The governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, has been associated with a despicable act of racism in his 1984 yearbook pictures at medical college. His act is extremely hurtful and brutally disgraceful to people of color, especially black people. He should have, in 1984, known better, should have known what a loathsome message he was sending — 1984 wasn’t the Dark Ages.
His Feb. 2 news conference explaining away his actions, not taking personal responsibility for his act of racism, not seeming to understand the burden of racism on black people, and his attempt to save his social standing (and) political life was underwhelming. But it is typical of most Americans today who don’t fully understand that racism still cuts a deep discriminatory divide across our country.
However, is there room in our hearts for redemption? Can we reform? We find in the Bible, to paraphrase, "let him without sin cast the first stone." The first Unitarian Universalist principle is that “all people have inherent worth and dignity.”
Nelson Mandela, upon becoming president of South Africa, instituted the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in order to bring out the immorality, racism and wickedness of the past, not to punish but in order to heal. A process of restorative justice, victims and perpetrators of violence were encouraged to give testimony, some made public. Perpetrators could request amnesty from civil and criminal prosecution.
Should we condemn and discard all white people for past transgressions of racism, and disgraceful acts of discrimination? Is there no rehabilitation? Can we give people a second chance? My answer is yes, we can and should, with a moral self-examination of our hurtful ways and an honest discussion of what is needed for atonement.
I believe Martin L. King Jr. was saying this with his statement, “Let us realize the arch of moral universe is long, but bends it toward justice.”
Let us heal together, not cast good people to the waste bin.
I grew up in Virginia, graduated with degrees from Virginia Polytechnic Institute, “Virginia Tech,” and farmed there for several years. My mother, Kathryn H. Stone, was a member of the House of Delegates for 14 years in the 1950s and '60s. I understand Virginia politics, am a graduate of racial wars there, but still am hopeful that a better day is coming.
Paul A. Stone is an Orwell resident.