Virginia medical school professor apologizes for blackface photo

Alyssa Rege - Print  | 

A retired plastic surgeon and graduate of Norfolk-based Eastern Virginia Medical School apologized Feb. 4 for a photograph of him in blackface, The Roanoke Times reports.

Four things to know:

1. Michael Breiner, MD, an associate professor at The Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine in Blacksburg, Va., confirmed during an interview with WFXR News that a 1985 photograph showed him in medical school dressed as Diana Ross.

2. Dr. Breiner said during the interview that he approached African-American colleagues at the time and asked if his dressing up as Ms. Ross would upset them, but that he now regrets his actions.

"Would I do it now, in today's political climate? No. But at the time I had talked to our other African-American medical students and I asked them, 'Would this upset you?' And they said no. ... And do I regret it now? Yeah, because it's a different time. This was 35 years ago," he said.

3. Dixie Tooke-Rawlins, DO, president and provost of the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, said in a written statement to The Roanoke Times that Dr. Breiner's response to the photograph was "disappointing." A medical school spokesperson confirmed he is still a faculty member at the institution, and that administrators were first made aware of the photograph after Dr. Breiner's interview Feb. 4.

"While the cultural norm thirty-five years ago may have led to such behavior, it is not difficult in today's environment to understand that it is inappropriate," she said. "While we cannot change behaviors of the past, we can increase our awareness and understanding today. These are teachable moments for everyone."

4. Dr. Breiner attended EVMS with Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, MD, who allegedly appeared in a 1984 photograph in the school's yearbook depicting an individual in blackface. Dr. Northam confirmed in a public statement Feb. 1 that he was one of the people in the photograph and apologized. However, the following day he said he was not one of the individuals in the photograph. Drs. Breiner and Northam did not appear in a photo together.

To access the full report, click here.

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