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Monday, February 11, 2019

Before We Were Slaves: More on the first Africans in Virginia

Today on Democracy Now, Amy Goodman spent the bulk of the show with Glenn Greenwald trashing Jeff Bezos and Amazon. While most of their critique was true, it is the timing that I find interesting. Because Bezos is making news by exposing the blackmail practices of the National Enquirer and Donald Trump pal David Pecker, they spend the hour attacking him. The best defense is a good offence. I get that, but I'm not here to talk about that. I'm writing this to talk about something Amy Goodman said in the Headline section:
Host Gayle King had to correct Northam when he referred to slaves brought to Virginia in the 17th century as “indentured servants.”
Gov. Ralph Northam: “In 1619, the first indentured servants from Africa landed on our shores in Old Point Comfort, what we call now Fort Monroe. And while—

Gayle King: “Also known as slavery.”

Gov. Ralph Northam: “Yes.”
Sean Hannity used the same quote, and made the same point on Fox News. Why doesn't Democracy Now do their own homework rather than parrot the mainstream media when they think that's the cool thing to do?

So, the points I made this morning in FACT CHECK! Gayle King: You are wrong, VA Gov Northam is right - 1st Africans in US were not slaves! are worth repeating.

Actually, the correct answer is a bit more complicated than either Northam's of King's answer. Some good scholarship has been done on this (See Sluiter & Thornton) that traces these 20 Africans back to the Angola region of Africa. Clearly, they were headed for slavery when they were taken on the high seas from a Portuguese slave ship. I'm not sure they should be considered slaves already just because they had been captured. Sluiter established that they weren't "seasoned" or had labored under slave conditions before they were taken by the Dutch raiders. In any case, they were sold in Virginia, which was an English colony. Slaves as a legal status was obsolete in England, and didn't exist in Virginia, as legal status until 1661, so they were treated as indentured servants, which was terrible for all subjected to that bondage. But it was still not the developed slave system as manifested in the 1705 Virginia Slave Codes.

It's important that we get this right. The "traditional" white supremacist version of our history is exactly what Gayle King said: That the first 20 Africans that landed in Fort Monroe, VA in 1619 where slaves. Wrong! This supports a narrative that blacks were always slaves in this country until the white man freed them. Wrong!

I won't repeat the history I related in that piece. Consider it incorporated here by reference. But I do want to take this opportunity to respond to the criticism that the claim that those first twenty Africans in Virginia were indentured servants and not slaves rests solely on the fact that the law didn't permit slaves in Virginia until 1661. Those critics are saying that while their legal status may have been that of "indentured servants," they were slaves in every other respect.

In the hopes that I can convince them that the true history is different than they imagine, I have transcribed to text this brief selection from The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675 by Bernard Bailyn:
"Negars,” “negors,” and Africans otherwise identified by color had begun appearing in very small numbers well before 1619, when John Rolfe noted the arrival in Virginia of “20. and odd Negroes.” They were Angolans hijacked from a shipment to Spanish America and sold by their Dutch captors “for victualles.” Their numbers rose very slowly, their arrivals random occurrences. The Virginia census of 1625 identified only twenty-three blacks, scattered thinly through the separate plantations. In 1640 Maryland recorded twenty blacks. But then the numbers began to rise as planters gradually, almost casually, began including them in their purchasing orders. 80 in 1638. Baltimore ordered his agent to buy for him—along with forty cattle, ten sows, and forty hens—“ten negroes to be transported to St. Mareys,” and in 1642 Leonard Calvert offered a passing ship captain three manors or 24,000 pounds of tobacco for fourteen “negroe men-slaves, of between 16 & 26 yeare old, able & sound of body and limbs.” By 1650 there were 300 blacks in Maryland; in 1660, 758; and in 1670, 1,190 (9 percent of the population), by which time Virginia’s black population had reached 2,000. But there was as yet no wholesale importation of slaves. The proposal of the Royal African Company in 1664 to send one to two hundred slaves a year to Maryland had to be refused, Charles Calvert reported, because there were not “men of estates good enough to undertake such a businesse,” despite the fact that “wee are naturally inclin’d to love neigros if our purses would endure it.” Most if not all of those who arrived in Maryland came not directly from Africa but from the Caribbean islands, Barbados in particular, from Spanish settlements on the mainland, and from Dutch islands via New Netherland, hence people who were to some extent “seasoned” and used to life in European colonies. And they came in various statuses. Some came as freemen and remained free, though often under particular disabilities. Others could show by oral or written testimony that their service was contractually limited to a specific term, after which, like indentured servants, they were to be released. And a very few, who came bound in service, through ceaseless labor and fierce determination were able to buy their freedom and that of their families and establish themselves in the society at large. In 1668 nearly a third of the fifty-nine blacks in Northampton County on Virginia’s lower Eastern Shore, all of whom had arrived bound in unlimited servitude, had acquired freedom; some had bought property which they were able to pass on to the next generation, established effective community ties among themselves, and participated broadly in the larger white society. All blacks before 1660, Edmund Morgan writes, “whether servant, slave, or free, enjoyed most of the same rights and duties of other Virginians. There is no evidence . . . that they were subjected to a more severe discipline than other servants.”

But the importance of the most remarkable achievers among the blacks can easily be exaggerated. Their numbers in fact were small, they are found only in one or two counties, they were subject to white harassment, and their claims to independence and full equality were tenuous, contestable, and not long sustained. The great majority of Africans, even in this most favorable period, were never viewed as fully equal to white servants. Lacking contracts, actual or implicit, and having been bought or seized in Africa or abroad, they were considered to be bound in servitude for life unless otherwise identified, a condition never imposed on whites but that seemed suitable in most Europeans’ eyes.
I have made bold the section I want to draw your attention to. I don't know how important it is that we remember this early history correctly as we fight for racial equality today. There was a period in history of our country, however brief, before slavery was established. There was already a degree of social justice that first had to be overthrown to establish the slave system. It then required a bloody civil war some two hundred years latter to end that system, and put us, however tentatively, back on the road to social justice.

We should also remember that condition for the English, Irish & Scot laborers in Virginia were also very much slave like.  Historian Edmund S. Morgan noted:
Virginia offered a bleak alternative to the workhouse or the gallows for the first English poor who were transported there.
And James Baldwin wrote:
The Irish middle passage, for but one example, was as foul as my own, and as dishonorable on the part of those responsible for it. But the Irish became white when they got here and began rising in the world, whereas I became black and began sinking.
Its important that attempts to bury Ralph Northam also not bury this history.


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FACT CHECK! Gayle King: You are wrong, VA Gov Northam is right - 1st Africans in US were not slaves!

Gayle King's CBS News interview with embattled Virginia Governor Ralph Northam gave way to conflict fast. After Gayle King asked him: "Where would you like to begin?"

Ralph Northam began: "If you look at Virginia history we're now at the 400 year anniversary, just 90 miles from here in 1619 the first indentured servants from Africa landed on our shores in Old Point Comfort, what we call Fort Monroe, and while ..."

At this point Gayle King interrupts him to say: "Also known as slaves."



