Leah Dozier Walker burst into public view a few days ago when she wrote a letter expressing her upset with Virginia First Lady Pam Northam for inviting Walker’s daughter and two other African-American girls, on a tour of Senate pages in the Governor’s Mansion, to hold a cotton boll and imagine what it would have been like as a slave to pick cotton all day.
“I cannot for the life of me understand why the First Lady would single out the African America pages for this — or — why she would ask them such an insensitive question,” she wrote. “There are no words to convey how horrified I was to hear this account from my daughter and how outraged I am that Mrs. Northam would represent the Commonwealth in this manner.”
The letter, written Feb. 25, unleashed a mini-furor that reveals volumes about the state of mind of a woman who oversees the Office of Equity and Community Engagement at the Virginia Department of Education as well as a news media that eagerly fuels the perception of racial slights and injustice.
On Feb. 27, a story by Gregory S. Schneider and Laura Vozzella in the Washington Post reported the contents of the letter. While acknowledging briefly that the Governor’s Office claimed that Mrs. Northam did not, in fact, single out the three black girls, the reporters justified reporting the accusations on grounds that it “highlights the scrutiny and doubt that envelop the governor as he tries to push past racist incidents from his past and ignore continued calls for his resignation.” Quoting Walker’s letter, the Post wrote:
“The Governor and Mrs. Northam have asked the residents of the Commonwealth to forgive them for their racially insensitive past actions,” said Leah Dozier Walker. … But the actions of Mrs. Northam, just last week, do not lead me to believe that this Governor’s office has taken seriously the harm and hurt they have caused African Americans in Virginia or that they are deserving of our forgiveness.”
Not to be outdone, the Richmond Times-Dispatch wrote an article the following day. Looking for a new angle on the story, Mel Leonor attributed the criticism not to Dozier but to her daughter:
Virginia first lady Pam Northam is facing criticism from the daughter of a state employee, who says Northam tried to hand her and a fellow African-American page a piece of cotton and asked them to “imagine being an enslaved person.”
The eighth-grade student detailed the incident in a letter Monday to lawmakers, describing it as “beyond inappropriate, especially considering recent events” involving Gov. Ralph Northam.
“It was very testing to know I had to go somewhere, and I had no choice as to if I went, I had to be respectful, and be on my best behavior, even when the people in positions of power I was around were not doing the same,” the student wrote.
After the newspapers’ rush to judgment, however, new facts emerged. On March 1, the Washington Post ran a follow-up story. It turned out that ten Senate pages participating in a series of Governor’s Mansion tours — including the son of Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, the son of William M. Stanley Jr. , R-Franklin, and a 13-year-old African-American, Celina Harris, of Chesapeake — had a different story. Wrote the Washington Post: “In all 10 cases, the pages or their parents insisted that the first lady — a former science teacher — conducted their tours with sensitivity and with no special focus on the black pages.”
Petersen described the Northams’ no-win dilemma perfectly:
Traditionally, you’d give a tour of the mansion and say, ‘Look at this beautiful upholstery.’ And now they try to give a full historical tour, ‘This was built by slaves. It’s kind of like damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If you try and incorporate alternative voices, suddenly you’re triggering someone. As opposed to if you’re breezing through like Better Homes and Gardens and you’re being oblivious or privileged.
At least the Post, after irresponsibly damning Mrs. Northam in the first article, made partial amends by reporting the rest of the story. As far as I can tell, Walker has not apologized. Far from expressing remorse, she said in an email to the Post that she stood by her daughter’s “perception of what occurred in the moment.”
I do not expect for non black students or parents to understand the pain and suffering African Americans associate with cotton — or of being asked to relive the horrors associated with the racist institution of American slavery — even in a historical context.
Who is this Leah Dozier Walker? Will anyone call her to account for her reckless rendering of the cotton boll incident? Or does she get a pass because she is a Social Justice militant, and like-minded Social Justice militants in the media who found her letter so compelling because it advanced their Racial Oppression narrative have no interest in holding her to the same standard as, say, a white person who recklessly accused a black person of wrong-doing?
How did the story get so mangled?
Here’s an obvious question: How did the cotton boll story get so mangled? Walker’s daughter was one of about 100 Senate pages invited to tour the Governor’s Mansion. Mrs. Northam handed out cotton bolls, which were prickly and unpleasant to hold, and invited everyone to imagine what it would be like to pick these all day long.
What version of that story did Walker’s daughter convey to her mother? Was it the version quoted by the Times-Dispatch? Did a 13-year-old girl really write “I had to be respectful, and be on my best behavior, even when the people in positions of power I was around were not doing the same.” Is that the way 13-year-olds think — that they are surrounded by people “in positions of power”? Maybe that’s what they teach these days at St. Catherine’s School, the elite, predominantly white female prep school that Walker’s daughter attends. Or maybe those are words put into her mouth by her Social Justice militant mother.
As Petersen perceptively pointed out, we’re talking about damned-if-y0u-do, damned-if-you-don’t racism. If Mrs. Northam had failed to include the history of black slaves and servants, she would have been slammed for recounting a Gone With The Wind version of history. Instead, by acknowledging the painful history of blacks, she was accused of triggering the young blacks in the tour group.
Why does it matter?
Dozier’s views might not matter if she were an average person off the street. But she’s not just anybody. Walker runs the Office of Equity and Community Engagement at the Virginia Department of Education. And she has a role in implementing an initiative rolled out by James F. Lane, Virginia’s Superintendent of Public Instruction to conduct a statewide “dialogue” about race, racism and bigotry. That dialogue, which is to be informed by left-wing perspectives on racial injustice, is not just for “teachers, parents and school division leaders,” as I implied in my recent story, “Institutionalizing the Social Justice Movement in Virginia Schools,” The goal is to inform classroom discussions as well. (See today’s story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch here.)
Walker, it appears from Lane’s letter, is in charge of implementing that initiative. Lane wrote:
My office will be sending an email to superintendents with additional details about our previously planned #EdEquityVA webinar series in the near future. The webinar series is designed to deploy resources, facilitate discourse, and share strategies that promote and advance equity outcomes for all Virginia Students. For additional information on #EdEquityVA and the resources provided below or if your team needs any support, please contact Leah Walker, Director for the Office of Equity and Community Engagement at [email protected].
The politics of this incident are fascinating. Walker’s letter created a major embarrassment for Governor Northam as he tried to repair his reputation after the blackface fiasco that generated widespread calls for his resignation. The story went international. In any normal administration, such an act would met by some kind of disciplinary action. My guess is that Walker is untouchable. Lane’s “dialogue” on race is an integral part of Northam’s apology and reconciliation tour, which black legislators are leveraging for maximum political advantage.
As Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond, told the Times-Dispatch today: “I’m certainly happy that the governor signed the bills that a lot of members in the black caucus championed. That’s a good step, but what we really want to see is the governor take additional opportunities,” like adding money to the budget for programs that benefit African-Americans, amending legislation to address inequitable policies, and vetoing legislation that disproportionately affects minority communities.
Virginia politics are undergoing an extraordinary metamorphosis. Militant identity politics has escaped from its years-long quarantine in academia and has infected the Democratic Party and the Mainstream Media, not just in Washington, D.C., but in Richmond. Race has been weaponized. No longer are we moving, however fitfully, toward a color-blind society. We have abandoned color blindness as a goal. It’s all race and racism all the time.There are currently no comments highlighted.