Governor Northam & Cerebral Palsy Pete

Tonight’s story is about Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, who appeared in a photo in his college yearbook either in blackface or in a Klan uniform. MSNBC has covered it this evening and I’ve got it on the background.

There are calls for the Governor to resign, many coming from within his own political party. In the first year of his term, it seems unlikely that he will be able to ride this out for the next four years even though he dressed in a racist costume and this is Virginia we’re talking about.

In some ways, it feels like a drop of topical cream on a fatally-plagued dermis. If Northam is removed, there’s one probable racist gone. One of many racists emboldened in the institutions they lurk inside.

Amazingly I am actually somewhat sympathetic to the Governor. Because I too have exhibited a total lack of judgement in my college years. Admittedly, my sympathy is limited and I’ll tell you why in a minute but let us get on with the story of Cerebral Palsy Pete.

Those of you who are familiar with me and my musical personas probably haven’t heard about this. It was my shortest-lived persona, lasting almost an entire gig in 2000. I was twenty-one years old and I thought I was an artist. I conceived of the idea of a cerebral-palsy afflicted gangster rapper. Because the character has cerebral palsy, I used the term “cripples” instead of the n-word. I wrote about ten songs that combined rap cliches with childlike patter because I thought I was a method performer. And I used a Gang Starr album as background music. I didn’t even try to get instrumentals. I whole-assed a half-ass thing.

Here’s one of the Gang Starr songs I desecrated:

I just remembered that one of the songs was titled “You Down With C.P.P. (Yeah, You Know Me)”. Eughh.

To make matters worse, I performed this act at the Baptist Student Union across from WKU. And on top of that, an handicapped gentleman ambled in mid-performance. So put yourself in that guy’s shoes and imagine walking in and hearing “THIS GOES OUT TO ALL MY BITCHES AND CRIPPLES OUT THERE!” and wondering if you were being persecuted.

I thought I was doing performance art. I didn’t realize I was making a claim for “local idiot does legendarily stupid and shameful thing.”

Ralph Northam probably didn’t dress up in racist costume as a performance piece but again I understand what it’s like to be relatively young and make a stupid decision. It’s the same impulse that drives people to videotape themselves masturbating in the college library or smoking sativa in the back of a cop car or whatever the kids do these days.

But this is where my sympathy ends because I knew when I created the character and booked the show that I had crossed a line. I didn’t want to be a respectable member of society. I didn’t yearn to serve the public. I didn’t want to be a leader or a politician. I wanted to do my thing. I didn’t think, “Gee, today I’m Cerebral Palsy Pete and thirty years from now I’ll be a Congressman.” Of course I didn’t. I saw the fork in the road and I chose the strange, idiotic path I’ve been on ever since.

Or I saw the road and the ditch and chose the ditch and somehow have kept the car running and dug myself some ground to keep moving. Take your pick. Either way, everybody does dumb stuff and anybody stupid enough to want to be Governor gets what they deserve.

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