So, what are the facts of the matter? What was the status of the first Africans that landed in Virginia? Are indentured servants the same as slaves?

As we say in the tech world "Google is your friend." So with the help of Google, let's start with the first question last, the one provoked by King's "correction" of Northam.

When I Google "first Africans in america," I get this summary from African Americans - Wikipedia:
The first recorded Africans in British North America (including most of the future United States) were "20 and odd negroes" who came to Jamestown, Virginia via Cape Comfort in August 1619 as indentured servants.
It's almost like Northam was reading from Wikipedia. So who's right, Northam and Wikipedia, or Gayle King and CBS News, and does it matter?

Digging further, Wikipedia cites: Grizzard Jr., Frank E.; Smith, D. Boyd (2007). Jamestown Colony: A Political, Social, and Cultural History. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. p. 198. ISBN 978-1-85109-637-4.

The link on Grizzard gives us this background:
Frank E. Grizzard Jr., is an American historian, writer, and documentary editor. He was born in 1954 in Emporia, Virginia, graduating from Greensville County High School in 1971. He earned B.A. degrees in history and religious studies from the Virginia Commonwealth University, and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in history from the University of Virginia. His doctoral dissertation, Documentary History of the Construction of the Buildings at the University of Virginia, 1817–1828 dead link], consisting of a lengthy narrative and more than 1,750 documents chronicling the construction of Thomas Jefferson's architectural masterpiece, the Academical Village, became the first electronic dissertation to be placed online when it was completed in 1996. The dissertation was tagged in the Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) while Grizzard was a fellow at the University of Virginia's Institute for Advanced Technologies in the Humanities (IATH).
So he seems very solid, although there are many sources for what Wikipedia regards as the facts of the matter. [See for example: The Misguided Focus on 1619 as the Beginning of Slavery in the U.S. Damages Our Understanding of American History, Michael Guasco, Smithsonian.com]  But are indentured servants and slaves essentially the same thing, and was King interrupting to make the point that Northam was avoiding calling them slaves? That's what it seemed like to me.

Again we turn to Google, the search is for "indentured servants vs slaves."
Question: How were indentured servants different from slaves?

Answer: Servants typically worked four to seven years in exchange for passage, room, board, lodging and freedom dues. While the life of an indentured servant was harsh and restrictive, it wasn't slavery. There were laws that protected some of their rights.
This is from the PBS History Detectives page on Indentured Servants In The U.S., and it goes on to speak directly to the question at hand:
In 1619 the first black Africans came to Virginia. With no slave laws in place, they were initially treated as indentured servants, and given the same opportunities for freedom dues as whites. However, slave laws were soon passed – in Massachusetts in 1641 and Virginia in 1661 –and any small freedoms that might have existed for blacks were taken away.
This is an extremely important FACT about American history. It is one that Gayle King and CBS News, either through their own ignorance, or their desire to keep us ignorant, is trying to obscure.

Ralph Northam, the Governor of Virginia, knows:

The first Africans that came to the US were not slaves!

That legal status didn't even exist yet. That came much later, mid-century. There were no "white people" in the US either in 1619, at least nobody was calling themselves "white" yet. That also came much later in the 1600's, concurrent with the abandonment of indentured servitude for all, and the adoption of racial slavery.

The History Detectives need to do a little investigating, and revise the above statement by replacing "white" with "English," because if they go back in a time machine to 1619, and start asking about "white people," the Virginians won't have a clue what they are talking about. Not only was this a time before slaves in Virginia, this was a time before Virginians were divided into "black" and "white" people.

The phrase "white people" had only been invented in 1613, just 6 years earlier in a London play named "The Triumphs of Truth," by Jacobean playwright Thomas Middleton. Ironically for our current discussions, it was first uttered by an English actor in blackface playing an African king. He looks out over the audience and says
I see amazement set upon the faces/Of these white people, wond’rings and strange gazes.
It would be another 50 years before the phrase began to be widely used. In 1619, there were no slaves in Virginia. There were no "white people" or "black people" in Virginia yet. English and Africans worked together, played together, and even freely intermarried. Racism had to be taught, ground in really, and that came later. Everyone that was here legally was an indentured servant or free. All indentured servants where bonded for a given number of years, after which they would be released from bondage and given their "freedom dues." This might include a little land, and the former bondsman might become so successful at farming that they might start importing bonded servants on his own and competing with his former master for the available fertile land. Even Africans could follow that route and a number became so successful in their own right that they had their own bondsmen.

Even as late as 1676, three-quarters of all the bondmen in Virginia were European. Governor Berkeley, one of the first governors of Virginia, estimated that about 1,500 European chattel bond-laborers arrived in Virginia that year, "the majority English, with a few Scots and fewer Irish."

However, labor unrest was growing, and it was proving increasingly difficult to keep everyone in chains. There was an economic crisis in Virginia in the last half of the 17th century that brought to the fore the class differences between the working poor and a handful of "grantees." African and European laborers fought together, often with arms, against the colonial powers and the landowners.

In Virginia there were at least 10 popular or servile revolts between the 1663 Servants’ plot for an insurrectionary march to freedom, to the tobacco riots of 1682. In Bacon’s Rebellion, 1676, an army of European and African bond-servants and freedman recently “out of their time” captured and burned the colonial capital of Jamestown, which Governor Berkeley left in a hurry. It took 1100 British troops sent from England in 11 ships to put him back, and they took a while to get there.

Nathaniel Bacon confronts Governor William Berkeley at the Statehouse in Jamestown
This class struggle accelerated the move towards African slavery. Karl Marxwrote about why the colonial capitalists turned to this indentured servitude labor system, and why even it was failing, in Capital, Vol. 1:
It avails him nothing, if he is so cunning as to import from Europe, with his own capital, his own wage-workers. They soon “cease... to be labourers for hire; they... become independent landowners, if not competitors with their former masters in the labour-market.”[15] Think of the horror! The excellent capitalist has imported bodily from Europe, with his own good money, his own competitors! The end of the world has come! No wonder Wakefield laments the absence of all dependence and of all sentiment of dependence on the part of the wage-workers in the colonies. On account of the high wages, says his disciple, Merivale, there is in the colonies “the urgent desire for cheaper and more subservient labourers — for a class to whom the capitalist might dictate terms, instead of being dictated to by them...." 
The solution the colonial capitalists came up with was racial slavery. The History Detectives put it this way:
As demands for labor grew, so did the cost of indentured servants. Many landowners also felt threatened by newly freed servants demand for land. The colonial elite realized the problems of indentured servitude. Landowners turned to African slaves as a more profitable and ever-renewable source of labor and the shift from indentured servants to racial slavery had begun.
This history is extremely important for us to understand if we are to ever overcome racism in country. There was a period before racism, as we have come to know it, even existed.

There was a period in US history when English and African "slaves," shall we say, lived, labored and revolted together.  Those first 20 Africans that landed in Virginia were not slaves, they had the same legal status as the English, Irish and Scots that arrived in chains in much greater numbers that year. VA Governor Ralph Northam know this history, but CBS News would prefer that you didn't. I think that is why Gayle King interrupted the Governor.

