Over the weekend a racist image on Virginia Governor Northam’s medical school yearbook page sparked controversy, outrage and several calls for his resignation. On Wednesday Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring acknowledged he put on blackface as an undergraduate student in 1980.

Director of the Race and Social Policy Research Center at Virginia Tech, Wornie Reed, says “wearing blackface demonstrates a longstanding, painful history of its use in American history.”

Quoting Reed

“The impression that audiences received from blackface and these inaccurate caricatures was that these types of behavior and images seen in entertainment were typical of black Americans, so the use of blackface was always intended to be disparaging. It perpetuated stereotypes of black Americans and promoted white supremacy.”

“We must address racism every time it occurs. It’s important to have open conversations involving groups and communities to overcome and stop these types of incidents. Issues such as the controversy surrounding the governor will continue to happen until we work as a community to stop it.”

“The use of blackface originated with white actors in the early-1800s who darkened their skin for performances.”

“In addition to painting their face black, actors would have distorted features, and  sing and dance comically as if they were mimicking blacks. These grotesque portrayals of black Americans had a critical impact on white Americans’ perception of blacks -- as dumb, lazy, and happy-go-lucky.”

About Reed

Wornie Reed is the director of the Race and Social Policy Research Center and a professor of Africana Studies and sociology in Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. His areas of expertise includes race, ethnic health disparities, social policy and criminal justice. Reed also has several connections to the civil rights movement: he marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and saw over 30 of his speeches; he attended King’s funeral in Atlanta and marched in Memphis; he participated in the Poor People's’ Campaign, the 1963 March on Washington and the Montgomery Bus Boycott; He also participated with the Olympic Committee for Human Rights which sponsored the Black Power salute boycott.

Reed’s expertise has been featured in TIME,  HuffPost, WSLS (Virginia CBS affiliate), WVTF (Virginia NPR affiliate), Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, and the Philadelphia Tribune, to name a few.  

Schedule an Interview

To secure an interview with Wornie Reed, contact the VT Media Relations office via Ceci Leonard (cecilae@vt.edu; 540-357-2500).

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- Written by Justin McCloskey