In Speech to Cadets, Northam Defends His Treatment of VMI

Photo credit: WBDJ TV

by James A. Bacon

A year after denouncing the “clear and appalling culture of ongoing structural racism” at his alma mater the Virginia Military Institute, Governor Ralph Northam extended an olive branch of sorts. Delivering a speech last night to VMI’s 1,700 cadets, he offered praise of the Institute while also justifying measures he took to transform it in line with his vision of diversity and inclusion.

“We have a strong and thriving Virginia — a Commonwealth that opens its arms to people from around the world. The diversity that we’ve embraced in Virginia makes us stronger,” Northam said. “You will be out in this world, and no matter where you go — the military, or to a private sector job — you are going to encounter a wide variety of people, of all faiths and backgrounds.”

Implicit in those remarks is that VMI was a racist institution until the installation of new leadership in the past year. While Northam tactfully did not call VMI racist in his speech, he did allude to the flying of the Confederate flag, the playing of “Dixie,” and the glorification of the Lost Cause 44 years ago when he was a cadet.

Since then, Northam said, he has come to understand “what a large and diverse world we live in” and he has learned the importance of “diversity, being inclusive, being welcoming, and treating people fairly and with dignity.”

It is not immediately evident from the text of the speech what Northam was hoping to accomplish. My take is that Northam has residual feelings of loyalty to the Institute, which he credited with giving him a “world-class” education, and that he was trying to make peace with a community that he angered with his sweeping denunciations and heavy-handed tactics. Without waiting for the results of the investigation last year, he forced the resignation of the previous superintendent, J.H. Binford Peay III. He also installed a Board of Visitors willing to accelerate the removal of Confederate statues and iconography from the “post,” as the campus is known, and enact a progressive “diversity” agenda, such as hiring a chief diversity officer.

It is not likely that Northam will find much forgiveness from thousands of alumni who were offended by his slander of VMI’s reputation. When the Washington Post highlighted a handful of incidents, a few of which were unquestionably racist in nature and some of which were merely problematic to people with Leftist sensitivities, Northam accepted them as proof that racism was endemic. Then he hired the Barnes & Thornburg law firm to “investigate” racism and sexism. Adding little in the way of concrete findings, Barnes & Thornburg relied upon perceptions collected in interviews and a biased questionnaire to reach fore-ordained conclusions. 

Superintendent Peay, respected by many for his stewardship of the military academy, had initiated a review of VMI traditions and Confederate iconography before he was cashiered. VMI revered both Stonewall Jackson, who taught and VMI and was one of the great battlefield commanders in American history, and VMI cadets who fought bravely in the Civil War battle of New Market. It was increasingly evident that although these traditions honored martial virtues, they created significant conflicts for African-American cadets.

Northam, who underwent a crisis of conscience after his blackface controversy, reminisced in the speech about his time at VMI when he was too busy surviving the Rat Line to question its traditions.

“It didn’t occur to me to ask, who is that a statue of? When was it erected? Why is that person being honored? Who decided that we would all salute him?” Northam said. “When I saw the Confederate flag, it didn’t occur to me to ask, what does flying the Confederate flag, or playing ‘Dixie,’ symbolize? Why are we glorifying the Lost Cause? And might these symbols be offensive to some of my fellow cadets?”

“If you haven’t experienced sexism or racism yourself — perhaps because you look like me — and you haven’t paid much attention to what it looks like, you’re going to have a very hard time recognizing it,” Northam said.

Northam said that VMI has much to be proud of. “From this small school have come countless citizen soldiers, military leaders, doctors, lawyers, professional athletes, and people who dedicate their lives to serving our country in important ways.” Some VMI traditions have value in molding young people, he said.

But other traditions do not, he added. “Gone are the statues that glorify rebellion against the United States. In place are new provisions for privacy and safety for all — especially women. The Institute has now stated a commitment to diversity, and to making certain that all cadets, faculty, and staff, feel safe and welcome.”

Northam never acknowledged that VMI might have changed in the 44 years since he was there. He never alluded to the sketchiness of allegations of “systemic” racism and sexism based on cherry-picked, out-of-context quotes and surveys of perceptions driven as much by national narratives as actual events. At no time has Northam ever acknowledged that racism is alleged at every institution of higher education, nor has he, the Barnes & Thornburg investigators, or the Washington Post made the case that racism and sexism were more tolerated by the previous VMI administration or more prevalent at VMI than elsewhere.

The cadets listened respectfully to the governor. Despite considerable griping on social media and critical sentiments expressed in exit polling conducted by the independent student newspaper The Cadet, no one turned their backs or broke out in chants of “Let’s go Brandon.” Given the intensity of the emotions Northam has unleashed, that is all the affirmation the governor can reasonably expect.

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21 responses to “In Speech to Cadets, Northam Defends His Treatment of VMI”

  1. dick dyas Avatar

    How outrageous that he ventured on VMI’s campus. He should be purged from all alumni records for his actions. Kudos to the school for not blocking or protesting his appearance. Now, let him go, but remember his treachery.

  2. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
    Baconator with extra cheese

    Let’s Go Coonman!

  3. YellowstoneBound1948 Avatar

    First, I want the Corps of Cadets to know that they are not abandoned. I hope they will use their social platforms to solidify their opposition to the re-education camp that is now VMI, and to Northam, who will resume killing full-term babies when he returns to the practice of institutional infanticide.