See also:
The hidden meaning of Northam's racist yearbook photo, 2 February 2019
If Ralph Northam has to resign, why is Donald Trump still in office?, 5 February 2019
How the "Northam" redefinition of blackface serves white supremacy, 6 February 2019

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Friday, February 8, 2019

Northam blackface: Does Democracy Now really believe most Michael Jackson impersonators are racist?

Frankly, I don't see how you can draw any other conclusion.

In the headline section of Thursday's show, Amy Goodman was bringing us up to date on the Virginia blackface scandal. After relating the latest news, the admission by Virginia AG Mark Herring that he had once wore blackface, she went on to say:
His admission came just days after a racist photo emerged showing Governor Ralph Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page, depicting a man wearing blackface posing next to a man wearing a Ku Klux Klan outfit. Northam initially apologized for the yearbook page but later said he was neither of the two men in the photo, while admitting to wearing blackface on another occasion that same year.
Amy Goodman is saying that Ralph Northam admitted to wearing blackface on another occasion that same year, but Northam never used the word blackface to describe what he had done. So how did he describe it? This is what he said at the Saturday Press Conference:
That same year, I did participate in a dance contest in San Antonio in which I darkened my face as part of a Michael Jackson costume.
In other words, he performed a winning Michael Jackson impersonation! That isn't particularly original, but I have also never heard it called racist until Northam said he did it 35 years ago.

There are still a lot of people doing Michael Jackson impersonations. Check out YouTube, if you have doubts. There are even many YouTube videos on how to do makeup to look like Michael Jackson. I looked at just three of these howto videos. All involved using makeup to darken parts of the skin. All used subjects that started with somewhat lighter skin than Michael's, but not all the subjects were "white" as it is generally understood. The results typically attempt to honor Michael Jackson. They try to come as close to the original as possible, and that includes his very subtle and unique skin tones. They are the very embodiment of that old Oscar Wilde maxim: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That can also be said for their dancing. They are fans. They are darkening their faces in tribute to a great African American performer.

The resulting image is a far, far cry from the racist caricature that is the traditional blackface, and yet Democracy Now is equating these two. This is the way it was put on Monday's show "blackface is blackface," and again on Wednesday, as they described Northam's admission that he darkened parts of his face as part of a Michael Jackson impersonation, as blackface. It makes no difference that everyone else is saying the same thing. They all are wrong.

Billy Crystal in blackface playing Sammy Davis, Jr. on Saturday Night Live
12 May 1984

This was a regular skit on SNL in 1984, the same year that young medical school student Ralph Northam did his now infamous Michael Jackson impression. Many are now saying that was an example of blackface as bad as if he had been the student in blackface with the fake Klansman in the racist medical school yearbook photo, and are demanding that he resign as VA governor because he did something arguably much less offensive than the openly blackface example he was given by a major American TV network on a so-called progressive show that very year. [SNL by no means meant this skit to be a tribute to Sammy Davis, Jr.] Since that is the case, shouldn't they also be demanding that Billy Crystal albums and videos be pulled from the shelves, SNL be banned, or at least sanctioned, and what about Joe Piscopo, who plays Frank Sinatra in the scene? Shouldn't he be treated like the Klansman in Northam's racist photo and be made to suffer too?
I understand why it happened. After Northam apologized for the racist photo under his name on Friday, the only open questions seemed to be 1) Was he the one in the Klan outfit, or the one in blackface?, and 2) How soon would he resign? Then he came out on Saturday and changed that all around. He didn't exactly take back the apology for the racist photo under his name, but he did say adamantly that he was neither of the people in the racist yearbook photo, and in fact, claimed that he had never seen it before it was published by the right-wing website Big League Politics on Friday.

He was in San Antonio in 1984, a medical school student in the army, and he says he never purchased the yearbook. [Has anybody checked for a sales receipt?] BTW, BLP was the same website that would break the Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax sexual assault story two days later.

Probably, most didn't believe him. But proving it, now that's another matter, so they pretty much abandoned the charge that he was either of the students in the racist photo. Besides, he had thrown them a lifeline with his Michael Jackson story. They simply made the equation that in admitting that he darkened his face to play Michael Jackson, he was admitting to wearing blackface, and that made it every bit as bad as if he was the blackface character in the racist picture. With this sleight-of-hand, they were able to maintain the narrative they had developed on Friday of the governor in blackface.

By defining blackface as any use of theatrical makeup to darken the skin and completely removing the very political question of intent, they trivialize what blackface historically has been. By their definition, it makes no difference if the intention is to honor or denigrate. It is the act of darkening the skin that is the crime. And speaking of crime, they talk only of the use of blackface in performance settings, and completely ignore its sinister history as a tool to criminalize black people and terrorize white people far from any camera or stage.

When Democracy Now got to the main part of Wednesday's show, Nermeen Shaikh repeated the claim that Northam had admitted to blackface when he told of his Michael Jackson impersonation. Northam should be used of this sort of malicous substitution by now. The Fox News crowd had been after him to resign for weeks because of his support for late term abortions. Since they define that as baby killing, they have been openly saying the governor should resign because he supports infanticide for at least a week before they were joined by voices on the Left saying he should resign because he once wore "blackface." Shaikh put it this way:
The controversy that’s enveloped Virginia since governor Ralph Northam admitted to wearing blackface last week took a shocking turn Wednesday, when Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring also admitted to wearing blackface at a college party.
She should have made it clear that Northam never called what he did blackface. That is their description of what he "admitted to." It is Shaikh's judgement that what he did amounted to blackface. In fact, he specifically rejected that description.

Although he did answer a number of questions at the press conference that used "blackface" in their description of the San Antonio situation, without specifically objecting to that term, he did reject it when asked that question directly:
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, you said at the San Antonio party, you darkened your face. I just want to be perfectly clear. Were you in blackface?

NORTHAM: I wasn't. I'll tell you exactly what I did, Alan (ph). I dressed up in a -- what's his name, the singer -- Michael Jackson, excuse me, that's why I have Pam with me. I had the shoes, I had a glove, and I used just a little bit of shoe polish to put on my cheeks. And the reason I used a very little bit is because, I don't know if anybody has ever tried that, but you cannot get shoe polish off. But it was a dance contest. I had always liked Michael Jackson. I actually won the contest because I had learned how to do the moonwalk.
I think you can see from that exchange that Democracy Now is being, shall we say a bit disingenuous, when they claim "Northam admitted to wearing blackface." It uses the same logic that allows the Fox News crowd to claim "Northam admitted to killing babies," and President Trump to charge Northam "stated he would execute a baby after birth" in the SOTU. Precisely, the same corrupt logic.

Much has been made about the fact that the governor knew how hard it is to wash off shoe polish. "How would he know that?" is asked coyly by opinion makers who have never had to polish shoes for a living.

Nermeen Shaikh then went on to tell us again how Northam "did admit to wearing blackface":
Governor Northam has refused to step down since a racist photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook page emerged featuring a man wearing blackface posing next to a man wearing a Ku Klux Klan outfit. Northam initially apologized for the yearbook photo but later said he was not either of the two men in the photo; however, he did admit to wearing blackface on another occasion that same year.
I think it is clear that it is Democracy Now that is calling Northam's Michael Jackson impersonation blackface. Northam didn't  say he wore blackface.

