When it comes to public perception and scrutiny, it seems that the Northams’ problems are far from over. In the aftermath of Gov. Ralph Northam’s blackface yearbook photo scandal, his wife, First Lady Pam Northam, has come under fire after a recent tour of the governor’s residence.
As reported by The Washington Post, a Virginia state employee lodged a complaint after an incident which took place at the governor’s historic mansion. The state employee’s daughter, who is black, was handed a piece of cotton by Pam Northam. The first lady — who also handed some cotton to another African-American child, asked the two to imagine what it would be like to be enslaved and to have to pick cotton.
Needless to say, the complaint did not fall on deaf ears. Leah Dozier Walker, who supervises the Office of Equity and Community Engagement at the Virginia Education Department, wrote to lawmakers and the office of Gov. Northam earlier this week.
“The Governor and Mrs. Northam have asked the residents of the Commonwealth to forgive them for their racially insensitive past actions,” Walker wrote.
“But the actions of Mrs. Northam, just last week, do not lead me to believe that this Governor’s office has taken seriously the harm and hurt they have caused African Americans in Virginia or that they are deserving of our forgiveness.”
A state employee says first lady Pam Northam handed cotton to black students on a tour of the Governor's Mansion, asking them "if they could imagine what it must have been like to pick cotton all day."https://t.co/PeIe2YnYOB— The Daily Progress (@DailyProgress) February 27, 2019
As The Washington Post notes, both Gov. Northam’s office and a parent of another child — who also took part of the aforementioned tour of the mansion — explained that Pam Northam did not specifically target or single out the black students. Instead, she handed cotton out to multiple people from the tour group, which included the two African-American students.
Regardless of Pam Northam’s intent, the backlash the first lady is facing calls attention to the scrutiny that the governor — and his wife — are under, as the former attempts to move past recent racist incidents and allegations.
As detailed by The Philadelphia Inquirer, Virginia Sen. William Stanley (R) also weighed in on the incident. Stanley’s daughter was on the same tour of the mansion, and while William did not make her available for comment, he did state that his daughter informed him that Pam Northam offered pieces of cotton to all the students on the trip.
“The first lady’s intent was to show the horrors of slavery and to make sure everyone felt the pain they felt in some small measure,” Stanley explained. A couple of days later, his wife went on the same tour. She described the moment as “poignant.”