Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s press conference on Saturday addressing a racist photo in his 1984 yearbook may have just made things worse.
During the hourlong conference, Northam said he wasn’t sure if he was in the photo, which showed a man in blackface and person in Ku Klux Klan garb. However, he did reveal that he once darkened his face with shoe polish and dressed up like iconic pop star Michael Jackson — whose name he briefly forgot — for a dance contest.
Northam won the contest because of his ability to moonwalk, he told reporters. Then, when asked if he could still moonwalk, Northam glanced around, as if looking for space to dance, before his wife interrupted him by saying, “inappropriate circumstances.”
The governor also made a comment about how hard it is to get shoe polish off one’s face.
On Friday, a day before denying he was in the photo, Northam apologized in a statement for “the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now.”
But the 1984 photo isn’t the only problem. Later Friday, CBS News found a 1981 yearbook from when Northam attended the Virginia Military Institute. In it, his nickname is listed as “Coonman,” referring to a slur for black people.
Despite calls from both Republicans and Democrats to immediately resign in light of the yearbooks, Northam on Saturday said he was committed to serving the rest of his term.
Reporters and people on Twitter were both confused and surprised by the press conference.
Some noted how dramatically worse things have become for the governor in the 24 hours after his yearbooks surfaced. Many others pointed out that Northam’s press conference did little to distance him from his racist past.
If Northam changes his mind and resigns, Virginia’s lieutenant governor, Democrat Justin E. Fairfax, would take over the reins as governor.
Fairfax is a descendant of slaves who, in November 2017, became Virginia’s second black person ever to be elected to statewide office, according to The New York Times.
Fairfax on Saturday said Northam reached out to him to apologize for the racist photo. The lieutenant governor said he “cannot condone the actions of [Northam’s] past,” but did not call for his resignation.
“I remain committed to serving and helping to heal the Commonwealth moving forward,” he said in a statement.