Watching this weeks’ major media meltdown regarding Governor Northam and a college buddy having dressed in blackface and as a KKK member for I presume some kind of masquerade party is as entertaining as it is baffling. I was in elementary and middle school during the high points of the civil rights/desegregation campaign – by the time I was an adult, half a dozen years ahead of Governor Northam – civil rights for citizens of whatever color was a done deal. It was all, we thought, done and dusted. Membership in the Klan was an unsavory, disreputable thing. I ought to mention that I grew up in blue-collar California, and if there had ever been a substantial KKK presence there, it managed to escape my notice and the notice of my parents. Things must have been way different in the south-eastern US in the 1980s, I guess.
Dress in blackface as a minstrel show performer? Well … maybe as Al Jolson. And with a sparkly glove, a fancy jacket, a stuffed monkey and doing the moonwalk as Michael Jackson; that I can buy and be assured there was no racial denigration implied. As a KKK member? Definitely not; It would be like pairing with a friend to go to a costume party as an SS guard and a concentration camp inmate. Definitely edgy, double-definitely in very bad taste. Career-ending? Depends on what political party – so, again, mystification on my part.
When my lot – military and sometimes a bit edgy in the late 70sies and 80s – got frisky, we threw toga parties. (You kids – get off my lawn!) And I went to a civilian costume party at my parents’ social club in the early 90s, outfitted as a military dominatrix: uniform BDU trousers, boots and cover, with a very tight white tee shirt, brandishing a riding crop menacingly, and asking if anyone wanted a touch of military discipline. I don’t know whether to be grateful or not that there are no pictures of me in that get-up: I looked pretty darned good in it, and everyone at the party thought it was an absolute riot but then, I haven’t subsequently cultivated a career in politics, only as an internet scribbler. (I was on leave, OK? It is what I had in my luggage and available to me, on the spur of the moment. The ‘rents thought it was funny, although my next-younger brother didn’t in the least.)
Anyway, the usual suspects are either in full-hair-on-fire meltdown about the raaaaacism of it all, or alternately twisting and turning in the gyre, trying to make it all go away, or explain away the double standard, and a lot of agonizing me-tooism about costume parties and stupid things you did as a teen, or early twenties – things which once were acceptable, or perhaps slightly edgy, and now are the social-media kiss of death, depending on the political party one is identified with and to whatever level of elective office one has aimed at. Will Governor Northam emerge unscathed? Your comments and insights are invited.