So far, there has been nothing to suggest that Northam's Michael Jackson impersonation was a parody and not a attribute. Nothing that would imply that it was racist that wouldn't also apply to any Michael Jackson impersonator that used something to darken his cheeks. Since it won the contest, it was probably a pretty good Michael Jackson impersonation for San Antonio. So, if it was racist, so are they all. That's my logic.

Meet the new "blackface" racists, Democracy Now style




Professor Khalilah Brown-Dean, associate professor of political science at Quinnipiac University, was on the show as an expert on blackface. She also called what the governor did in San Antonio in 1984 "blackface," and thought he should step down because of it. She also gave us this good description of blackface:
I spent yesterday at the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina, and there is a poignant display there about the history of blackface, the ways in which theater performers used these exaggerated caricatures of black people to communicate not just their inhumanity or to deny their humanity, but to also convey stereotypes about blacks as being lazy, as being ignorant, of being lackadaisical and just happy to go around singing and dancing.
She didn't say how this applied to a Michael Jackson impersonator, unless using singing and dancing in a performance together with makeup to darken makes it blackface, even if its in tribute and not to convey stereotypes about blacks "as being lazy, as being ignorant, of being lackadaisical and just happy."

Then she goes on to lament:
While we are dealing with the governor’s blackface pictures, while we are dealing with these allegations against Lieutenant Governor Fairfax, there are people in the Commonwealth of Virginia who are suffering because we are not addressing the very real public policy concerns that are happening. Virginia is being hit with the opioid crisis. Virginia is trying to figure out how to properly educate students in public schools. There are issues around criminal justice reform and making sure that people are safe and also have access to a fair and just process. So that the interests of the people of Virginia can be served and government can do what people elected it to do, that resignation should come.
That is rich with irony. It's really rich! Last May, USA Today ran this article:
Virginia, after 5-year battle, passes Medicaid expansion for 400,000 poor people

31 May 2018
By Doug Stanglin
After a five-year-battle, the Virginia legislature has voted to expand Medicaid coverage for some 400,000 poor people, despite opposition from the White House.
...
Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, a pediatrician who made Medicaid expansion a centerpiece of his campaign in 2017, is expected to sign the legislation soon. More...
Needless to say, the right-wing battle against this victory didn't end with his signature, but by early this year the Coalfield Progress was reporting:
Virginia gets massive turnout for expanded Medicaid

9 January 2019
More than 200,000 adults have enrolled in Virginia’s expanded Medicaid coverage and are covered effective Jan. 1, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Dec. 28. More...
There are powerful forces in Virginia, and the White House, that frankly could care less who Ralph Northam dressed up as 35 years ago, but they don't like his take on, how did she put it?, "addressing the very real public policy concerns" today, so they are in a budget cutting frenzy now that they think he's down for the count. The Virginia-Pilot reported Wednesday:
House, Senate square off on Gov. Northam's proposed budget

By Dave Ress
6 February 2019
...
Both bodies agree on deep cuts to the two-year budget proposed by the now-crippled governor a bit more than a month ago — even if they don’t agree on exactly what should be slashed from his $2.1 billion increase to state spending for this year and next.
...
A windfall from federal tax changes that took effect in 2018 is making a bit more than half that increase possible.

Gov. Ralph Northam wanted to use that money for a series of investments in water quality, school construction, broadband and transportation projects, setting aside $216 million over the two years for a tax relief program aimed at families with incomes below $54,000.

Both the House and Senate want the money to go back to taxpayers who face higher state income tax bills as a result of the federal changes.
...
But the House completely cut the $80 million Northam proposed adding to a school construction loan fund.
...
And while much of the budget writers’ attention was on trimming spending proposals to free up the federal windfall for tax relief,..
...
The House cut Northam’s proposed $35 million supplement to the Water Quality Improvement Fund to $20 million, and dropped his $50 million addition to the stormwater local assistance fund.

Northam’s $75 million for the Virginia Transportation Infrastructure Bank also was dropped by the House. More...
Of course, Democracy Now mentions none of this state business going on behind the scene, even though it has been made possible by this Northam "blackface" scandal ignited by a white supremacist website as they lament the lack of focus on the real needs of the people of Virginia, and join the Alt-Right in demanding that the governor that has been spearheading these reforms resign.

That is why I have to laugh. But it is a sorrowful laugh.

Billy Crystal in blackface playing Sammy Davis, Jr. on Saturday Night Live | 17 March 1984


So maybe we should ban SNL, and Mickey Mouse while we're at it, because he, like many of Disney's most enduring cartoon characters where based on the blackface minstrel shows of an earlier era.


See also:
The hidden meaning of Northam's racist yearbook photo, 2 February 2019
If Ralph Northam has to resign, why is Donald Trump still in office?, 5 February 2019
How the "Northam" redefinition of blackface serves white supremacy, 6 February 2019

See also: Rest In Peace Michael Jackson, 5 July 2009

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Thursday, February 7, 2019

4 DAYS STRONG NOW & STILL SPIKED! Haiti in Revolt - News spiked in US

Rise, Haiti Rise!

Have you heard about this?

Anti-government protests have broken out all over Haiti today, and so far I have seen nothing about it in the news. They are demanding the resignation of President Moise and his administration. Today is the second anniversary of his inauguration. It is also the 28th anniversary of the inauguration of Haiti's 1st democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.


Here is some of what I have gathered so far. Return for updates soon.











Haiti | 7 Février 2019


The Miami Herald just published this report minutes ago:
It’s been 33 years since Haiti welcomed democracy. How did it mark the day? Protests.

By Jacqueline Charles
7 February 2019
Thousands of demonstrators march in the street as they chant anti-government slogans during a protest to demand the resignation of President Jovenel Moise and demanding to know how Petro Caribe funds have been used by the current and past administrations, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. Much of the financial support to help Haiti rebuild after the 2010 earthquake comes from Venezuela’s Petro Caribe fund, a 2005 pact that gives suppliers below-market financing for oil and is under the control of the central government. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)
Thousands of demonstrators march in the street as they chant anti-government slogans during a protest to demand the resignation of President Jovenel Moise and demanding to know how Petro Caribe funds have been used by the current and past administrations, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. Much of the financial support to help Haiti rebuild after the 2010 earthquake comes from Venezuela’s Petro Caribe fund, a 2005 pact that gives suppliers below-market financing for oil and is under the control of the central government. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery) DIEU NALIO CHERY AP
Thirty-three years after Haitian President-for-Life Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier fled into exile, ending his family’s 28-year dictatorship and ushering in Haiti’s democratic transition, Haitians marked the day Thursday with widespread protests throughout the country.

Angry over their plummeting currency, frustrated by the rising cost of living and disappointed by decades of failed leadership and rampant corruption, protesters threw rocks, burned tires, attacked police stations and blocked roads in major cities while calling for the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse, who also marked his second anniversary in office Thursday.

Haiti National Police deputy spokesman Gary Desrosiers said police registered at least two deaths, 36 arrests and 14 injured cops — mainly from rocks — during the tension-filled day. It was Haiti’s third major anti-government protest in four months. More...

