Pam Northam Accused Of Racism After Handing Out Cotton To African-American Children

Pam Northam Accused of RacismPhoto By: NASA_LANGLEY/Flickr

Virginia First Lady faces the media for a public apology after the latest incident on the governor’s mansion reached authorities and officials on Wednesday.

After Gucci and Prada’s involvement on racial controversies earlier this year, another one broke out recently that involves first lady, Pam Northam. It all happened when she handed out cotton to young African-American children during the tour of the Governor’s mansion and told them to imagine as if they were slaves on the field. The mother of one of the children, Leah Dozier Walker, a state employee and a Director of the Office of Equity and Community Engagement at Virginia Department of Education, did not like the idea of re-enacting slavery to educate the kids about historical events.

She sent a letter to Pam Northam’s office on Monday indicating the whole story of the visitation for State Senate Pages (children or teen who are under the sponsorship of a senator). The first lady toured the pages in the mansion’s kitchen cottage where slaves used to work before and handed black pages including Walker’s eighth-grade daughter pieces of cotton. Walker’s daughter said that she did not take the cotton although the first lady, who seemed indifferent with the implication of her request, still attempted to lighten up the situation by telling them to “just imagine they were in the fields reaping cotton all day.”

This event mirrored that of the incident happened in early February where Pam Northam’s husband, Democratic Governor, Ralph Northam, posted a photo of his medical school yearbook depicting a black face on it and another in a Ku Klux Klan outfit. This action insulted Americans, especially black people, and accused the Governor of being insensitive to other races. He then apologized after admitting he was on the photo and did wear blackface once to impersonate Michael Jackson in a dance contest.

Before the issue had completely died down, another controversy surfaced again involving his wife. Walker said in an interview that the Northams did not fully grasp the implications of their behavior; much more its effects on the children.

The incident cited the history of the country during the 1830-1840 eras, describing the growth of the American economy due to the booming of cotton industries. However, as the cotton plantation started to give wealth on most of the Americans before, the state of slavery for black people on the Deep South also heightened. The production dramatically turned millions of black men and women in the United States into slavery for decades, according to Henry Louis Gates Jr. For the public, the first lady needed to understand that with past as sensitive as this, she ought to empower her constituents regardless of their races, rather than degrade them.

So far, the Governor and Mrs. Northam have already asked the residents of the commonwealth for forgiveness regarding with their racially insensitive past actions. But for Walker, she insisted that the Governor’s office did not take the harm and hurt they have caused both mentally and emotionally to African-Americans in Virginia seriously.

“I don’t think they are deserving of our forgiveness,” said Walker.

Walker’s daughter also sent a letter to the first lady supporting her mother’s claim that Pam Northam had handed her and at least one African-American page pieces of cotton and asked them to imagine being out in the field as slaves. She wrote on the letter about her experience on the visit saying that she had not felt welcomed but resisted to stay on the whole tour and remained respectful although the first lady was not doing the same.

On the other hand, the governor’s office countered the allegation and claimed that the cotton was distributed to everyone in the group as the first lady discussed the history and significant happenings during that time. In addition to the educational discussion, the group was asked to examine a variety of historical pieces.  

Pam Northam also said in a statement that she regretted to be the cause of everyone’s anguish and reiterated that the kitchen cottage gave historical key points to the governor’s mansion tours and had done the same to all visitors before. She then explained that the use of artifacts and crops was intended for illustrating a painful period in Virginia history, not for offending black people or such.

The incident is the latest controversy involving the governor who has remained on his position despite recent calls from local and national Democrats to resign.

As of now, the first lady’s administration has reached out to the mother of the page and decided to apologize personally but has not heard any reply.

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