Northam in Blackface: Talk to the Hand

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).

  1. His teeth never looked as good as Blackface Dude’s teeth.
  2. He did not wear bow ties or plaid pants.
  3. His legs weren’t as large as Blackface Dude’s legs.
  4. 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.

7 responses to “Northam in Blackface: Talk to the Hand

  1. Jim – you’re throwing stuff up against the wall here – pure speculation … i.e. “when/where did you beat your wife” type stuff THEN on top of that you’re claiming that it stands unless someone refutes it!!!

    Jesus H. Keeeeeriiist !

    This is a cogent “argument”?


    • I know full well this is conjecture. Like I said in my post, “Perhaps these similarities are purely coincidental. I’ll concede, even I am not 100% convinced there is a connection here.” I’m just shaking the tree to see what falls loose.

      On the other hand, are you willing to defend Northam’s explanation of why Blackface Dude is not him? Do you consider that a cogent argument?

  2. So if it wasn’t him, why did he admit that it was him before he denied it was him? Assuming the man is not stupid, it seems inconceivable that Northam would readily admit that he engaged in racist behavior by wearing blackface and memorializing his actions? And it’s also clear that Northam’s nickname was “Coonman.” Any possible tie between the nickname and a guy who wore blackface at a party and allowed a photo of same to be put in the yearbook?

    There are false confessions but they normally occur when they involve a less-educated, less intelligent person who has been grilled by the police for hours and hours. That pattern doesn’t fit Northam or his admission of guilt.

    If one assumes that it wasn’t Northam but a photo was placed in they yearbook that strongly suggests it was Northam, wouldn’t this liberal caring guy have raised holy hell back in 1984?

    The plain truths are: It’s Northam and McGuire Woods engaged in a further cover up. Ralph Northam is a disgusting human being.

  3. Semi-convincing Jim.
    We have to ask, what would a political handler recommend as the best approach? Is it important to deny the picture is Northam, because some people will support that denial? But if it was admitted to, that could be political kiss of death?

    Seems like the approach of admitting to blackface but denying a picture exists works as political strategy. as long as you are not caught red-handeded, or should I say “black-handed” . And why not give extra credit for attention to detail, whoever thought up coloring the hands too?

  4. Them what knows the truth ain’t talking, and nobody’s going to make them. Maybe someday….I’m still waiting for definitive proof about Chuck Robb and those much more interesting allegations. We all know who killed Mary Jo, don’t we? Damn, I guess I could have been a Democrat had I wanted….they do get some breaks.

  5. I do not defend Northam – he either is guilty or incompetent but I have to also weigh whether the rest of his life he has been essentially a closet racist who finally got exposed.

    I think most folks think he is not a lifelong racist and as bad as his judgement was – it’s not indicative of many of his current decisions like a fairly bipartisan conservative financial approach to the budget, the MedicAid expansion, the Coal Ash Cleanup, etc… so labeling him as a “social justice warrior” in concert with also labeling him a blackface-racist is wholly incongruous but when you throw in a conspiracy theory that has to be real unless disproven we’re off to the races!

    • I don’t think Northam is a closet racist, and I (along with Steve) was one of the few willing to defend him when the scandal first broke. I saw no point in demanding his resignation for something he did 35 years ago that we now look back upon and proclaim to be unforgivably racist.

      I’m more worried about Northam’s behavior today. One issue is the extent to which he is telling the truth about what happened 35 years ago. The other is what he is doing politically — with ramifications for all of us — to atone for his sin. Then there’s the old-fashion motive of solving a mystery. What actually happened 35 years ago? Was that Northam in the photo or was it not?

Leave a Reply