    But, equally important, all cadets — and all alumni — should remember that, while we may have differences of opinion, it is not necessary to condemn the Corps of Cadets without a shred of competent evidence. Here’s what Northam said long before he squandered $1 million of the taxpayers’ money on a law firm to “justify” what he said: VMI exhibits a “clear and appalling culture of ongoing structural racism.” And with that, Northam permanently damaged VMI and the value of a VMI diploma, and forfeited his status as an alumnus. (The VMI Alumni Association lacks the spine, unfortunately, to take any action against Northam.)

    And then there is the new Superintendent, General Wins, all too eager to replace Gen. Peay, one of VMI’s greatest superintendents, without having the courtesy, let alone the common sense, to take an “interim” position for at least a year.

    The Commonwealth’s budget calls for millions of dollars to “re-educate” VMI. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion officers will quadruple in number, and the campus will become a boiling cauldron of social engineering and political correctness. Inquisitors will stalk the barracks.

    Pray for the Corps of Cadets.

    Pray that the alumni will hear the clarion call.

    Pray for the Commonwealth’s new governor.

    Never surrender!

    1. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
      Carmen Villani Jr

      Well said!!!

  4. Ralph lost over Ninety percent of the VMI Alumni when he,as a political bureaucratic HACK, stated he was not in the picture of himself in blackface in his Medical School yearbook. He later even stated he had not “seen” that picture. Truly unbelievable.

    1. YellowstoneBound1948 Avatar

      I was in Virginia recently and kept hearing that the person in the picture with the smaller stature was Mrs. Northam. I thought about that, and then I remembered her acute discomfort during their press conference immediately after disclosure of the photo. I think Northam was getting ready to say, “Mrs. Northam and I were just acting silly,” etc. Her acute discomfort was evident. She whispered “no” and demurely shook her head “no.” It adds up.

  5. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Were it not rigorously investigated, it would have remained just another Southern institution with a tradition of racism. Now, it is not.

    1. YellowstoneBound1948 Avatar

      “Another Southern institution with a tradition of racism”? Name them. Name one. Defamation seems to be your stock in trade, so this ought to be easy for you. Put it out there.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive


        But please, don’t take my word for it. Permit me to submit into evidence a statement from the Congress…

        “What does the Voting Rights Act of 1965 State?
        It outlawed the discriminatory voting practices adopted in many southern states after the Civil War, including literacy tests as a prerequisite to voting. … This “act to enforce the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution” was signed into law 95 years after the amendment was ratified.”

        1. YellowstoneBound1948 Avatar

          That’s too easy, Miss Nancy. The southern states are not “institutions,” and surely you are not conflating VMI with the State of Mississippi. So, once again, I ask you to name a “southern institution” with a “tradition of racism.”

          1. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Uh no. Mississippi was not nearly as bad.

          2. Donald Smith Avatar
            Donald Smith

            Miss Nancy, when will we see you submit an article to BR under your own name? Or, do you plan to hide in the comments section, behind a pseudonym, forever?

          3. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Nothing lasts forever.

            Pseudonym? If I was looking to use a pseudonym, I’d pick something less traceable. Uh, I dunno, maybe Smith, John Smith. Although, Ronald instead of John would make it seem less like a motel check-in name.

          4. Donald Smith Avatar
            Donald Smith

            Donald Smith is my real name. You excel at anonymous snark in the comments section. Will you be joining the rest of the adults on the front page of BR someday?

        2. how_it_works Avatar

          A while ago I saw a guy who probably would have failed one of those literacy tests.

          He tried, and failed, to figure out how to use the touch-screen ordering system at a local Taco Bell. One of the workers–who was probably NOT born in this country and for whom English was not their native language–had to assist this individual with the ordering process.

          This guy was white, by the way. Looked like he worked construction or something similar. Probably a product of Virginia schools; nobody like that is a “come here”.

          1. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Hell, I failed one of the touch screen soda machines.

            In my defense, I made it all the way through the selection process, size, ice, flavor, only to have the machine sit there, then return to the start screen.

            Three times this happened.

            The “accept and dispense” button was not on the screen. It was cleverly designed as a logo (Coke) button located below the screen. The “push something, everything” instinct finally kicked in and saved the day.

          2. That guy sounds like me! I have tried and failed twice to get the McDonalds touch-screen ordering system to work.

  6. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Look, I’m sure we all would agree that it would have been better if America had never been racist, had slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, slaughtered the indigenous peoples, etc., etc., so surely prentending it didn’t happen has to be the next best thing. Right?

  7. Donald Smith Avatar
    Donald Smith

    “Gone are the statues that glorify rebellion against the United States.”

    Meh. He’s talking about Jackson’s statue here. Jackson’s statue didn’t glorify the South’s secession. It honored Jackson, and the men of VMI and the Shenandoah Valley who fought when called to serve. Jackson himself didn’t favor seceding over slavery; he followed his state when it seceded. (Remember, this was a time in our history when lots of people said “The United States are,” instead of “the United States is.”

    Northam is trying to get us to accept his shallow view of Virginia heritage and culture. Sounds as if Ian Shapira wrote his speech.

    In a way, I feel sorry for Northam. He looks at the statue of Stonewall Jackson and only sees a totem to white supremacy and rebellion? What a shallow way of thinking.

    1. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
      Baconator with extra cheese

      That’s ok, I look at him and only see the Coonman in blackface who got by on his white privilege. I feel sorry for the scumbag, but he earned his legacy.

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