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Virginia's attorney general latest to admit to wearing blackface

Another top Virginia Democrat — Attorney General Mark Herring — admitted Wednesday to putting on blackface in the 1980s, when he was a college student.

Mark Herring's revelation follows that of Gov. Ralph Northam

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has admitted to wearing blackface decades ago. (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch/Associated Press)

Another top Virginia Democrat — Attorney General Mark Herring — admitted Wednesday to putting on blackface in the 1980s, when he was a college student.

With Gov. Ralph Northam's career already hanging by a thread over a racist photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook, Herring issued a statement saying he wore brown makeup and a wig in 1980 to look like a rapper during a party as a 19-year-old at the University of Virginia.

Herring — who has been among those calling on Northam to resign — said he was "deeply, deeply sorry for the pain that I cause with this revelation." He said that in the days ahead, "honest conversations and discussions will make it clear whether I can or should continue to serve as attorney general."

The 57-year-old attorney general issued the statement after rumours of a blackface photo of him had circulated at the capitol for a day or more. But in his statement, he said nothing about the existence of a photo.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is refusing to resign, amid intense political fallout over a racist photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook and uncertainty about the future of the state's government. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)

The revelation further roils the top levels of Virginia government. Gov. Northam and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax are already facing controversies, and Herring would be next in line to be governor after those two men.

In the statement, Herring said he and two friends dressed up to look like rappers they listened to, including Kurtis Blow.

"It sounds ridiculous even now writing it," the statement said. "But because of our 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.

"That conduct clearly shows that, as a young man, I had a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behaviour could inflict on others. It was really a minimization of both people of colour, and a minimization of a horrific history I knew well even then."

Herring, who plans to run for governor in 2021, is among those who have urged Northam to resign after the discovery of a photo of someone in blackface on his 1984 medical school yearbook page. The photo that appeared in Northam's half-page profile shows someone in black face standing next to another person in a Ku Klux Klan style hood and robe.

Gov. Northam refuses to resign over racist yearbook photo:

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam insists that no, on further consideration, that's not him in the racist photo that appeared on his 1984 medical school yearbook page. The announcement did nothing to quell the clamour from his own party for him to resign. 2:07

Fairfax, in line to be governor if Northam were to resign, was confronted with allegations of sexual misconduct.

A California woman put out a signed statement Wednesday saying Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex on him in a hotel room in 2004 during the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

He denied the accusations, saying the encounter was consensual. 

"At no time did she express to me any discomfort or concern about our interactions, neither during that encounter, nor during the months following it, when she stayed in touch with me, nor the past 15 years," he said in a statement.

'We are going to govern'

Asked if Herring should resign, Democratic state delegate Delores McQuinn, an African-American, did not answer directly.

"We are going to govern — that's what our constituents want us to do," she said.

The chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, Del. Lamont Bagby, said its members need time to process the news about the attorney general: "We've got a lot to digest."

In condemning the photo from Northam's yearbook, Herring said last Friday: "The photo, the conduct it captures, and the racist imagery invoked are all indefensible. The photo would be profoundly offensive in any circumstances, but it is also shocking and deeply disappointing to know that it pictures Governor Northam." He called for Northam to step down the next day, saying "it is no longer possible" for him to lead the state.

Northam admitted at first that he was in the photo without saying which costume he was wearing. A day later, he denied he was in the picture. But he acknowledged he once used shoe polish to blacken his face and look like Michael Jackson at a dance contest in Texas decades ago.