Northam says he plans to address racial equality during remainder of his term

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who has been embroiled in controversy over revelations of a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page and an admission to wearing blackface, said in an interview with The Washington Post Saturday that he intends to stay in office and spend the remainder of his term addressing racial inequity.

Northam acknowledged in the interview it had been “a horrific week for Virginia,” and “lot of individuals across Virginia have been hurt.” Northam has refused to step down from office, despite calls from other Virginia officials and the Virginia Black Legislative Caucus.

The governor maintained he was not in the yearbook photo which showed one person in blackface and one in KKK robes, even though he initially released a statement taking responsibility for it.

“I overreacted,” he said, about his initial statement. “If I had it to do over I would step back and take a deep breath.” Northam said East Virginia Medical School is undergoing an independent investigation around the yearbook photo.

Northam has spent the week meeting with legislative, faith and community leaders, as well as reading up on racial issues with pieces such as Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article “The Case for Reparations” and Alex Haley’s “Roots.”

“There are ongoing inequities to access to things like education, health care, mortgages, capital, entre­pre­neur­ship. And so this has been a real, I think , an awakening for Virginia. It has really raised the level of awareness for racial issues in Virginia. And so we’re ready to learn from our mistakes,” Northam told the Post. He said he will push for racial sensitivity training in state government and revisit the issue of confederate statues.

Northam said he is setting up a “reconciliation tour” that will take him across the state to have conversations with communities about racial issues.

Northam’s interview caps off a tumultuous week in Virginia state goverment. Attorney General Mark Herring has also admitted to wearing blackface in his youth, and State Sen. Tommy Norment edited the college yearbook that featured racial images and slurs. Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has been accused by two women of sexual assault, allegations which he denies. Top Virginia Democrats have called on Fairfax to resign.

Northam told the Post he is monitoring the situation.

“It must take tremendous courage for women to step forward and talk about being the victim of sexual assault,” Northam said. “These allegations are horrific, they need to be taken very seriously. Lt. Gov. Fairfax has suggested and called for an investigation, I strongly support that.”

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