Wanted: Dead or Alive. There is no statute of limitations on acts of stupidity committed by iconic historical figures or errant students.
Virginia’s governor is being pressured to resign after a 35-year-old photograph of him surfaced dressed in blackface, standing next to another student wearing a Ku Klux Klan costume.
His proposed successor, the lieutenant governor, has since been accused of a 15-year-old sexual assault, which he denies. Third in line for ascension to the throne, the attorney general, now admits that 39 years ago he too wore blackface to a costume party.
Slavery in Virginia dates back to the early 1600s. It was one of eight states to join the Confederacy and its declaration of secession from the United States because of the abolition of slavery, so racism has deep roots in this Southern state.
In the mid-1950s, when a federal court ruled against segregation, Virginia’s political leaders called for massive opposition to desegregation and over the next several decades racial strife prevailed.
It is important to know that 35 to 40 years ago these people were raised in an environment that not only condoned their insensitivity to African-Americans but encouraged it.
Their past conduct was reprehensible, but given their age and home and community environment, maybe understandable. Before passing judgment, and exempting the sexual assault allegation pending investigation, should the public consider what their conduct and contributions to their communities and state were in their subsequent adult years?
Actor Liam Neeson, when being interviewed about his new film, Cold Pursuit, a movie about a man seeking revenge for the death of his son, commented that 40 years ago he felt a primal urge for revenge against the man who violently and brutally raped a close friend — although he did not act on it, and later sought counselling for his anger. Because the felon happened to be black and his identity unknown, his rage at that time was directed at all black men.
The consequence of that remembrance was that Neeson’s red-carpet event in New York City was cancelled and he was left to defend himself on a television talk show against allegations of racism, although he stated that those feelings would have prevailed had the felon been white.
The interviewer left Neeson to ponder the hurt imposed on any innocent black man knowing he could’ve been killed for something that he did not do because of the colour of his skin, and the pain of a black person hearing what he said.
Is the message to keep your past dark thoughts to yourself rather than sharing the experience of wrongfully jumping to quick judgment and possibly preventing someone else from making the same mistake? Ironically, these people live in a country that elected a racist president.
But should anyone be penalized for what they felt or wanted to do, but didn’t, in a fit of anger, be it last year or 40 years ago?
Could the Neeson story have been better used to support the Black Lives Matter movement and the persecution and wrongful incarceration of black people in America (and Indigenous people in Canada)?
I am old enough to remember when slurs used in reference to ethnicities were commonplace.
Saskatchewan historians note that our province did not embrace multiculturalism until the 1970s. This could mean that many of today’s good citizens might be called to account for using unacceptable and hurtful language in their younger years. But what about the road to redemption, a trip provided by education and life experiences?
Would it surprise you to know that back in the 1920s, when our provincial population was about 750,000, that 25,000 people were active members of the Ku Klux Klan? At a time when the average income (and when most women did not work outside of the home) was $272 a month, that those KKK citizens paid a whopping $13 for the privilege of wearing a hood and persecuting Catholics and continental-European immigrants (invited here by the government to settle the prairies) because they talked and worshipped differently than the ruling white Anglo-Saxon Protestants?
Today it is commonly referred to as white supremacy and some of your older kinfolk may have been members of the KKK.
I don’t know what will become of the Virginians currently engaged in this controversy. If nothing else, the governor should be bounced for his stupidity in trying to cover up his errant past.
Anyone, whether a politician, businessperson, community leader or citizen, who has continuously exhibited bias, prejudice and/or racism throughout his or her life, should be held accountable for his or her actions.
But there must be room to accept individuals for their earlier mistakes and forgive them their transgressions arising from youthful ignorance if they have matured in their outlook, because we have all been guilty of something during the course of our lives.
What will become of our children and grandchildren who from birth have had every aspect of their lives posted in cyberspace? I am ever so grateful that I grew up prior to the advent of cellphones with camera/video capacity and the Internet.
In today’s world, everything seems to be shared on social media, all of which will float like a nimbostratus iCloud ready to rain on our children’s bright futures because of their youthful mistakes that may not reflect the men and women they will grow to be.
This column should not be read as support for those who have done wrong, but as a voice of caution. The pendulum has swung from one extreme to the other and we should only hope that it will eventually seek its centre. As the old saw goes, two wrongs don’t make a right.