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Virginians are in pain and conflicted about a white governor and attorney general who both acknowledged doing blackface when they were younger, and a black lieutenant governor who is accused of sexually violating two women.

We have two different issues here, both of which continue to haunt us as a society.

The first are racial insensitivity and ridicule, with a white person trying to “humorously” portray a black person in some excuse of a party atmosphere. The offense is terribly wrong and continues to inflict pain from our national original sin of slavery.

But as wrong as it is, it is not a crime, and sexual offenses and rape are. These crimes perpetuate the attitude that women are property to be used at will by men for their satisfaction whether they consent or not.

The racial offense of blackface would almost inevitably have to be committed here in the South, where we still grapple to overcome the legacy of slavery and bend increasingly toward justice.

The first thing a white person must ask him or herself is what could be humorous about doing blackface at the expense of feelings of dignity and self-worth of people of color? I believe that Southerners have in the past done this without thinking the issue through, and realizing the insult and the pain it causes, almost as though this is part of our Southern heritage. If it is, then that part of the heritage needs to stop and stop now, with no racist jokes or expressions tolerated.

One of the first things you learn in torts class at law school is that your right to swing your arm ends where the other fellow’s jaw begins. By analogy, the right to present ourselves, particularly when it is as another race, stops when the effect is pain for others.

It is not illegal — not everything that is absolutely wrong is illegal — but it must violate the core beliefs of every major religion.

Ralph Northam, the governor of Virginia, has apparently lived a worthy life of service to others, including the black people who were his classmates in integrated schools and with whom he grew up on one of Virginia’s Eastern Shore islands.

I do not think Northam should resign; I think he should continue to serve with a recommitted passion to understand racial discrimination and make amends personally and politically.

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax faces a more difficult choice: He must resign or accept a full and impartial investigation of his past conduct, including any allegations that may be made by other women.

And, his accusers should be treated with dignity and a full understanding that women don’t want to say they were sexually attacked. These women have no partisan bias to try to halt what has looked like a promising career for a young aspiring politician.

 

— Colvard Dorian, a retired attorney, lives in DeLand.