Virginia Attorney General Says He Wore Blackface in College to Look Like Rappers

Attorney General Mark Herring says he is "deeply, deeply sorry for the pain that I cause with this revelation."

Mark Herring

Image via Getty/Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Mark Herring

Virginia's executive branch has been rocked by another scandal.

On Wednesday, the state's Attorney General Mark Herring admitted to wearing blackface nearly 40 years ago while he was an undergrad. The top Democrat released an online statement claiming he and his friends participated in blackface to look like the rappers they listened to. Herring specifically mentions hip-hop trailblazer Kurtis Blow.

"In 1980, when I was a 19-year-old undergraduate in college, some friends suggested we attend a party dressed like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song," he wrote. "It sounds ridiculous even now writing it. But because of ignorance and glib attitudes—and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others—we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup."

Herring goes on to claim he only wore blackface one time and that he takes full responsibility for his conduct, as well as the the pain his behavior has caused. 

"Forgiveness in instances like these is a complicated process, one that necessarily cannot and should not be decided by anyone but those directed affected by the transgressor, should forgiveness be possible or appropriate at all," he continued. "In the days ahead, honest conversations and discussions will make it clear whether I can or should to continue to serve as attorney general." He also said "from the bottom of my heart, I am deeply, deeply sorry for the pain that I cause with this revelation."

Herring's admission arrives just days after he urged current Virginia governor Ralph Northam to resign from his post in wake of a blackface scandal. Northam's 1984 medical school yearbook featured a photo of a man wearing blackface next to another man dressed up as a Ku Klux Klan member. Northam initially apologized for the image, but later denied being either of the of men in the photo. Though he admitted to wearing shoe polish on his face as part of a 1984 Michael Jackson dance contest, Northam has refused to resign. 

"It is no longer possible for Gov. Northam to lead our Commonwealth and it is time for him to step down," said Herring, who is third in line for the governor's seat, in response to the scandal earlier this week. "I have spoken with Lieutenant Governor Fairfax and assured him that, should he ascend to the governorship, he will have my complete support and commitment to ensuring his success and the success of our Commonwealth."

If Northam chooses to step down, he would be replaced by Lieutenant Gov. Justin Fairfax, who was recently accused of sexually assaulting a woman at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Fairfax denies the allegations and claims the encounter was consensual.

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