UPDATE 11 February 2019:

Haiti Protests Continue for a fourth day!

Sorry for the delay in updating. I've been preoccupied with other matters. The media blackout is continuing, but so is the struggle:

Four Days Of Protests Rock Haiti






More Later...
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Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Why does Democracy Now miss what's important about Venezuela?

Yesterday I received this information from Amnesty International. The subject line caught my attention, Crisis in Venezuela: Children are being sent to jail:
Venezuelan security forces have been detaining children for allegedly protesting in Venezuela.
Dear Clay,
A human rights crisis in Venezuela is unfolding: thousands of Venezuelans have taken to the streets to protest the serious institutional and human rights crisis that has gripped the country.
Venezuelans are starving. Inflation and scarcity has left many people unable to afford or find anything to eat. It has led entire families, especially children, to scavenge for scraps of food. Instead of seeking solutions, the authorities have responded by sending military and police officials onto the streets to arrest adults and children.
Venezuelan security forces have been detaining children for allegedly protesting in Venezuela. Take action: tell the Venezuelan government to release the imprisoned children now.
In just one week, 77 children under the age of 18 have been detained, including a girl of 12. There are reports that judges have been pressed to punish children as a way to deter anyone in civil society from protesting.
Protesting is a human right — and using bullets in an attempt to silence those who make legitimate demands for their human rights only leads to further crisis in Venezuela. Tell the Venezuelan government to release these children before it’s too late.
This isn’t the first time an assault on young people by authorities has happened in Venezuela. Young people in Venezuela are living in poverty, and being killed and criminalized for it by the authorities. Poverty and survival is not a crime.
I have to believe that Amy Goodman is also on the Amnesty International mailing list, because on Tuesday's show she reported that:
Amnesty International says that activists were sexually harassed, electrocuted, flogged and subjected to death threats.
This was about women activists in Saudi Arabia. This would seem to indicate that they think AI is a credible information source, and not just an imperialist mouthpiece. But when it comes to the crisis in Venezuela, which occupied the bulk of the show, none of Amnesty International's concerns about the condition of the people were addressed. Children starving to death, and being sent to jail, isn't the crisis they are concerned with. For Democracy Now, the crisis in Venezuela is that so many, including the US government, are demanding that Maduro step down as president. His crisis is their crisis.

For them it is Nicolás Maduro versus John Bolton, and they're for Maduro. That keeps it simple. They try to leave the Venezuela people out of it. And why not? More than three million have left the country already!

Even when they talk about the effect of US sanctions on Venezuela, their focus is not on the famine killing people but on oil industry losses tanking profits. Amy Goodman said:
While the U.S. is rejecting negotiations, the impact of the sweeping new U.S. sanctions on Venezuela are being felt across the country. The Wall Street Journal is reporting oil tankers are beginning to pile up off the Venezuelan coast as Venezuela struggles to pump and ship oil.
Fortunately, Democracy Now, had a guest on Tuesday that was knowledgeable about the real situation in Venezuela, and was able to end the segment by brushing aside all the "anti-imperialist" nonsense and conspiracy theories, and bring the focus back to the people. David Smilde, senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America and professor of sociology at Tulane, ended the segment with:
Yeah, I have no doubt that this—you know, what’s going on in Venezuela—is part of a larger strategy of the neocons that have now inhabited the Trump administration. But I would suggest that I think, you know, it’s good to take Venezuela on its own. I think, you know, simply reacting to this—I’m no fan of the Trump administration’s foreign policy, but I think we have to look at Venezuela and prioritize the people there. I don’t think that, you know, “enemy of my enemy is my friend” or “enemy of my enemy gets a critical bye” is a proper response. I don’t think that’s a progressive response. I think it dehumanizes people. I think Venezuelans have to be prioritized. And in every case, I think you have to look at the situation, look at who’s suffering, who has power, who needs to change, and criticize and comment as needed.

And so, I think—in the case of Venezuela, I don’t think that the actions of the Trump administration should be held against the Venezuelan opposition and their struggles. And I think, you know, Maduro’s legacy and Maduro’s record, I think, is very clear to everybody. I think he’s been an absolute disaster in Venezuela in the past few years, and now he’s become a very undemocratic disaster. And I think that’s really what’s got to be prioritized here. I mean, I think, you know, the Trump foreign policy is very worrying. But I think we have to treat contacts and people as ends in themselves.
That attitude is rare on Democracy Now. Thank you for that.

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How the "Northam" redefinition of blackface serves white supremacy

In two earlier posts, I have argued that there are a number of distinct categories of blackface according to use and intent. Most everyone is familiar with its derogatory use in minstrel shows and such. I wrote The hidden meaning of Northam's racist yearbook photo to bring attention to its more sinister history of use by Klansmen, and other white supremacists, to commit crimes upon white people while impersonating African Americans for the purpose of stoking racism. I believe that is one of the most under-reported aspects of this whole blackface teaching moment. I went more into that history in If Ralph Northam has to resign, why is Donald Trump still in office? where I recounted how thousands of immigrant stockward workers were burned out of their homes by white supremacists in blackface. This was 1919 in Chicago.
Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century actors in the role of Othello. (l-r) Gustavus Vaughan Brooke, Tommaso Salvini, Thomas Grist, Edmund Kean. Images from the Folger Shakespeare Library collection.
There has also been the use of theatrical makeup to darken one's skin to play another ethnicity that goes back to at least Shakespeare's Othello. This too could be considered blackface, if it is defined as the use of any makeup to darken one's skin. The American minstrel use of blackface, with which we are all familiar dates back to 1830, before slavery was ended. It developed as a particularly repugnant and racist use of "theatrical makeup" (usually burnt cork or shoe polish) because it had every intent to demean and destroy, and because it was a component part of a larger system of white supremacy. That is not to say that all use of theatrical makeup, or even shoe polish in poorer quarters, to darken the skin, is inherently racist. Were Shakespeare's early productions of Othello racist because English actors used "blackface" to better play the role of 'the Noble Moor'? I don't think so.

Clearly, the use of blackface by a white student standing next to another in a Klan robe as appeared in the infamous photo from Ralph Northam's medical school yearbook half-page is racist. My first post above raised the question: Was this picture a parody of the minstrel use of blackface, or of the less known terrorist use of blackface, as this would explain why the two were drinking beer together?

After Virginia Governor Northam retracted Friday's confession that he was one of characters in the photo without saying which, and instead said that he was now certain that he did not appear in that photo at all, most of the pundits and politicians that condemned him for being in the 35 year old photo refused to change their position. Neither did they do the necessary work to show that he was lying, and it was Northam in the photo based on independent collaboration. So far none has emerged, although at any point one or even both of the former students in the picture may reveal themselves, or be unmasked.

Instead, they all latched on to a story the governor told about how he used a little shoe polish, he didn't say what color, to darken his cheeks to win a Micheal Jackson dance contest in San Antonio in 1984. He never called it blackface, but they did, and they all said that was just as racist as if he was in the photo with the Klansman.

