Governor’s racial error could have been overlooked but for his campaign rhetoric
Teeth grinding discomfort.
That’s what comes to mind as I ruminate on Governor Glenn Youngkin’s gaffe last week after he confused the identities of two African-American female senators. Since there are only three – three! – in the 40-member Senate, the odds were in his favor to get it right.
Maybe he shouldn’t play.
Senator Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, said the governor texted early last week to compliment his comments on Black History Month. Except Senator Mamie Locke, a Democrat from Hampton, gave the speech.
Lucas told him about the mistake, the new official apologized, and everything seemed copacetic. No harm, no fault.
Lucas went public with the misstep on Twitter, however, after the administration and his fellow House Republicans tried Friday to salvage a Cabinet pick by threatening to unseat 1,000 Democratic appointees to regulatory boards and state leadership. The bet was an unprecedented move, The Washington Post reported.
“Study the pictures and you’ll get it soon!” Lucas tweeted Friday night, posting photos of her and Locke. No one should ever confuse the two women by their looks, hairstyles and more.
Lucas’ broadside was overdone, of course. It was obviously political, intended to confuse the novice civil servant. Nor was Lucas’ dig related to the maneuvers on state appointees.
Lucas has increased her social media presence since becoming the highest-ranking Democrat in the state government, serving as President Pro Tempore of the Senate. She launched tweets at a rapid pace.
Ben Tribbett, president of a political consulting firm that has Lucas as a client, told me that her number of tweets and her popularity have increased on social media. Progressives want to hear from her, he added.
Lucas already told Tribbett and other consultants post some of the tweets from her account, but Tribbett said she writes her own. “They are endorsed by her, in her own voice,” he told me.
Yet Lucas also tapped into a reservoir of racial mistrust that Youngkin created himself, in the way he ran for office last year. He whipped up the bogeyman of “critical race theory” during the election campaign. He then signed a Executive Decree on his first day in office, banning the concept in public schools, calling it “intrinsically divisive.”
Conservatives have used the slogan to refer to racially aware courses and teacher training. Liberals counter that this is an attack on real US history, warts and all, especially educating students on how blacks, Native Americans and others faced to discrimination for centuries.
There seems to be a revulsion for facts and historical accuracy. It is the antithesis of teaching.
Youngkin’s executive order says, in part, “We must equip our teachers to teach our students the entirety of our history — both good and bad,” including many of America’s key moments and movements. That positive goal, however, was drowned out by his decision to create a whistleblower line so parents could report educators who allegedly taught these so-called divisive concepts.
Regarding last week’s kerfuffle, a spokeswoman for Youngkin told me, via email, the governor’s version of what happened when he reached out to Lucas: ‘I got the floor talk while doing too much of things at once earlier this week. I made a mistake and immediately apologized to Senator Lucas. It’s understandable.
Macaulay Porter, however, declined to answer my question about how his boss would avoid such mistakes in the future.
Many black professionals, myself included, can recall a situation where a white colleague mistook us for someone else, even though we had worked in the same place for months or even years.
Is it malicious? No. It’s aggravating, above all. And if it happens only once, you can quickly forget about it.
But the incidents leave a bad taste in the mouth. We are often the minority (pun intended) in the newsroom, boardroom, and office. We have to learn the names of many colleagues who don’t look like us; how come they can’t reciprocate?
It’s like getting the correct names and faces of African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans isn’t worth it. It’s particularly infuriating when the number of, say, black men in a business unit can be counted with one hand.
A 2019 article discussed the relentless irritation of people of color in the office feel when people are repeatedly mistaken about who they are. “It kind of makes you feel like you’re invisible, because they don’t know who you are even if you work hard,” said one worker.
Now there’s something called the interracial effect, a cognitive problem where it feels like people of a race other than your own all look alike. Interracial misidentification is also a problem in the criminal justice system.
So Youngkin deserves a pass – but only up to a point. He helped fuel a divisive climate in the way he ran for governor last year, smearing white voters by demonizing what is being taught in K-12 classrooms.
I contacted Kevin Gaines, associate director of the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies at the University of Virginia. He is also a history teacher there.
Gaines noted that race complicates human interactions in the United States. The layering of policies on top of that increases tensions.
Maybe Youngkin “had good intentions complimenting a speech on black history,” Gaines told me Tuesday, “but it wasn’t long since he signed an executive order on critical theory of the race.
“He really panders cynically to a vocal minority of white Virginians.”
Gaines pointed out “it’s absurd on the face of it” that schoolchildren feel overwhelmed by what they are learning. About 80 percent of Virginia public school educators are whiteaccording to the state Department of Education.
So Youngkin is trying to suggest, the professor noted, that white teachers in Virginia are trying to upset white children about learning US history? “It’s laughable,” Gaines said. “That’s how he campaigned.”
I’m sure the governor’s administration would point to instances such as asking students to play ‘privilege bingo’ in Fairfax County, in which one of the criteria for privilege was being from a military family. .
I don’t say it the guv’s error involving Lucas was catastrophic or intentional. Considering how Youngkin ran for office, however, he didn’t get the benefit of the doubt.