Political News

Justin Fairfax's deeply irresponsible attempt to play the race card

Posted February 25, 2019 3:50 p.m. EST

— Justin Fairfax doesn't seem to get it.

Virginia's Democratic lieutenant governor stands accused of sexual assault by two women who allege that Fairfax forced them into sexual acts -- once during his undergraduate years at Duke University and another during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston.

Fairfax, who has denied the allegations, remains in office despite the fact that a slew of state and national Democrats -- including the vast majority of the 2020 presidential field -- have called on him to resign his post.

The national media has, by and large, moved on from the story in Virginia, which included not just the allegations against Fairfax but admissions by two prominent white Democratic politicians -- Gov. Ralph Northam and state Attorney General Mark Herring -- that they had put on blackface in their younger years to impersonate Michael Jackson and Kurtis Blow, respectively.

All of which makes what Fairfax did on Sunday that much more odd.

As the state legislature was preparing to close its session, Fairfax took to the state Senate floor and delivered a speech in which he sought to cast the allegations against him as part of the state's broader -- and dark -- history on race relations.

"If we go backwards, and we rush to judgment and we allow for political lynchings without any due process, any facts, any evidence being heard, then I think we do a disservice to this very body in which we all serve," Fairfax said. "And I want to stand in this moment, in the truth, not only which has tested my constitution personally, but is testing the constitution of the commonwealth of Virginia and of the United States of America."

But there was more. Much more. Here's the key bit:

"I've heard much about anti-lynching on the floor of this very Senate, where people were not given any due process whatsoever, and we rue that. And we talk about hundreds, at least 100 terror lynchings that have happened in the Commonwealth of Virginia under those very same auspices. And yet we stand here in a rush to judgment with nothing but accusations and no facts and we decide that we are willing to do the same thing."

What Fairfax appears to be doing is attempting to use Virginia's long history of racial strife -- from lynchings to Massive Resistance to the white supremacist-fueled violence in Charlottesville in 2017 -- to aid his own political future.

The problem with Fairfax's comparison is that it doesn't, well, hold up. Yes, Fairfax is African-American, as were the vast majority of the more than 80 men who were lynched in the Commonwealth in the second half of the 19th century. But that's where the comparisons end.

The lynchings of black men were largely carried out by mobs of white men driven by racism and fear. The two women making the allegations against Fairfax are both black. Rather than lurking in the shadows, as many people involved in the lynchings did, both women have come forward -- releasing their names publicly and expressing their willingness to speak about their allegations against Fairfax.

The idea that this is all racially motivated seems like a major stretch. Yes, Republicans in the Virginia House of Delegates have offered both of Fairfax's accusers the chance to testify. (Democrats in the chamber have resisted signing on, due to concerns that the whole proceeding would devolve quickly into a political performance.) But offering two women the platform to speak about their experiences with Fairfax is far from the stuff of racism. Many would argue, in fact, that it is simple transparency.

Trying to push race -- and racism -- into this story is deeply irresponsible by Fairfax. There is no question that Virginia's history -- not to mention the recent admissions by Northam and Herring -- suggests that the state has much more work to do in and around race.

But by trying to make a story that centers on allegations about his behavior toward women into one somehow about race, Fairfax is muddying the discussion the state needs to have.

What happens next is still unclear. But what we do know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that Fairfax's politically motivated comparisons between his situation and Virginia's history of lynchings is just plain wrong.