Yes, the picture is not appropriate and apologizing is not the only thing the Governor should have done. But instead of denying (after having apologized), he should have brought a conversation about the bigger picture.
Everyone knows that it can only be politically beneficial to criticize the Governor for wearing either one of these racist attires. And it’s always the same thing with anything that appears racist. Shoot the perpetrator and avoid the deeper issue. Outrage over a picture is a lot easier than reflecting on the societal structure of the country.
When I see a picture like that in a yearbook, I don’t see a racist. I see a white guy, studying in an almost entirely white school, in an almost entirely white city with only white friends. A white guy who lives in a place where no one has the critical thinking to tell him that it’s wrong to dress that way. All these white folks are living between themselves, so why care about the outrage if they all know that none of them will be outraged? Why would they be anyway? It’s not that they were racists, it’s that racism had no affect to their lives. No affect to their friends and families. The real issue showed by this picture is that America was and still is segregated.
All the white outrage comes from two kind of people. The ones who live in white suburbia and call themselves progressives but the only black people they see upclose are the ones on the covers of the books they read. And the ones who live in a major city and only spend time with black people at work or when they go protest for Black Rights but always go back to their segregated and gentrified part of the city. It’s as if separate but equal is the only thing that white people are ready to fight for.
This kind of picture can only exist in this context. If the Governor and his friends were spending more time with black people, if their neighbor was black, if their cousin married a black person, this picture could not exist. I am not saying racist folks wouldn’t wear that kind of attire, but the Governor is clearly not racist. However, not being racist doesn’t stop anybody for wearing racist things, saying racist things and using racial slurs.
And this is the case for everybody. We all do, say or think something racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. at some point in our life. Doesn’t matter the race, doesn’t matter the sexe, it happens. And being outraged at somebody who is shown doing it feels good as it allows us to think that we’re not as bad. The Governor clearly did something dumb. But shouldn’t his record from then to now matter more than a racist picture in 1984? Should we forgive more easily an ex Neo-nazi or an ex murderer than a young and dumb Governor? I believe the Governor’s defense should have been about the culture, not the picture. Instead, he went on denying and talked about wearing shoe polish dressing up as Michael Jackson. Once again avoiding the big picture behind this small picture. “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name”. Confucius