I do believe that forgiveness is possible. I believe it’s possible to be remorseful. I believe in due process, of course. But I don’t know if apologies or denials are enough for Virginia at this moment. Most of us have, I think, reached the point where we have enough information. At least in the cases of Gov. Northam and Lt. Gov. Fairfax, these men are not in a position to continue to lead.
As a black woman, this is a hard situation. You feel betrayed. When a white woman who was the victim of sexual violence came forward against Brett Kavanaugh, it was kind of like a unanimous call for him to withdraw from consideration. He was confirmed, but the Democrats were pretty unified. But when it was a black woman who came forward with allegations against Justin Fairfax, the call has not been as resounding. Some African-American women take great offense to that.
At the same time, this is where I see real possibilities for change, because conversations about that dynamic are happening at a magnitude that I cannot remember here in Virginia. Earlier this week, a person called me and she said, “Jen, I just want to apologize.” And I said, “Why?” And she said, “As a white woman, I now understand that racism is still here. Some people believe that because we had Barack Obama as president and we have Cory Booker and Kamala Harris in the race for president, we have reached a pivotal point, the worst is over.” And she said, “Now I know we have not. I also suffer from some prejudice, I’m sure. I’ve had conversations about it and I am working to do better.” That she apologized—that’s never happened to me before. So if we can use this as a real opportunity to have candid discussions about race and gender and sexual violence and racism and white privilege, I think that can benefit us when we do come out of this.
We have worked as Democrats to acknowledge the hurt that casual racism can cause. But it’s not just about offensiveness or these racist tropes. We have to connect it back to how racism can hurt our constituents, how sexism harms people. These are not “interpersonal issues.” To me, the best way I can address these scandals is to introduce legislation that works to end some of the structural racism and sexism that holds us back. That’s the role I want to step into.
I talk about the need for Equal Rights Amendment, which is about the end of sex discrimination. It’s about equal pay for equal work. It’s about the wage gap. When I talk about legislation to address black women maternal mortality rates, which are higher in the United States than in most other developed countries, that’s about racism. And that racism is killing black mothers. Wage disparity, protections for the LGBTQ community, programs for the poor, for veterans, and on and on. We call out blackface and discrimination and hate because it affects people’s lives. And the antidote is not just statements, but legislation.
That is my job. That’s what I’m charged to do. That’s my passion. When I see unfairness, inequalities, and injustice, that’s what motivates me.
I have seen some conversation around whether I should have a role in statewide leadership. I feel flattered that people have taken notice of the work I do. It reassures me that I’m doing a good job. Bottom line, I’m here to do whatever Virginia needs to move forward. Whatever the party needs or requires of me then that’s exactly what I will do.