Virginia's Democratic attorney general — second in line to be governor — admitted on Wednesday he once wore blackface at a college party in 1980.
"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," AG Mark Herring said in a statement. "It sounds ridiculous even now writing it. 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."
Herring called it "a onetime occurrence" and said, "I accept full responsibility for my conduct." He said "the shame of that moment has haunted me for decades."
"That conduct clearly shows that, as a young man, I had a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behavior could inflict on others. It was really a minimization of both people of color, and a minimization of a horrific history I knew well even then," the statement said.
"This conduct is in no way reflective of the man I have become in the nearly 40 years since."
His announcement comes as Gov. Ralph Northam is facing a deluge of calls to resign after a photo on his medical school yearbook page showed a person in blackface alongside someone in Ku Klux Klan robes. Northam at first acknowledged he was in the picture, but then denied it at a news conference the next day. At the news conference, he also admitted to reporters that he dressed in blackface as part of a Michael Jackson costume at a dance contest in 1984.
After the Northam revelations, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, next in line to become governor, was accused of having sexually assaulted a woman 15 years ago. Fairfax maintains the encounter was consensual.
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Herring, who'd called on Northam to resign on Saturday, left open the possibility he might step down as attorney general, something Northam has so far resisted doing.
"That I have contributed to the pain Virginians have felt this week is the greatest shame I have ever felt. Forgiveness in instances like these is a complicated process, one that necessarily cannot and should not be decided by anyone but those directly affected by the transgressor, should forgiveness be possible or appropriate at all," said Herring, 57.
"In the days ahead, honest conversations and discussions will make it clear whether I can or should continue to serve as attorney general, but no matter where we go from here, I will say that from the bottom of my heart, I am deeply, deeply sorry for the pain that I cause with this revelation," he added.
Herring did step down as co-chair of the Democratic Attorneys General Association effective immediately, the group said. "AG Herring offered to step aside as co-chair this morning and the committee accepted," the association's executive director, Sean Rankin, said in a statement.
After the Northam story broke on Friday, Herring said, "The photo, the conduct it captures, and the racist imagery invoked are all indefensible."
Herring told The Washington Post in December that he planned to run for governor in 2021.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said he was "shocked and disappointed" by Herring's revelation.
He said the week has been an “awful” one for Virginia.
Warner, who's called on Northam to resign, refused to comment further about whether Herring should step down.
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only African-American Republican in the Senate, said the revelations show that "the issues of race are not partisan issues, they’re issues of the human heart."
He noted that people tend to blame the Republican Party for ongoing racist issues, but said the problems in the Virginia Democratic Party shows that it's is a "human issue."
If Northam, Fairfax and Herring were all to resign, Virginia's speaker of the House of Delegates, Kirkland Cox, a Republican, would be in line for the job.
The GOP was able to maintain their control of the House of Delegates last year thanks to an unusual lottery after an election fight between Republican David Yancey and Democrat Shelly Simonds ended in a tie. Yancey got the job after a random drawing.
Blow, the rapper who Herring said he was emulating, is now chairman of the Universal Hip Hop Museum in New York City. The museum's chair of fundraising and development, Renee Foster, derided Herring a former "cultural tourist" in a statement.
"We recognize your contrition because you admit you knew it was a 'minimization of a horrific history I knew well even then.' But what you didn't recognize is that Hip Hop culture and rap music is a not a cultural phenomenon to be parodied or appropriated, it is a way of LIFE for millions of people worldwide," Foster said, encouraging Herring to make a donation to the museum.