That comes as a relief to many civic leaders and state and local officials, who worried about the effects of the negative publicity, as well as the impact on hard-fought efforts to project an image of diversity and tolerance despite Virginia’s history as a leader of the Confederacy.
The state drew scorn and provided fodder for late-night comedians when a photo from Gov. Ralph Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook surfaced showing one person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe.
Northam (D) initially took responsibility. The next day, he said he was not in the photo but admitted that he had darkened his face to imitate the pop star Michael Jackson for a dance contest that same year.
Then, Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D), who has said he hopes to run for governor in 2021, acknowledged that he also wore blackface in college. Herring said he dressed as the rapper Kurtis Blow when he was a student at the University of Virginia nearly 40 years ago.
Meanwhile, two women have accused Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) of sexually assaulting them. One said the incident happened at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004. The other alleged that Fairfax raped her in 2000 while both were students at Duke University. Fairfax has strongly denied the allegations and says his encounters with the women were consensual.
All three men have rebuffed calls for their resignations.
The incidents put Virginia on the defensive at a time when the state was riding high after scoring one of the biggest economic prizes in years — Amazon’s second North American headquarters, to be located in Crystal City, along with at least 25,000 jobs.
But the pressure appears to have eased somewhat, even though none of the scandals has been resolved. It helped when a poll found that most African Americans in the state did not want Northam to resign. That was significant partly because of the sensitivity to racial issues in a state that resisted integration in the 1950s and 1960s and whose capital, Richmond, served as the capital of the Confederacy.
The scandals also had limited impact because they involved individual behavior that occurred many years ago, analysts said, as opposed to official government action today regarding a hot-button topic such as racial or sexual discrimination.
The incidents differed, for example, from North Carolina’s controversial “bathroom bill” in 2016, which required transgender people to use the restroom according to the sex listed on their birth certificate.
Civic and business groups, including the National College Athletic Association, took steps to boycott or sanction North Carolina because of the law. Before parts of the law were repealed in 2017, the Associated Press estimated that it would cost North Carolina $3.76 billion over 12 years.
Nothing like that is happening in Virginia.
The blackface scandals were “a big national story for a couple of days, but people have short memories,” said Gary Shapiro, the president and CEO of the Arlington-based Consumer Technology Association. “I don’t think it’s going to have any long-term impact on Virginia’s reputation . . . There’s a little bit more of an air of forgiveness once the polls have shown that most people of all different colors are willing to say, ‘This is something that happened. Let’s move on.’ ”
Shapiro said the sexual assault allegations against Fairfax “may be more for the courts to adjudicate, rather than the public.”
The association’s membership includes 2,000 American companies, and the consumer technology industry is “very much focused on diversity and inclusiveness,” Shapiro said.
Lyles Carr, senior vice president of the McCormick Group, an executive search firm in Arlington, said the company has not seen any negative impact on potential employers or employees.
“This is not like the reaction to the bathroom bill in North Carolina, where companies rescinded decisions to relocate or expand their presence in the state,” Carr said.
He and others expressed hope that the scandals might even have a positive impact. “These controversies have raised awareness of issues of race in Virginia that may well result in a more just and inclusive environment,” Carr said.
Several African American Virginians said racism has been so widespread in the state that they weren’t surprised by the blackface incidents.
“Racism has been a part of the commonwealth’s history. We can move forward when we acknowledge this history,” said Heather Peeler, president and CEO of ACT for Alexandria, the city’s community foundation.
She said the controversies in Richmond would not discourage nonprofit organizations from opening in the state.
“Nonprofits want to help address community needs, and they recognize that those needs continue to exist regardless of who the governor is, or the policies of the states,” Peeler said.
A student leader at Virginia Union University, a historically black college in Richmond, wrote to Northam to tell the governor he was not welcome at a civil rights event at the school following the blackface scandal. However, the student said there was no reason to single out Virginia, because racism is a problem nationwide.
“The conversation about race cannot be boiled down to one state,” said Jamon K. Phenix, president of the Student Government Association.
The blackface controversy “simply tells us that we have more fighting to do,” Phenix said.
His letter led Northam to cancel his visit to the university to attend an event meant to launch a “reconciliation tour” for mending race relations in the state.
Pamela Cox, a spokeswoman for Virginia Union, said prospective students at three recent college admission fairs had not said the scandals were affecting their interest in the school.
“It may be too early, but we haven’t seen anything like that,” Cox said.
Angel Cabrera, president of George Mason University in Fairfax County, used the blackface scandals as a teaching tool. He wrote a blog post noting that the school had been embroiled in a 1990 legal case that drew national attention after a fraternity on campus was suspended because a member wore blackface at a fundraiser.
“The question is how do we educate students to be more aware of the impact their words and actions have on others,” he wrote.
Cabrera said in an interview that the scandals were not hurting the school’s ability to attract students or faculty, and attributed that, in part, to open discussions about racism in Richmond and elsewhere in the state.
“This could be a catalyzing moment where Virginia comes to terms with its past,” Cabrera said.
State business leaders said they worried the scandals would paralyze government during Virginia’s short General Assembly session, which ended Feb. 24.
The controversies overshadowed the legislature’s work, as lawmakers urged Northam and Fairfax to resign, though the assembly still approved a budget and other legislation.
Still, there was a desire to see the scandals put to rest.
“It’s important that there be some stability that emerges around the governor and the [political] leadership,” said the chief executive of a Northern Virginia company, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the topic was politically sensitive.
An Amazon executive recently did not respond directly to a reporter’s questions about the Richmond scandals. The company has publicly committed itself to diversity and inclusiveness. (Amazon CEO Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Holly Sullivan, Amazon’s head of worldwide economic development, was asked whether the company was worried that Virginia was not as inclusive and welcoming as was thought when it decided to move to the state.
“We’ve had a great experience with the commonwealth and Arlington County, and we look forward to continuing that relationship,” Sullivan said.
This story has been updated.