Virginians have been preoccupied with the news from the governor’s, lieutenant governor’s, and attorney general’s offices for more than a week. At the Jepson School, as elsewhere, faculty, staff, and students alike are deeply disappointed by the racist image on Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook page. They are also disappointed in the admissions by Gov. Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring that they wore blackface in the 1980s to impersonate African-American musicians Michael Jackson and Kurtis Blow, respectively. In the midst of the scandal, Vanessa Tyson, an associate professor of politics at Scripps College, publicly accused Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexually assaulting her in 2004.

Perhaps the best way to make sense of the blackface scandal is to learn from Jepson School associate professor of leadership studies Julian Hayter. Dr. Hayter, a historian by training, was not terribly surprised at the governor’s and attorney general’s failures of leadership, which, he argues, result from a failure to reconcile ourselves fully with the past. From as far away as Le Monde in France to the Globe and Mail in Canada and venues closer to home, read Dr. Hayter’s remarks below.

NBC12 WWBT, Feb. 12: “Historian sheds light on Northam’s ‘indentured servant’ comments”

Francetvinfo, Feb. 11: “Le gouverneur de Virginie rattrapé par une photo de ‘blackface’” 

The Globe and Mail, Feb. 8: “Political turmoil in Virginia puts Democrats in conundrum”

Le Monde, Feb. 8: “Aux Etats-Unis, un ‘blackface’ est toujours insultant”

Inside Higher Ed, Feb. 5: “Racist Histories”

USA Today, Feb. 4: “In blackface controversy, Virginia remains haunted by its Confederate past”

The Washington Post, Feb. 2: “Analysis: Northam struggles to escape Virginia’s troubled past – and his own”

Photo credit of Julian Hayter’s forearm: Grégory Philipps, Radio France

Leadership lessons from blackface scandal

Sandra J. Peart

Dr. Peart is Dean of the School of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond. She is an economist with special interests in leadership and economics and leadership ethics. More about her: Go to and see faculty information.

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