A Northam-Smollett America

Armstrong Williams | 4/11/2019, 12:31 p.m.
February was a good, albeit controversial, month for discussions about race in this country.
Armstrong Williams

February was a good, albeit controversial, month for discussions about race in this country. Not only was it the traditional Black History Month, but two race-centric bombshells also rocked the country within the same news cycle. First, newly elected Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam admitted that he was the blackface character featured in his medical school yearbook page. Not surprisingly, he later changed his position and stated that he was not the blackface character. Likely as a result, he still remains governor of Virginia. As Virginia and the nation were reeling from the Northam scandal, it was also discovered that Jussie Smollett, star of the FOX TV show “Empire,” had fabricated what was initially deemed a racially charged assault upon himself in a pathetic attempt to increase his salary. Instead, his cowardly actions only served to prey on America’s knee-jerk paranoia when it comes to racial issues and acts of overt racism.

These two episodes are fantastic case studies of how Americans have pivoted far off the course of healing and reconciliation around race. Furthermore, it is worth pointing out that episodes like these—particularly one that involves a totally fabricated, racially motivated attack—undo years of racial progress and only serve to further damage race relations and deepen the divide within our country.

Let’s examine these two vignettes that, on paper, could not be more different—a tale of two men who would never meet in a lifetime of lifetimes. On one hand, there is Northam, who clumsily, perhaps even stupidly, entered the court of righteous public judgment and was deemed guilty before his statehouse news conference was even over. On the other, you have Smollett, whose case was a beautiful example of the racial hatred that continues to stain this nation and President Donald Trump only encourages—or so it seemed. News commentators, Hollywood actors and politicians alike were all quick to blindly offer support to Smollett, despite his questionable account of events, simply because his “story” fit perfectly into their anti-Trump narrative.

For Northam, on the day of his atonement, his answers were awkward and clumsy. He looked more clueless than calculating in his public defense. Yet those around him were unmerciful. Yet somehow, he remains, to this day, governor of Virginia while Smollett, rightfully, was indicted on 16 felony charges.

In the aftermath of all of this, I wonder, how do we begin a new level of discussion and, hopefully, healing in America? As a society of many colors, not just Black and white, are we not able to—or perhaps not allowed to—openly admit that mistakes dealing with race (and prejudice of many other ilks) are, as in Northam’s case, most often driven by insensitive foolishness and prejudice rather than maniacal hatred? Perhaps rather than defaulting to “mob-rule” in instances like the Northam case, we should use these difficult times as teaching moments. If we don’t, we’re likely to encourage more Smolletts who see opportunities to profit financially and politically from America’s current paranoia and mob-rule insistence on a lifetime of politically correct behavior. Perhaps Northam and Smollett and cases like theirs can be catalysts that usher in awareness and understanding.