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Virginia AG says he wore blackface at college party

(WHSV)
Published: Feb. 6, 2019 at 11:43 AM EST
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Another top Virginia Democrat — Attorney General Mark Herring — admitted Wednesday to putting on blackface in the 1980s, when he was a college student.

Herring issued a statement saying he wore brown makeup and a wig in 1980 to look like a black rapper during a party as a 19-year-old undergraduate at the University of Virginia.

The revelation further roils the top levels of Virginia government. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax are already facing controversies, and Herring would be

to be governor after those two men.

In the statement, Herring said he and two friends dressed up to look like rappers they listened to, including Kurtis Blow.

"It sounds ridiculous even now writing it. But because of our ignorance and glib attitudes - and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others - we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup," he said.

"That conduct clearly shows that, as a young man, I had a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behavior could inflict on others. It was really a minimization of both people of color, and a minimization of a horrific history I knew well even then."

The attorney general issued the statement after rumors of a blackface photo of Herring had circulated at the Capitol for a day or more. But in his statement, he said nothing about the existence of such a photo.

Herring, who plans to run for governor in 2021, is among those who have

as governor after the discovery of a photo of someone in blackface on his 1984 medical school yearbook page. The photo that appeared in Northam's half-page profile shows someone in black face standing next to another person in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe.

Fairfax, in line to be governor if Northam were to resign, has been

, which he denies.

Asked if Herring should resign, Democratic state Delegate Delores McQuinn, an African-American, did not answer directly.

"We are going to govern — that's what our constituents want us to do," she said.

In condemning the photo from Northam's yearbook, Herring said last Friday: "The photo, the conduct it captures, and the racist imagery invoked are all indefensible. The photo would be profoundly offensive in any circumstances, but it is also shocking and deeply disappointing to know that it pictures Governor Northam." He called for Northam to step down the next day, saying "it is no longer possible" for him to lead the state.

Northam

that he was in the photo without saying which costume he was wearing. A day later,

. But he acknowledged he once used shoe polish to blacken his face and look like Michael Jackson at a dance contest in Texas decades ago.

Herring spent most of his life in Northern Virginia's Loudoun County, where he practiced law after earning bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Virginia and his law degree from the University of Richmond.

He served as a county supervisor and a state senator before getting elected attorney general in 2013 by a mere 165 votes out of more than 2.2 million ballots cast. He won re-election by a more comfortable margin in 2017.

In 2006, as a state senator, he supported a Virginia constitutional amendment that outlawed gay marriage. But as term as attorney general, Herring made national headlines for his efforts to overturn Virginia's ban on gay marriage.

Shortly after taking office, Herring said he would no longer defend the state in a federal lawsuit that challenged the state's ban on gay marriage as unconstitutional.

"It's time for the commonwealth to be on the right side of history and the right side of the law," he said at the time.

A federal judge overturned the state's gay-marriage ban, and cited Herring's opposition to the ban as a "compelling" factor in her decision. Virginia court clerks began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples in October 2014, nearly a full year before the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling allowing gay marriage nationwide.

Below is the official statement issued by Herring:

"The very bright light that is shining on Virginia right now is sparking a painful but, I think we all hope, important conversation. The stakes are high, and our spirits are low. "I am sure we all have done things at one time or another in our lives that show poor judgment, and worse yet, have caused some level of pain to others. I have a glaring example from my past that I have thought about with deep regret in the many years since, and certainly each time I took a step forward in public service, realizing that my goals and this memory could someday collide and cause pain for people I care about, those who stood with me in the many years since, or those who I hoped to serve while in office. "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. It sounds ridiculous even now writing it. But because of our ignorance and glib attitudes – and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others – we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup. "This was a onetime occurrence and I accept full responsibility for my conduct. That conduct clearly shows that, as a young man, I had a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behavior could inflict on others. It was really a minimization of both people of color, and a minimization of a horrific history I knew well even then. "Although the shame of that moment has haunted me for decades, and though my disclosure of it now pains me immensely, what I am feeling in no way compares to the betrayal, the shock, and the deep pain that Virginians of color may be feeling. Where they have deserved to feel heard, respected, understood, and honestly represented, I fear my actions have contributed to them being forced to revisit and feel a historical pain that has never been allowed to become history. "This conduct is in no way reflective of the man I have become in the nearly 40 years since. "As a senator and as attorney general, I have felt an obligation to not just acknowledge but work affirmatively to address the racial inequities and systemic racism that we know exist in our criminal justice system, in our election processes, and in other institutions of power. I have long supported efforts to empower communities of color by fighting for access to healthcare, making it easier and simpler to vote, and twice defended the historic re-enfranchisement of former felons before the Supreme Court of Virginia. I have launched efforts to make our criminal justice system more just, fair, and equal by addressing implicit bias in law enforcement, establishing Virginia’s first-ever program to improve re-entry programs in local jails, and pushing efforts to reform the use of cash bail. And I have tried to combat the rise in hate crimes and white supremacist violence that is plaguing our Commonwealth and our country. "That I have contributed to the pain Virginians have felt this week is the greatest shame I have ever felt. Forgiveness in instances like these is a complicated process, one that necessarily cannot and should not be decided by anyone but those directly affected by the transgressor, should forgiveness be possible or appropriate at all. In the days ahead, honest conversations and discussions will make it clear whether I can or should continue to serve as attorney general, but no matter where we go from here, I will say that from the bottom of my heart, I am deeply, deeply sorry for the pain that I cause with this revelation."

 Statement from Sean Rankin, Executive Director of the Democratic Attorneys General Association:

 
“AG Herring offered to step aside as co-chair this morning and the committee accepted. At this time, District of Columbia AG Racine will be stepping back in as the interim co-chair to lead the Democratic Attorneys General Association along with current co-chair Oregon AG Ellen Rosenblum. We will continue to support our Democratic Attorneys General in their ongoing work protecting civil rights, keeping our communities and families safe, and serving as the People’s Lawyers.”
 
_______________________
 
 
 
 
John March
Communications Director
Republican Party of Virginia
540.460.6242
jmarch@rpv.org
 
RPV Statement on Mark Herring Blackface Incident
 
Richmond, VA - RPV Chairman Jack Wilson issued the following statement today in reaction to AG Mark Herring's statement:
 
"The Republican Party of Virginia calls on Mark Herring to resign his post as Attorney General. Like we have had to say too many times this week, racism has no place in Virginia and dressing up in blackface is wholly unacceptable."
 
"In response to the photograph in Governor Ralph Northam’s yearbook, Herring, in calling for the Governor’s resignation, said 'It is no longer possible for Governor Northam to lead our Commonwealth and it is time for him to step down.'"
 
"In Herring's own statement, he said 'It was really a minimization of both people of color, and a minimization of a horrific history I knew well even then.'"
 
"As we renew our call for Governor Northam's resignation, we must regretfully add Mark Herring's name to the list of Democratic elected officials that have lost the trust of the people of Virginia and have lost the moral authority to govern."
 
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