I said that they had jumped the shark, and were handing white supremacy a great victory by trying to redefine all "blackface," or the use of makeup to darken the skin, as racist. Simply defining the form as racist, regardless of the content or intentions.

Little did I know that over at Democracy Now, they were giving me my best brief example of this bankrupt position. That came when Amy Goodman guest Rev. Kevin Chandler, president of the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP, said:
And so, in him saying he does not see how this is offensive, even in dressing up as Michael Jackson and putting on a little bit of shoe polish, in blackface—blackface is blackface. And again, it should not be accepted, condoned at any time.
I understand that the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus is keen to have the first black governor, but they shouldn't be willing to hand the white supremacists such a victory to get it. "Blackface is blackface," equating a Michael Jackson impersonator with someone appearing blackface with a Klansman, serves only white supremacist purposes. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Ralph Northam in San Antonio, 1984
Taking him at his word, in 1984, while some student in a KKK outfit and another in blackface were creating the now infamous racist photo, he was off in San Antonio winning a dance contest as a Micheal Jackson lookalike. Of course, if it turns out it was him in that photo and he is still lying about it, that is a whole 'nother kettle of fish, but taking him at his word:

Ralph Northam came to San Antonio the same year the yearbook came out, 1984, to start his pediatric internship at Brooke Army Medical Center. He was in San Antonio until 1987, finishing two years of residency after his year as an intern. In May 1985 he was named "one of San Antonio’s most eligible bachelor doctors" by the San Antonio Express-News. This photo is from that article. He met his future wife, Pamela there as well. She was a pediatric occupational therapist at BAMC. They met on a blind date at a pool party.

And we now know that he also thought himself good at moonwalking, and darkened his skin with shoe polish as part of his makeup/costume to participate in a dance contest as Michael Jackson.

I'm going to go out on a limb here, and say that since Micheal Jackson was much beloved in 1984, even in San Antonio, and since Northam won the dance contest, his representation honored Micheal Jackson. It was not a racist parody or denigration of the man.

And as it turns out, there is a long tradition, even a cottage industry, of Micheal Jackson impersonators. You can join them, provided your skin isn't too dark already. Otherwise, it will be a bit more challenging in the makeup department, Even today, you can find helpful HowTo videos on YouTube. Here are three. All involve using making up to darken the skin, what some would call blackface, I guess these sort of videos will have to be banned now as racist under the new "Northam" guidelines.

MICHAEL JACKSON - CELEBRITY MAKE UP TUTORIAL
Michael Jackson Makeup Tutorial
#6 MakeUp: Michael Jackson!



Here is an interview with one of the top Michael Jackson impersonators. If you think Virginia Governor Ralph Northam should resign because he impersonated Micheal Jackson in a 1984 dance contest, you should watch this video, and leave a comment explaining why the guy in this video is a racist, and should stop what he is doing.

On that same Democracy Now show Monday, they had another guest, Rhae Lynn Barnes, assistant professor of American cultural history at Princeton University and author of the forthcoming book Darkology: When the American Dream Wore Blackface, to talk about the history of blackface, but for all her expertise, she only talked about the more well known uses of blackface for minstrel shows and racist parody. She said nothing about the history of its use by white men to perpetrated crimes in the guise of African Americans for the purpose of criminalizing the black population, and terrorizing the whites. Of course, if you are trying to sell "blackface is blackface," it's best to leave that out of the equation.

That is unfortunate, because the used of blackface by white men to commit crimes isn't just history, it is a problem even today. Here is an example from just last year in the Las Vega Review-Journal:
Man accused of robbing Las Vegas Strip casino in blackface

12 March 2018
By Blake Apgar
A white man accused of robbing a Strip casino in blackface in January was charged Friday in federal court, records show.

Cameron James Kennedy, 26, was charged with robbery in the armed holdup of a casino cage at New York-New York, according to the U.S. Department of Justice and a federal criminal complaint filed last week. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

The Las Vegas man already was under federal supervision on prior bank robbery charges when he allegedly cut off his GPS monitoring bracelet and robbed the casino in the early morning of Jan. 10, according to the complaint.

Kennedy used makeup to appear black, Las Vegas police said. The cashier at the cage told police she did not think he was black because his skin tone was “off” and “blotchy,” according to the federal complaint.

White bank robber James Kennedy used blackface to disguise himself
More...
If defining "blackface is blackface" means seeing no difference between the burnt-cork blacken faces of slave-era minstrel performers and Michael Jackson impersonators, while leaving out the long history of the use of blackface by white supremacists in non-performance environments to directly contribute to the criminalization of African Americans, then this project to demonize Ralph Northam will be handing the white supremacists a great victory in this redefinition of what is racist about blackface, along with a good man, as far as Democrats go, imho.

It must now also be added that such a shallow definition of blackface opens people up to fabricated attacks such as this one:


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Tuesday, February 5, 2019

If Ralph Northam has to resign, why is Donald Trump still in office?

In 1989, Donald Trump spent $85,000 to take out ads in four New York City newspapers that called for nothing less than the legal lynching of five innocent boys, four African American and one Hispanic, accused of the raping a white woman who was jogging in Central Park. This is a taste of what he said in the small print:
Mayor Koch has stated that hate and rancor should be removed from our hearts. I do not think so. I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer ... Yes, Mayor Koch, I want to hate these murderers and I always will.
And he always will. Even after Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and serial rapist in prison, confessed to raping the jogger, DNA evidence confirmed his guilt in 2002, and the convictions of the Central Park Five were vacated, Donald Trump continued to say they were guilty.

The hate he felt for these five colored boys was racial hatred. I'm from Atlantic City. I know his history. But even with that history, I would not convict anyone today exclusively because of attitudes they held thirty years ago. The problem, when it comes to Donald Trump, is that he holds those same racist attitudes today.

In a 1989 interview with Larry King about the CP5, he said, "maybe hate is what we need if we're gonna get something done." These are the same racist methods he is using today. He gives his racial hatred a national stage regularly. He has brought it into the White House. He has taken children of color from their parent because of it. He most recently shutdown the federal government, causing much misery, so that he can keep up the racist agitation that is his WALL project.

So, my first question is: If Ralph Northam has to resign, why is Donald Trump still in office?
North by Northam: The Alt-Right targets "a radical leftist" governor
The Fox News crowd had been after the Virginia governor for weeks now because of his support for a liberal abortion policy. Two days before the story about a particular racist yearbook photo broke, The Washington Post reported:
President Trump, Republican lawmakers in Virginia and conservatives across the country attacked Gov. Ralph Northam and other state Democrats on Wednesday after they defended a failed bill that sought to reduce restrictions on late-term abortions.
...
“I thought it was terrible,” Trump said.
“Do you remember when I said Hillary Clinton was willing to rip the baby out of the womb? That’s what it is. That’s what they’re doing. It’s terrible.”
Northam, whose spokeswoman said his words were being taken out of context by Republicans, called the notion that he would approve of killing infants “disgusting.”

“I have devoted my life to caring for children, and any insinuation otherwise is shameful and disgusting,” he said.

The president’s remarks came after former U.S. senator Jim DeMint called the bill “vile” and said Northam should abandon it or resign.
So the racist right was already demanding Northam's resignation days before they found a way to bring almost everyone else on board.

