A Station for Everyone
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

What Virginia's Black Community Has To Say About Gov. Ralph Northam


I want to bring in another voice here, Cornell William Brooks. He's a longtime Virginia resident, and he's a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is immediate past president of the NAACP, and he is here in our studios. Welcome.

CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS: It's great to be here.

KELLY: I said you're a longtime Virginia resident. How long you live there?

BROOKS: For over 20 years now.

KELLY: OK. And you voted for Ralph Northam...

BROOKS: I did.

KELLY: ...For governor. What went through your mind as this story broke on Friday?

BROOKS: I was more disappointed than shocked, and I was profoundly shocked.

KELLY: You're saying shocked, and I think that was the reaction of a lot of us as we watched this play out. Are you shocked that someone would think it was OK to go to a party in blackface in the mid-'80s in Virginia?

BROOKS: Well, first of all, though that was many years ago, in the mid-'80s in Virginia, the fact of the matter is the term hate crime came into being in the '80s. The Klan was still vocal and viable in the '80s. In the '80s, there were hate crimes perpetuated against African-Americans. And let us take note. In the '80s, we as a commonwealth were yet wrestling with a legacy of massive resistance to the abolition of Jim Crow and the integration of the public schools. Appearing at a party in blackface is as bad now as it was then.

KELLY: Give me a sense of how the conversation is playing out where you live in your community. And is there a story you'd tell me about a conversation you had over the weekend - I don't know - at the gym, at church, in your grocery line?

BROOKS: I mean it's a story that's really struck a deep chord in the sense that this is Virginia. People want to think of it as a mid-Atlantic state where some people have a Southern accent. But it is in fact a state in the South. And there are those that I've heard from who say that people 35 years ago who went to VMI, who grew up where the governor grew up, had those kinds of attitudes. But that being said, those same folks say, we can't excuse that.

Like, at what point do we say to ourselves as a state, people have to be accountable for their own racism? And so, you know, I've heard lots of folks talk about wrestling with being forgiving and holding people accountable. And I think there's a real tension. In the churches, you hear people wrestling with, how do we forgive? How do we hold people accountable, and how do we avoid being taken for granted?

KELLY: Do you see any path forward to healing as long as Ralph Northam is governor?

BROOKS: No. The reason being is in order to heal, one must acknowledge the depth, the severity, the danger of the wound. And when you lie, when you appear to look for the best way to render the diagnosis and the prognosis, healing is difficult to impossible. To move forward, we have to acknowledge what happened. To move forward, we have to acknowledge the pain that was caused. And to move forward, it means that the governor must be more concerned about the people he hurt than his political career.

KELLY: Professor Brooks, thank you.

BROOKS: No, thank you.

KELLY: That's Harvard professor and Virginia resident Cornell William Brooks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.