I’ve never worn blackface, but I’ve laughed when I’ve seen actors like Bing Cosby do so. Just like I laughed when I saw three Coors beer cans in hoods surrounding a Budweiser bottle in a noose. In the highly charged world in which the closest thing to holiness is identity, that makes me a racist. I suppose I’m a sexist, too; I think a person crying “rape” years after an event has some explaining to do.
It’s easy to throw words like “racist” and “sexist” around. It’s harder to stand your ground and say things like “proof matters” and “off color humor isn’t a crime.”
In the world of social media, accusations of racism and sexism are easy to come by. Those in search of clickbait score easy points with socially charged name-calling.
But should governments be toppled so easily?
I’m watching the madness in Virginia just now and fearing the new lynch mob.
Calls for the state’s top three Democrats to step down -- Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney Mark Herring, for wearing, or condoning the wearing of, blackface decades ago; Lt. Gov. Justin E. Fairfax, for “raping” two women decades ago – are a clear and direct threat to the legitimacy of the democratic process. You don’t force an elected official to resign, much less impeach him, because of conduct alleged in a viral tidal wave of scorn.
The conduct of the three men was never hidden. The blackface photographs were in school yearbooks. Where were the racial crusaders when these men ran for office and were elected over and over again? When did being racially insensitive become a capital offense? This is the United States – our history on matters of race is shameful. You don’t right the wrongs of slavery by outlawing juvenile humor.
And the claims of rape against Fairfax?
One accuser, Meredith Watson, demands that Fairfax step down immediately. Why? She claims he raped her – in 1980, while they were students at Duke University. Her claim arose days after Vanessa Tyson, a political science professor, claimed that Fairfax raped her during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston.
Fairfax doesn’t deny libidinal contact; he claims the encounters were consensual. Did these flings become “rapes” as matters of political convenience?
Where were these accusers when Fairfax ran for statewide office? Why weren’t these damning accusations raised when voters were assessing his fitness for office?
Northam, Herring and Fairfax aren’t names I’d ever heard of until this past weekend, but I live in Connecticut, and I’ve never voted in Virginia. I now know their names because of the allegations against them. The same cannot be said of Virginians or the men’s accusers.
There is no mob quite so savage as a self-righteous mob. We no longer lynch people with rope; now we use memes and the toxins spawned by social media. When the viral swill hits the mainstream media, the mob is empowered, and demands blood.
Repeat after me people: Presumption of innocence. Sure, that’s a criminal law concept; we need have no such thing in our politics. We are free to make snap judgments about elected officials. We just can’t make those judgments against people of color, if you are a white male, or women, if you are a male.
Northam and Herring are racists because they wore, or condoned the wearing of, blackface; Fairfax is a sexist because he had sex with women who years later claimed rape. Can you feel the mob flexing its muscle, bearing its teeth – all in the name of sensitivity?
This is race and gender pandering; the accusations aren’t serious claims of wrongdoing. Not after all these years and not in the context of viral politics.
Identity pandering is what passes for politics now. The pros at it are people like Patrick Hope, a Democrat in the Virginia General Assembly who plans today to introduce articles of impeachment against Fairfax. He'll be strutting his stuff on CNN tonight, and loving every self-righteous minute of it. If there’s a politician in Virginia who ought to be bumped from office it is the hopeless Mr. Hope.
I don’t know if Fairfax raped his accusers. Accusations of rape are easy to make years after the event, when murky consent feels like a regretful outrage. And claims of racism are too easy to make. I was surprised when the local NAACP called me a racist for posting the picture of beer bottles on a social media site; I was stunned when a lawyer-blogger at Above the Law, uncritically adopted the accusation. But I expected no less from a lawyer-blogger at a popular website.
In Virginia the stakes are no less than the legitimacy of democratic institutions. Northam, Herring and Fairfax have been vetted by the political process and chosen by the people of their state to lead. The claims for removing them from office aren’t the product of new misconduct, they are the result of allegations hiding for years, even decades, in plain sight. You don’t remove people from office on such grounds. Not if you think elections matter.
But the mob must be sated. #MeToo, it screams. Racist, it roars. Sure, this new two-headed beast now shows some fissures – I mean, isn’t it racist to cry #MeToo against a black male? Is that what is at stake in Virginia, an existential arm-wresting contest to see which identity packs more clout –I mean, slavery is only 400 years old; the oppression of women has gone on forever.
Virginia was inevitable, really. I worry about what comes next.