They may have been focusing their attacks on Gov. Northam because his background as a pediatric neurologist makes his support for medical abortions especially compelling. The next day, Thursday, RNC Spokeswoman Kayleigh Mcenany was on Fox & friends blasting "the so-called moderate governor from Virginia, in essence a radical leftist" for what they consider the crime of "infanticide."

These demands for Northam's resignation were cascading just as the VA General Assembly's money committee was scheduled to meet on 3 February. They are threatening to strip $1 billion dollars from the state budget he submitted two months ago, crippling Northam's greatest accomplishment - expansion of Virginia's Medicaid program. Many House and Senate leaders also oppose the governor's plan to return $216 million in anticipated new revenues to lower income earners, according to the Richmond Times Dispatch. There are a host of reasons for wanting him out.

On Friday, the script changed because the now famous racist photo on Ralph Northam's medical school yearbook half-page was leaked. On Fox News Monday morning, Ed Henry said he'd heard it had been leaked by some of Northam's medical school alumni because they were upset with his stand on abortion. On Monday evening, Henry said many targeted Northam because the VA governor had the gall to call President Trump a racist. That must have made this particular tactic taste sweet to them. The photo was first posted on the Internet by the conservative website Big League Politics.

In the week before they broke this bombshell article, they had published no less than 10 stories about "the pro-infanticide Virginia Governor." Finally they had a story with legs! Mike Cernovich tried to take credit for the story in the inter-right squabbling that took place later, but BLP accused Cernovich of trying "to steal our scoop." They maintained they where responsible for the scheme of "accusing a sitting United States Governor of a blatant racism that will likely cause him to resign"[BLP bold]. They must have enjoyed breaking this story on the first day of Black History Month.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Northam's initial response to the breaking news:
Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam apologized Friday after admitting he appeared in a racist photo in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook depicting one person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan outfit.
...
Northam said in a statement Friday evening that he was one of the two people in the photo and that he is "deeply sorry." The statement did not say whether Northam was the person wearing blackface or the person wearing a Klan outfit.
Later he release a statement that said:
“Earlier today, a website published a photograph of me from my 1984 medical school yearbook in a costume that is clearly racist and offensive.

“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.”
More ..

Still, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported:
Northam’s statement left it unclear whether he was wearing the blackface or a white robe and hood.
On Saturday, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported:
Northam suggested that he had been overzealous in his initial apology, saying he did not have a copy of the yearbook because he never bought one and was unaware of what was on his page. After taking more time to look at the photo, Northam said, he concluded he was not in it.
Northam said, “This was not my picture. I was not in that costume either as blackface or as KKK. And it’s not me,” but it was too late. Pundit and politicians that had made statements based on his early confession didn't have the flexibility to rethink anything.

Others, who knew him at the time, also don't see him in the photo:
Dr. Rob Marsh, who was Northam’s roommate for two years at EVMS, said that when he first saw the photo, he didn’t think it was real. He said he was skeptical about whether Northam is either of the people in the photo.

“I don’t remember that ever happening,” said Marsh, who graduated from the school one year before Northam did and now has a medical practice in Middlebrook.

Marsh, 63, said Northam was “very respectful” to others as a medical student, and he never heard Northam “mock anybody of any other race.”
Dr. Betty Bibbins, an African American woman who graduated from EVMS in 1982 did not personally know Northam, but has long supported him. She remembers EVMS having a very open and inclusive culture, but acknowledged that racism existed in subtle ways during her time as a student. She also has doubts, saying:
“I have a lot of questions about where they got the picture from, how it got in the yearbook.”
A former EVMS yearbook page designer told the Richmond Times-Dispatch how the pictures for the yearbook were collected:
Seniors at Eastern Virginia Medical School were allowed to submit up to three photographs in a sealed envelope to appear alongside a formal school picture on their personal pages in the 1984 yearbook, according to a former student who said he helped design most of those pages.

Designers would open the envelope and draw spots numbered one through three on a page to show where each photo should go, said Dr. William Elwood, who served on the Harbour’s staff the year a photo of a man in blackface standing beside a man in Ku Klux Klan garb appeared on Gov. Ralph Northam’s page.

A corresponding number was written on the back of each photo and then they were returned to the envelope before being sent along with the pages to the printer, said Elwood, who did not know whether Northam submitted the racist photo, or who was in it.
There is probably enough room for error in this system that those who argued that Judge Brett Kavanaugh should be given the benefit of the doubt even when confronted with multiple live witnesses, should stand down before attempting to end a long political career over such a 35 year old finding.

What about the other racist photos?

The now famous photo on Ralph Northam's half-page was very far from the only racist or blackface image in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook. Probably, the reason Northam was hesitant to deny it when first confronted with it is that, at the time, posing in blackface, or even a Klan outfit, would have been considered normal and uncontroversial. Even while denying he was in the photo, he said:
“While I did not appear in this photo, I am not surprised by its appearance in the EVMS yearbook. In the place and time where I grew up, many actions that we rightfully recognize as abhorrent today were commonplace.”
This brings to mind another point: As long as we are asking people to resign their current position for things they may have done 35 years ago, what are we asking of the adults in the room at the time? This happened in 1984. On Saturday, EVMS President Dr. Richard V. Homan apologized and said the school shares “the outrage, alarm and sadness voiced by our alumni, the press and many on social media.” Where is the outrage that they were running a school that would produce such a yearbook three decades after Brown vs. Board of Education?

The Richmond Times-Dispatch described some of these other images:
On the page opposite Northam’s — which includes the image he apologized for appearing in on Friday before saying Saturday he’s not pictured — there’s a photo of three men in blackface.

Another photo in the same yearbook shows one of the men wearing a wig and black paint on his face. At least one other blackface photo appears in the 1984 yearbook, with a caption referencing a song by the Supremes: “‘Baby Love,’ who ever thought Diana Ross would make it to Medical School!”

In another picture, a student gropes an unclothed mannequin: The caption reads, “I try never to divulge my true feelings while examining my patients.”
There were quite a few other racist images in that same yearbook.
Like the three in blackface on the page just opposite Northam's
Some added a misogynistic element to the racism 
Maybe we should start investigating these to determine who we should be demanding resign next. Then we could move forward to the 1985 yearbook, or maybe backwards to 1983. Of course, more than this one school would be reviewed. But perhaps our attention would be better focused on how such images are used by the white youth of today.

Students from Charles Stuart University in Sydney, Austrian posing as Klu Klux Klan members and in blackface in a picture posted to Instagram last year.
This should be of much more concern than anything posted by Northam 35 years ago. This photo was created by three high school students in Rochester, MN just this past November. This is the Trump effect.
Northam's confession

Northam's first "confession" should never have been accepted. He apologized for the photo but then said he didn't know if he was the one in the blackface or the one in the KKK outfit. In a crash meeting with Lt. Gov Justin Fairfax on Friday evening, he repeated this ambivalence. Fairfax said:
“He indicated that these were photos that did appear on his page for his medical school yearbook. He told me that while he didn’t recall the specifics of the event, he apologized, that he had thought that it may have depicted him.” 
What kind of confession is that? Imagine someone walking into the FBI office to confess to a recent high profile robbery. He claims that he was involved but he doesn't remember whether he was the gunman or the wheelman, and he doesn't know who the other person was. Sans supporting evidence, that "confession" would go nowhere.

