Saturday Night Live’s recent mocking of the Virginia General Assembly’s proposed legislation to force women considering abortion to have trans-vaginal ultrasound exams and establishing conception as the moment of life’s beginning has made the Old Dominion the butt of national jokes once again.
It seems that no matter how Virginians try to build their commonwealth into a prosperous, happy and rational place, their politicians let them down. Virginia seems cursed to be regarded as a backward and Gothic Southern state where the rich few are in charge, oppression is rampant and enlightenment out of reach.
SNL’s skit on Feb. 18 was just another in a series of embarrassments.
Former U.S. Sen. George Allen, now running again for the Senate, brought national shame on Virginia when he rudely called S.R. Sidarth, a 20-year-old aide for opponent Jim Webb “macaca” during the 2006 campaign. Since Sidarth is dark-skinned and of Indian decent, the comment painted Allen as a racist. He apologized, but lost the election in large part because of the gaffe.
A year before, Virginia’s legislators likewise drew national mockery for the so-called “droopy drawers” bill. The law would have called for $50 fines for showing underwear above the waistband of one’s trousers. “Most of us would identify this as a coarsening of society,” according to one legislator.
Showing underwear is a cultural style that’s been fashionable among young people around the world. It had been popular among young African Americans, so the racial implication was clear. It’s far from the only slight the white-dominated General Assembly has thrust on people of color. As late as the 1960s, for instance, it was a felony for a white person to be married to an African American.
To be sure, a handful of other states have passed similar ultrasound requirements. Yet Virginia, despite its fine universities and well-educated labor force, simply cannot escape its image as a backward place. Virginia’s leadership needs to take the Old Dominion into the 21st century, or maybe even the 20th.