Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has been scrambling to repair his image after he first admitted to wearing blackface in a photo from college while standing next to someone in a Ku Klux Klan garb before then claiming that he wasn’t in the photo but has worn blackface in the past.
And then he gave a bizarre interview, released Monday morning, that didn’t seem to help one bit.
According to the Huffington Post, the Democratic governor spoke with Gayle King of “CBS This Morning” about the scandal that arose shortly after he advocated for letting unwanted babies die after birth.
After King pointed out to Northam that it’s been a tough week, Northam oddly replied, “It has been a difficult week, and you know, if you look at Virginia’s history we are 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 now Fort Monroe, and while—"
“Also known as slavery,” King corrected him.
“Indentured servants,” the Huffington Post pointed out, signed contracts before working while slaves had no choice in the matter. It’s a significant difference.
Northam later defended his choice of words by saying, “During a recent event at Fort Monroe I spoke about the arrival of the first Africans in Virginia and referred to them in my remarks as enslaved. A historian advised me that the use of indentured was more historically accurate — the fact is, I’m still learning and committed to getting it right.”
During the interview, Northam also blamed being “born in white privilege” for his insensitivity for dressing up in blackface when he was younger.
"I have also learned why the use of blackface is so offensive and yes, I knew it in the past. But reality has really set in," he explained, according to The Week.
As for why he initially admitted to being in the blackface/KKK photo before denying it, Northam told King he had “overreacted” at first, according to the New York Post.
“When you’re in a state of shock like I was, we don’t always think as clearly as we should. I will tell you that later that night I had a chance to step back, take a deep breath, look at the picture and said, ‘This is not me in the picture,'” he explained.
He added, “And I also had a number of friends and classmates from medical school that called and said, ‘Ralph, that is not you,’ and that was comforting as well.”
“That’s a h--- of a reaction,” King responded incredulously.
Northam didn’t give any reason for why the blackface/KKK photo was on his 1984 medical school yearbook page if he wasn’t in the photo. But he did address the other scandals roiling his lieutenant governor and attorney general.
Democratic Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has been accused of raping two women, one at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and the other at Duke University in 2000. Fairfax has denied both claims.
Democratic Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring — who is in line to be governor if Northam and Fairfax both step down — took preemptive action and admitted publicly that he had worn blackface when he was younger, too.
Northam, Fairfax, and Herring have all dismissed calls that they should resign. Northam has been especially insistent that he needs to stay in office despite many Democrats wanting him to leave.
"I'm a leader," he told King, according to Fox News. "I've been in some very difficult situations, life-and-death situations, taking care of sick children. Right now, Virginia needs someone that can heal. There's no better person to do that than a doctor."
But he suggested that Fairfax and Herring should possibly resign. Northam appears to be at odds with Fairfax after the lieutenant governor was quick to suggest the governor step down after the blackface scandal arose.
"I can only imagine that it must take tremendous courage for women to step forward and talk about these things, that are just so hurtful," Northam said. " And these accusations are very, very serious. And they need to be taken seriously. Gov. Fairfax has called for an investigation. We need to get to the truth. The truth is important. If these accusations are determined to be true, I don't think he's going to have any other option but to resign."
As for Herring, Northam was more subtle in suggesting the attorney general think long and hard about resigning.
He said, "I know Attorney General Herring well, as I do Lt. Gov. Fairfax. And, you know, we have all grown. I don't know what the attorney general was thinking — what his perception was of race, of the use of blackface was back then, but I can tell you that I am sure just like me, he has grown, he has served Virginia well. And he, and I, and Justin — all three of us have fought for equality. I regret that our attorney general is in this position. But this is a decision that he's going to need to make."