Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said he initially “overreacted” when he apologized for racist photos in his 1984 medical school yearbook page and claimed he later took a “step back” and realized he wasn’t in the picture.
“When you’re in a state of shock like I was, we don’t always think as clearly as we should. I will tell you that later that night I had a chance to step back, take a deep breath, look at the picture and said, ‘This is not me in the picture,’” Northam told “CBS This Morning” in an interview that aired Monday. “And I also had a number of friends and classmates from medical school that called and said Ralph that is not you and that was comforting as well.”
CBS anchor Gayle King pressed him.
“That’s a hell of an overreaction” for taking responsibility for something so explosive without knowing “100 percent that that’s me.”
“Yes, again, when I stepped back and looked at it, I just said, I know it’s not me in the Klan outfit. And I started looking in a picture of the individual with blackface. I said that’s not me either,” Northam, a Democrat, said. “And that’s why I felt so strongly about going in front of the camera on Saturday and clarifying.”
But he did admit that he once donned blackface to impersonate Michael Jackson during a 1984 dance contest.
Northam said he first saw the racist picture when a report from Big League Politics, a conservative website, revealed it on Feb. 1.
“How can that be? It’s on your yearbook page, governor,” King asked.
“Well, I was shocked to see it. And I really believe that the fact that if you look at the unpreparedness of me to react to this, both on Friday night and Saturday, that really confirms that this is the first time,” Northam said.
He said the scandal has been a teaching moment for himself.
“I was born in white privilege and that has implications to it,” Northam said, adding, “I didn’t realize really the powerful implications of that. And again talking to a lot of friends, that has come crystal clear to me this week. I have also learned why the use of blackface is so offensive and yes, I knew it in the past. But reality has really set in.”
Northam is among the top three Democrats in Virginia caught up in controversy.
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has been accused of sexual assault by two women during the 2000s and Attorney General Mark Herring has admitted to putting on blackface to emulate his favorite rapper Kurtis Blow when he was a college student in 1980.
Fairfax has denied the charged and called for an investigation into the women’s claims.