In the past week, the state of Virginia government of Virginia, where I live, has been rocked with scandal after scandal. Last week, the world learned that governor Ralph Northam included a photo, on his 1984 medical-school yearbook page, of one person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe. Northam admitted to posing for the photo, then later recanted, saying that he didn’t believe he was one of the people in the picture. But he also admitted that he’d once worn blackface while dancing like Michael Jackson in a dance contest.
Northam refused to resign the governorship, even after just about everyone in his own party demanded that he do so. But then Justin Fairfax, the state’s lieutenant governor and the person first in line for the governorship should Northam resign, was accused of sexually assaulting a woman in 2004. (He denies it.) And then came the news about Mark Herring, the state’s attorney general and the man who would become governor if both Northam and Fairfax resign. Herring, one of the people who demanded that Northam resign, admitted that he had also worn blackface. But while apologizing for doing it, he also tried to claim that he was trying to pay tribute to one of rap’s forefathers when he committed the offensive act.
Herring has said that he wore blackface in 1980, when he was a 19-year-old undergrad at the University Of Virginia. Herring said that a friend “suggested we attend a party dressed like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song.” The costume involved “wigs and brown makeup.”
One of the weirdest things about this absolute ongoing clusterfuck is the idea that a white Virginia college student would be attempting to dress like a rapper in 1980, when rap music was still a phenomenon mostly limited to New York underground circles. But Kurtis Blow was the first rapper to sign to a major label or to earn a gold record, and he released his self-titled debut album in 1980, so it’s at least vaguely plausible.
Anyway, Kurtis Blow is not happy about this whole thing. In a video posted on TMZ, the 59-year-old Blow says, “It’s shocking. I was shocked, totally shocked. Being an elder spokesman, a father, a minister, a husband, I find it totally offensive and disrespectful, degrading. It’s ugly. I’m praying for my man Mr. Herring right now.”
Blow also said that people had paid him tribute before — including Jimmy Fallon and LeBron James, who spoofed one of this songs in a 2014 Tonight Show video — without doing anything like blackface. He also spoke of the value of forgiveness and added, “He owes some kind of retribution.” Here’s the video:
Kurtis Blow also spoke to The Washington Times, saying, “When you paint your face, that is the most egregious and disrespectful thing you can do considering what we’ve been through. It’s opening up some deep, historical scars.” And he says that he’d like to meet with Herring to discuss it.