Embattled Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Saturday he feels he should remain in office to help his state heal and use the rest of his term to pursue racial “equity” — hoping to move on from a racist photograph scandal and admission of donning blackface in the past.
“It’s been a horrific week for Virginia. A lot of individuals across Virginia have been hurt,” Northam told The Washington Post Saturday in his first interview since the racist photograph surfaced February 1.
He acknowledged that he has “a lot more to learn,” the Post reported.
“The more I know, the more I can do,” he told the newspaper, adding, “I want to heal that pain, and I want to make sure that all Virginians have equal opportunity … and I think I’m the person that can do that for Virginia.”
Northam has been called to resign after the public reveal of a photograph in his 1984 medical school yearbook page featuring two individuals in racist costumes — one in blackface and the other in a Ku Klux Klan outfit. Northam initially apologized and said he was one of the people in the photo, but later recanted in a news conference a day later, saying he was not in the picture.
During that news conference, Northam said he had no plans to resign and also revealed that he had once darkened his face to resemble Michael Jackson during a dance contest in the 1980s.
Now aware his past actions have been “very offensive,” Northam told the Post Saturday he has directed his Cabinet to draw up proposals to tackle inequality in Virginia.
“It’s obvious from what happened this week that we still have a lot of work to do. There are still some very deep wounds in Virginia, and especially in the area of equity,” Northam told the newspaper, adding, “It has really raised the level of awareness for racial issues in Virginia. And so we’re ready to learn from our mistakes.”
He also told the Post that he “overreacted” with releasing his initial statement saying he was one of the two men in the racist yearbook photograph.
“If I had it to do over, I would step back and take a deep breath,” he said, the Post reported.
Northam plans to embark on a “reconciliation tour” around the state to engage in discussions about race and healing, the Post reported.
He also vowed to “take a harder line” on Confederate statues in Virginia and to implement sensitivity training in his government, according to the Post.
When asked by the Post if a portrait of a former Virginia governor who defended slavery should be removed from the governor’s mansion, Northam replied, “Well, I think that’s an important part of history, and we need to tell all history. We have good history in Virginia … and we have history that’s not good, and I don’t think we can shy away from any of it. We must tell it all, we must put it in perspective.”