told the New York Times.

Northam shared that signing legislation to get rid of the death penalty at the Greensville Correctional Center was one of his proudest accomplishments.

As theGrio previously reported in February 2019, Virginia Northam did apologize for the photo.

“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 in the statement. “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.”

The pictures first surfaced in the Virginian-Pilot and showed Northam, a Democrat, in his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook.

While talking with reporters, Northam acknowledged he once used shoe polish to put on blackface as part of a Michael Jackson costume for a 1984 dance contest in Texas, when he was in the Army. Northam said he regrets that he didn’t understand “the harmful legacy of an action like that.”

 “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,” he said in the statement. “But I want to be clear, I understand how this decision shakes Virginians’ faith in that commitment.”

theGrio’s Jay Scott Smith contributed to this report.

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