In an interview aired on Sunday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam called slaves "indentured servants" while trying to explain the "difficult week" his state has endured as the result of his blackface scandal. The Democratic governor sat down for an interview with CBS's Gayle King, which resulted in this exchange that social media immediately latched onto.
King: I know this has been a very difficult week for you in the state of Virginia. So where would you like to begin?
Northam: Well it has been a difficult week. And you know if you look at Virginia's history we are now at the 400-year anniversary, just 90 miles from here in 1619. The first indentured servants from Africa landed on our shores in Old Point Comfort what we call now Fort Monroe and while--
King immediately replied: "Also known as slavery."
One Associated Press reporter retweeted the clip of the exchange with emoji eyes. While New Yorker staff writer Jelani Cobb tweeted that Northam's language was clumsy. "Northam is in enough trouble but this isn’t part of it. The early black arrivals in the British North American colonies, and likely those at Jamestown, were often given the status of indentured servants," Cobb tweeted on Sunday. "The slave system took time to evolve in the 17th century."
Author Tariq Nasheed wrote that he couldn't believe Northam was still in office. "Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam called Black Americans who were forcefully enslaved 'indentured servants' and Gayle King had to correct him. The fact that this man was not immediately removed from office after photos of him wearing Blackface and klan attire surfaced, is beyond me," Nasheed wrote on Twitter.
Journalist Evette Dionne tweeted that Northam has had time to learn about the history of black people in America. "Ralph Northam can learn Black American history on his own time when he’s a private citizen. But right now, today, he needs to resign," she wrote on Sunday.
CNN contributor and former national press secretary for Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign Symone Sanders wrote that she thought the state of Virginia deserved better. "Virginia deserves a governor that knows the folks who were stolen from their land & brought to present day Virginia on cargo ships in 1619 were not 'indentured servants' they were mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, leaders, warriors, elders who were captured & enslaved. SIGH," Sanders tweeted on Sunday.
Another author wrote that Northam's choice of words erases the horrific history of the chattel slavery. "Words like 'Indentured servant' is how people try to erase the pain and horrors of slavery. It is how they think it harmless to wear blackface. @RalphNortham is done," Julissa Arce wrote on Sunday. "If he won't resign, he needs to be forced out."
Journalist Mike Carter-Conneen wrote that Northam needed to do basic research, especially if he's going to stay in office. (Northam also told King that he's "not going anywhere.") "Hey @GovernorVA@RalphNortham, Before you embarrass yourself with another ignorant response to a softball, open-ended question, do some homework." He then linked to Merriam-Webster's definitions of slave and indentured servant. "Or better: Study after resigning," Carter-Conneen wrote on Twitter. "You'll have lots of time."
The full interview between King and Northam will air on Monday, according to CBS.