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article imageVirginia Democrats in crisis over new blackface scandal

By Chris Lefkow (AFP)     Feb 6, 2019 in World

A political crisis deepened in Virginia on Wednesday after the attorney general of the eastern US state admitted he wore blackface to a 1980 college party to impersonate a rapper.

Attorney general Mark Herring is second in line for the governorship of the state, where the Democratic governor and lieutenant governor are already embroiled in scandal.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has been facing calls for his resignation since a 1984 yearbook surfaced last week that features a racist photo on a page dedicated to him.

Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax has been accused by a woman of sexual misconduct -- an allegation he denies saying it had been a "100 percent consensual encounter."

Like Northam and Fairfax, Herring is a Democrat. The next in line for the governorship is the Republican speaker of the state House of Delegates.

Herring, 57, who has served as attorney general since 2014, apologized for what he described as "callous and inexcusable lack of awareness."

"I am deeply, deeply sorry for the pain that I cause with this revelation," he said.

"In 1980, when I was a 19-year-old undergraduate in college, some friends suggested we attend a party dressed like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song.

"But because of our ignorance and glib attitudes -- and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspective of others -- we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup," he said.

"It was really a minimization of both people of color, and a minimization of a horrific history I knew well even then," he said.

"This conduct is in no way reflective of the man I have become in the nearly 40 years since," Herring said. "In the days ahead, honest conversations and discussions will make it clear whether I can or should continue to serve as attorney general."

- 'Shocking and horrific' -

Northam, the governor, has been fighting for his political survival since the emergence of the university yearbook photo which features two men standing together -- one in blackface, the other dressed in a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood.

Governor Ralph Northam (R) and Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax (L) are both under fire in Virgini...
Governor Ralph Northam (R) and Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax (L) are both under fire in Virginia

Blackface is makeup traditionally used by non-black performers to mock African Americans and was prevalent in minstrel shows in the 19th century.

Northam, 59, described the picture as "shocking and horrific" and while initially suggesting he was depicted later denied that he was either of the men in the photo.

But the governor did admit that he had once applied shoe polish on his face -- to imitate Michael Jackson during a 1984 dance contest.

Fairfax, meanwhile, reiterated his denial Wednesday that he had done anything inappropriate with the woman who has accused him of sexual misconduct.

"Fifteen years ago, when I was an unmarried law student, I had a consensual encounter with the woman who made the allegation," the 39-year-old lieutenant governor said.

"At no time did she express to me any discomfort or concern about our interactions, neither during that encounter, nor during the months following it, when she stayed in touch with me, nor the past 15 years," he said.

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