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How Virginians Are Reacting To The Racial Controversies Consuming Their State


Michael is one of many reporters who've come to the Virginia State Capitol to record these events as they play out. Mallory Noe-Payne of member station WVTF has been there too, and yesterday, she took a break for lunch at Croaker's Spot, a soul food restaurant where she ended up talking with the staff there about the racial controversies consuming their state.

MALLORY NOE-PAYNE, BYLINE: It's not too busy, even though it's lunchtime.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: All right. Two piece...

ARI COLEMAN: It's ridiculous.

NOE-PAYNE: That's chef Ari Coleman taking a break from the kitchen. He wants to talk about his elected officials who have admitted to wearing blackface.

COLEMAN: From the governor and now the attorney general as well. And we're talking about the '80s - talking about the '60s. The '60s and the '50s, OK, maybe need to say, OK, well you know, they was in their thing in that moment. But in the '80s? In the '80s, we supposed to have been over all that - apparently not.

NOE-PAYNE: He thinks they should all just step down.

COLEMAN: Because it's a completely racist statement and a completely abominable, racist, disrespectful statement.

NOE-PAYNE: For him, it's not just having fun at a party. This is Virginia. Racial violence is not in the distant past.

COLEMAN: You know, KKK basically says, let's kill the black boys. Let's kill the black folks. Let's spray them with water hoses and sic the dogs on them and hang them from trees, you know. That was their rhetoric.

NOE-PAYNE: It's not like the staff here is just sitting around talking about these controversies. But when they come up, everyone has something to say.

COLEMAN: I would rather racism be in my face and for me to know what it is and let me deal with it, make that decision. You know, I think a resignation needs to happen.

NOE-PAYNE: Franklin Williams is the manager here. He's lived in Virginia his whole life. None of this surprises him.

FRANKLIN WILLIAMS: Racism hasn't gone anywhere, it just gets a new face every year. That's how I feel. They find a new way, you know, as quick as they can. They hide because it's so taboo.

NOE-PAYNE: Williams voted for the governor. He feels slighted and angry.

WILLIAMS: What was the point? You know, was it a joke? Was it fun? How do I know that your mentality has changed?

CHANTA MASSENBURG: You know, some of the greatest accomplishments have come from people who have had shady histories or, you know, bad histories.

NOE-PAYNE: Chanta Massenburg works the register. She thinks people should be given a second chances, especially if they're remorseful.

MASSENBURG: We all have things we've done that we aren't proud of, and I don't think those things should be held over your head if you're 30 years later trying to better yourself and do things to benefit the greater good.

NOE-PAYNE: You think even blackface falls into that category?

MASSENBURG: Of course it falls under that category.

NOE-PAYNE: Customers stop in, grab their takeout. The staff here get back to work. And who will run Virginia? That question continues to play out a couple miles north in the state house. For NPR News, I'm Mallory Noe-Payne in Richmond. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mallory Noe-Payne is a freelance reporter and producer based in Richmond, Virginia. Although she's a native Virginian, she's most recently worked for public radio in Boston. There, she helped produce stories about higher education, including a nationally-airing series on the German university system. In addition to working for WGBH in Boston, she's worked at WAMU in Washington D.C. She graduated from Virginia Tech with degrees in Journalism and Political Science.