Several days ago I advanced the argument that the identity of the blackfaced individual in Ralph Northam’s infamous 1984 medical school yearbook was none other than Northam himself, garbed in the likeness of Michael Jackson. That theory landed with a resounding thud. No one in the media (or anywhere else, for I can tell) took note of the interpretation. But, then, no one offered any evidence to the contrary. Undeterred by the public’s extraordinary indifference to a fascinating question — c’mon, people, doesn’t anyone like a good whodunnit anymore? — I press on.
I have two more angles to explore. One angle demolishes one of Northam’s explanations of why he believes the man in blackface was not him. But the other raises new questions, which, if answered, potentially could lead to information exonerating the governor — or convicting him.
Today, I focus on the hand of the man in blackface — the hand holding a can of beer.
But first, a refresher. Here are the specific reasons, cited in the McGuire Woods inquiry into the origins of the blackface photo, that Northam cited why he could not have been the man in blackface (hereinafter referred to as Blackface Dude).
- His teeth never looked as good as Blackface Dude’s teeth.
- He did not wear bow ties or plaid pants.
- His legs weren’t as large as Blackface Dude’s legs.
- Blackface Dude held his beer with his right hand, while he usually held drinks with his left hand.
I debunked the first three reasons in my original Northam-as-Michael-Jackson post. Go back and re-read it. I now turn my attention to the fourth. As it turns out, others have preceded me in making this observation: The photographic evidence demonstrates that Northam does, in fact, hold drinks with his right hand!
This photograph of Northam holding a craft beer in his right had has gotten a fair amount of notoriety. It comes from Northam’s own Twitter account, dated Sept. 7, 2018, “When you hear it’s #NationalBeerLoversDay. Celebrate with an ice cold #VACraftBeer”.
Here is another photo of Northam holding a drink with his right hand. As other observers have noted, the Web is full of photos of Northam shaking hands with his right hand, signing bills with his right hand, and otherwise using his right hand.
One of the photos in Northam’s yearbook page does show him holding a beer with his left hand, so it’s not as if he uses his right-hand exclusively when drinking. But it is ludicrous to suggest that Northam could not be Blackface Dude on the grounds that Blackface Dude was holding a beer with his left hand.
Now that we are scrutinizing Northam’s right hand, take a close-up look at the hand in the blackface photograph. Note the peculiarity of the ring finger. It appears to be retracted or otherwise obscured. That is a highly unusual way for anyone to hold a drink. Try holding a beer can with a retracted ring finger — it’s awkward.
One possibility is that Blackface Dude was missing his right ring finger at the joint. It would be interesting to know if any of Northam’s medical school classmates exhibited such a deformity. Perhaps someone with access to the Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbooks could page through the 1984 edition to see if anyone matches the description. If so, we likely have a culprit — and Northam would be exonerated!
Another possibility is that the unique finger posture reflected another effort to imitate Michael Jackson — along with the darkened skin, the Afro wig, the sunglasses, the fedora, the bow tie, and the plaid pants. Let us hearken back to Northam’s famous press conference quote in which he admitted to emulating the King of Pop in a dance contest in San Antonio shortly after graduating from EVMS: “I had the shoes. I had a glove. And I used just a little bit of shoe polish to put on my cheeks …”
He had a glove. But Blackface Dude was not wearing a glove, as is clearly evident in the photo from the indistinct light coloring at the ends of his fingers. My initial reaction was that the light coloring indicated Blackface Dude’s fingernails, which are more light-reflective than skin. But, then, as I perused Michael Jackson photographs of yore, I came across this:
Jackson wore white tape on his fingertips. This website quotes Michael Beerden, musical director for Jackson’s This Is It tour, as explaining that the superstar performer taped the tips of his fingers so everyone in the audience could follow his fingers and understand his dance moves.
Moreover, Jackson had an unusual way of holding his fingers — often retracting the middle finger, and sometimes retracting both the middle and ring fingers. Could Blackface Dude have been mimicking the gesture to the best of his ability while holding a beer in his hand? (Try it. You can comfortably hold the beer while retracting your ring finger. You come close to losing your grip if you pull back your middle finger.)
Could Northam have worn tape on his fingertips while in Michael Jackson costume at EVMS before he evolved to wear a glove while in Michael Jackson costume in San Antonio? Perhaps these similarities are purely coincidental. I’ll concede, even I am not 100% convinced there is a connection here. Arguably, Blackface Dude’s fingertips would be even lighter if he had wrapped them in white tape as Michael Jackson did. Perhaps we are just observing Blackface Dude’s fingernails.
While inconclusive, I hope my observations here do one thing: They indicate a different way forward. The McGuire Woods report into the origins of the blackface photo conducted no forensic examination of the photo whatsoever. I am working from degraded images pulled off the Internet. McGuire Woods would have access to the original photograph, which could provide sufficient detail to support my conjectures, disprove them, or open up new lines of inquiry.
The blackface controversy has died down because Northam has gone full Social Justice warrior, Virginia’s Democratic Party politicians want to sweep the matter under the rug, and the media have lost interest. Surely, there is an appetite somewhere for the truth.
Update: John Butcher raises an interesting point. Perhaps Blackface Dude’s ring finger seems to be missing because it is covered in white tape. I hadn’t considered that possibility. That makes more sense than any of the possibilities I suggested.There are currently no comments highlighted.