As racist and sex assault scandals embroil the leadership of the state of Virginia, it was only a matter of time before the party that wears its racism on its sleeve got dragged into the mud.
While Republicans have been gleefully lording it over the Democrats, excited that for once it’s not them in the hot seat, barely a week had passed before the blackface yearbook inquisitors inevitably discovered that the leader of the Virginia Senate, Tommy Norment (R-James City County) also has a tarnished past.
Norment was the managing editor of “the Bomb” yearbook publication at the Virginia Military Institute in 1968 and thus oversaw and was responsible for the production of that year’s book, which contained multiple pictures of people wearing blackface, in addition to racism and anti-Semitism.
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"A Virginia Military Institute yearbook overseen by future [Virginia] Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment in 1968 features a host of racist photos and slurs, including blackface." https://t.co/TSQEh4udus pic.twitter.com/Dr0jrRj1yR
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) February 7, 2019
On one page of the yearbook, a student poses in blackface, surrounded by others in costumes at a party. Another page features a photo of two men in blackface holding a football.
The N-word is used at least once. A student listed as being from Bangkok, Thailand, is referred to as a “Chink” and “Jap.”
A blurb under one man’s picture says: “He was known as the ‘Barracks Jew’ having his fingers in the finances of the entire Corps.”
It is no coincidence that 1968 was the year that black students were allowed to enroll at the Institute.
When confronted by reporters on Thursday, Norment would only say “The only thing I’m talking about today is the budget.”
Later on, his office issued the following statement:
“The use of blackface is abhorrent in our society and I emphatically condemn it. As one of seven working on a 359-page yearbook, I cannot endorse or associate myself with every photo, entry, or word on each page. However, I am not in any of the photos referenced on pages 82 or 122, nor did I take any of the photos in question.”
But it’s clear that the managing editor of the publication would have reviewed the final product and given it the go-ahead, racism and all, meaning that while he condemns it now that he’s in hot water over it, he felt very differently about it at the time and had no problem rubber-stamping it.
President Trump’s presidency has torn the hood off of the latent racism that runs through every level of American society. The dehumanization of black people paved the way for the mass incarceration of people of color and their systematic economic and political disenfranchisement, and wearing blackface is just one of the ways that is achieved.
Taking an unforgiving stand against it whenever it appears is a crucial first step if we’re actually going to do anything about it, no matter how long ago it was or what letter is by their name.