This is exactly the type of "confession" that the NYPD coerced out of the Central Park Five. None of the five owned to being the rapist. Each claimed only to have helped hold her down, touched her breast, etc. They all said someone else did the rape, but they didn't agree on who. Their "confessions" didn't match. In his recommendation that the charges be vacated, District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau said simply, "A comparison of the statements reveals troubling discrepancies."

If the original prosecutors had been honest, the prosecution of those five youth would have been stopped right there. If those reporters had integrity, they would demanded clarity as to which character in the racist photo was Northam before they reported that he was in the photo at all.

Jumping the Shark

After Northam came out on Saturday and took back Friday's confession by saying that after having studied the matter, he had determined that he was not in the photo in any capacity, he tried to explain why he was so sure. It was because he had vivid memories of something else he did that year. He told of how he had won a dance contest in San Antonio by moonwalking as a Micheal Jackson lookalike, and that as part of his costume he had used shoe polish to darken his face.

Faced with this retraction, and the need to seriously modify their claims against the governor, or develop independent proof that he was now lying and really was one of the students in the picture, many commentators, including the Reverend Al Sharpton, were seize by cognitive anchoring, couldn't find room to change their minds, and jumped the shark by saying that this use of theatrical makeup was also "blackface" and every bit as bad as appearing in blackface with a Klansman.

This maybe the worst thing they have done. They have collaborated in an attempt to redefine "blackface" from the use of theatrical makeup to look black for racist purposes, to the use of theatrical makeup to look black for any reason at all. This could be bad news for me if I were to try to do a play or narrative film exposing the racist history of blackface and wanted to use white actors in "blackface" makeup to best illustrate how that was done.

If you extend the logic that condemns Northam's sympathetic and winning portrayal of Micheal Jackson, because he darkened his complexion with shoe polish to make it more realistic (and not to parody), you probably should also accept that there can be no more compelling dramas about World War II, or the holocaust, because actors appearing in Nazi uniform for any reason should also be banned.

Their logic makes no sense at all!

Many backwards cultures, such as the ancient Greeks, didn't allow women to act on stage, and so the only way a female character could be portrayed in plays was for a male actor to be made up to look like a woman. While the culture that so restricted the role of women certainly should be charged with misogyny, only an idiot would accuse the male actor willing to represent these banned women on stage of hating women.

More on the history of blackface

Blackface was widely used in English theatrical productions even before the English started calling themselves "white." In fact, the first known use of the phrase "white people" came in a production by Jacobean playwright Thomas Middleton on 29 October 1613 named "The Triumphs of Truth." It is first uttered by a character in blackface playing an African king, who looks out over the English audience and declares:
‘I see amazement set upon the faces/Of these white people, wond’rings and strange gazes.’
There weren't a lot of African actors in England at the time, so those that wanted to portray people of color in their theatrical productions, either positively, or negatively, as was the case with Middleton, had to resort to theatrical makeup.

Before Middleton's play, there was a host of actors in blackface. Probably most famous was William Shakespeare's 'noble Moor' Othello, staged just a few years before Middleton's play. Ed Simon likes Shakespeare's portrayals of people of color:
Consider the Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets. In sonnet 130, he says of his mysterious paramour that ‘her breasts are dun’; in sonnet 12, he references her ‘sable curls’; and in sonnet 127 he writes that ‘black wires grow on her head’. As is commonly understood, and taught, Shakespeare subverted the tradition exemplified by poets such as Petrarch who conceptualised feminine beauty in terms of fairness. Part of this subversion lay in pronouncements such as the one that states that black is ‘beauty’s successive heir’, a contention of Shakespeare’s that can seem all the more progressive when our contemporary racial connotation of the word is considered. 
If Shakespeare had applied the new "Michael Jackson" definition racist blackface, none of this could be seen on stage in his time, and a production of Othello would have to wait for our modern age.

Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century actors in the role of Othello. (l-r) Gustavus Vaughan Brooke, Tommaso Salvini, Thomas Grist, Edmund Kean. Images from the Folger Shakespeare Library collection.
In "The hidden meaning of Northam's racist yearbook photo" on Saturday, I wrote about how white supremacists would use blackface to terrorize white people, and that the picture might depict two Klansmen, one in their traditional pointy sheet, and the other in blackface. On such uses of blackface, Christopher Lamberti, Brown University, wrote:
White men in black grease paint posing as African Americans frequently committed crimes in the South around the turn-of-the-century, and in Chicago as early as 1914, when the Defender complained, "With a blackened face crimes of all kinds are committed and laid at the door of an innocent Afro-American." The number of robberies and assaults by white men in blackface increased in Chicago during the early years of the Great Migration.
The paper had many such stories as “White Man, Blackened, Snatches Purse,” Defender, October 3, 1914; “Police ‘Wash’ Blackened Morons, Lo! They’re White” Defender Jan 7, 1922; “White Holdups Black Faces to Commit Crimes” February 2, 1918; “Black Face To Commit Assault On White Woman,” Defender, September 21, 1918; but far more systematic uses of blackface to stoke racism could also be found in the Chicago race riots of 1919.

The most destructive fire of the riots took place on a Saturday morning in a poor neighborhood  of Lithuanian and Polish immigrants situated behind the stockyards. It was meant to look like African Americans had started it, but later investigation revealed that it had been set by white men in blackface, most likely from the Irish neighborhoods west of the Black Belt. This racist "false flag" terror attack left thousands of stockyards workers and their families homeless.

Even after it was generally accepted that the stockyard fire had been set by white men in blackface, many anti-communists, including General Dickson, and the US Department of Intelligence, maintained that the men in blackface were "I.W.W. plotters."

[I should add, as a side note, that one of the things this campaign has already accomplished is that it has made any research into the real history of blackface just that much more difficult.]
This 1919 Chicago fire in a poor immigrant neighborhood behind the stockyards was set by white men in blackface to stoke racism
In a New Republic piece by Alison Kinney titled How the Klan Got Its Hood, 8 Jan 2016,  she tells us that their distinctive white uniform was a Hollywood creation. Before "Birth of a Nation" they were the "Invisible Empire," hiding in the shadows, although:
Some Klansmen wore pointed hats suggestive of wizards, dunces, or Pierrots; some wore everyday winter hoods, pillowcases, or flour sacks on their heads. Many early Klansman also wore blackface, simultaneously scapegoating and mocking their victims.
This was the blackface of Northam's racist yearbook section, not the blackface of Shakespeare, or a Michael Jackson fan. It is a triumph of white supremacy that those two are now being conflated and confused.

Back to the Present

As soon as the demands for Governor Northam's resignation caught hold in the mainstream, the same source that broke that story, Big League Politics, broke a story on Monday about sexual assault allegations against Virginia's LT Governor Justin Fairfax, who is African American.

And so it goes.

This just in:

Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century!

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