Blackface scandal spotlights deeply embedded racism in US
By ERRIN HAINES WHACK
AP National Writer
Monday, February 4
When Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam refused to resign last week, he did so in the shadow of a Capitol built by a founding father and a slave owner, in the former seat of the Confederacy still wrestling with what to do about statues that honor those who fought to preserve slavery.
The 35-year-old photo on his yearbook page of a person in blackface and another person in a Ku Klux Klan robe has brought about a stunning reversal of fortune in Northam’s political career and laid bare for the nation just how deeply racist behavior remains interwoven in American culture, institutions and politics. In rejecting calls to step down, the 59-year-old white son of Virginia came across to many African-Americans as displaying a sense of white privilege.
“What we have learned over the last 24 hours along with all the incidents of the last two years brings front and center the need for this nation to deal with the question of race once and for all,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in an interview Saturday. “Because we have (President Donald) Trump in the White House, who has created a political landscape of intolerance and racial hatred, this has exposed a wound that has been festering for a while now.”
The incident came on the first day of Black History Month and as Virginians prepare to mark the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to the settlement of Jamestown.
“I think a lot of black folks are tired of apologies and talking,” said Wes Bellamy, a councilman in Charlottesville, Virginia, who has worked for the removal of Confederate statues in the city. “This is another ugly stain on our state’s history. We are going to have to commit ourselves to making this right — not just with our words, but with our resources.”
Should Northam, a Democrat, ultimately step down, Lt. Gov Justin Fairfax would become the second black governor in the South since Reconstruction. Last month, Fairfax, the only black official currently elected statewide, sat down in protest as the Virginia Senate recognized Lee-Jackson Day, which honors Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.
Virginia is still healing from the racial wounds inflicted in August 2017, when white supremacists marched on Charlottesville to protest the removal of a statue of Lee. Many of the mostly white men who converged on the city chanting racist slogans and burning torches were about the same age that Northam would’ve been as a student at Eastern Virginia Medical School.
Northam’s age belies the assumption that their actions reflected the tenor and tone of the era. In 1984 when the photograph was included in Northam’s yearbook page, civil rights activist Jesse Jackson was running for president. Pioneering black entertainer Bill Cosby was the star of one of America’s most popular television shows. African-Americans were climbing the nation’s social, professional, political and economic ladders at unprecedented speed.
In his initial apology, Northam said that the photo does not represent who he is now. A day later, he denied being in the photograph at all, while admitting to wearing blackface to imitate Michael Jackson at a dance contest.
The incident is the third in recent weeks: Last month, Florida’s secretary of state resigned after photos from a 2005 Halloween party showed him in blackface dressed as a Hurricane Katrina victim. Also last month, videos surfaced of people in blackface at the University of Oklahoma, including a man walking near campus. Two students withdrew from the university and apologized.
Such incidents are not only hurtful; they can be harmful when they happen at institutions of higher learning and are perpetrated by people who go on to impact the lives of people of color as decision-makers — from politicians to doctors. A recent University of Virginia study showed that black Americans are systematically undertreated for pain relative to white patients, and that white laypeople and medical students and residents hold false beliefs about the biological differences between the races — beliefs that can affect the perception and treatment of black patients.
The trust Northam, a pediatric neurologist, established with his patients was not unlike the faith he sought from voters. In running for governor, many people — including the 87 percent of black voters who supported him — saw Northam as a candidate who belongs to a party associated with justice and equality, who ran against an opponent tied to a president who has been accused of racism.
Their vote for Northam was, in part, a rejection of those views and beliefs. The governor’s defiance amid the roar for him to step aside among even his Democratic colleagues, black and white, casts doubt on Northam’s ability to represent these voters going forward, said NAACP President Johnson.
“If we cannot recognize African-Americans are full citizens entitled to humane treatment by our public policy makers, how can we expect public policy to meet the needs and interests of those communities being portrayed as less than human?” Johnson asked.
It also raises a critical question: In politics, should sincerity and repentance for a racist past matter more than the hurt feelings of Americans who live on the receiving end of racism?
Northam’s lieutenant governor doesn’t think so.
“I have worked closely with Ralph Northam over many years. He has been a friend to me and has treated my family and me with hospitality and respect,” Fairfax wrote in a statement Saturday, noting that he is a descendant of people enslaved in Virginia. “While his career has been marked by service to children, soldiers and constituents, I cannot condone the actions from his past that, at the very least, suggest a comfort with Virginia’s darker history of white supremacy, racial stereotyping, and intimidation.”
Fairfax has not called for Northam’s resignation, but by Sunday, he was one of the few Democrats who had spoken publicly and not called for him to step down.
Northam “doesn’t want to go down on something he doesn’t think he did,” said Anthea Butler, a University of Pennsylvania religion professor who has written about politics. “I don’t know how he thinks he can show up in the black community. He’s hobbling what he can do for his African-American constituents, and we’re asked to do the labor of forgiveness and healing. We’re over it. Why should he be allowed to stay?”
His stance illustrates how many Americans have come to view racism since the end of legally-enforced segregation, defined by only the most egregious, blatant examples like using the N-word or the Ku Klux Klan.
“That’s the boundary. Everything else is not,” said Carol Anderson, Emory University African American studies professor and author of ‘White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide.’
“Unless you’re burning a cross, you’re not racist,” Anderson said. “But racism since the Civil Rights Movement is deceptively structural.”
Whack is The Associated Press’ national writer on race and ethnicity. Follow her work on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/emarvelous.
Virginia governor meets with cabinet amid pressure to resign
By ALAN SUDERMAN
Monday, February 4
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam met quietly on Monday with top administration officials but gave no public signal that he intends to step down despite mounting pressure to resign over a racist photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook.
The Democrat was staying out of sight early Monday as he met with his Cabinet and senior staff, following a meeting the previous night with minority officials in his administration.
The meetings come amid nearly unanimous calls from within his own party to resign over the yearbook photo that shows someone in blackface and another person in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe. He first admitted he was in the picture, and then denied it over the weekend, but also acknowledged putting on blackface to imitate Michael Jackson at a dance contest decades ago.
The chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus declared that Northam “still does not understand the seriousness of his actions.”
“I think he’s been completely dishonest and disingenuous,” Rep. Karen Bass, D-California, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” ”He knew this picture was there, and he could’ve come clean and talked to African-Americans that he’s close to decades ago.”
The scandal threatens to cripple Northam’s ability to govern. He has lost the support of virtually all of the state’s Democratic establishment. Top Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly also urged Northam to step down, as did many declared and potential Democratic presidential candidates.
Virginia governors can be removed for “malfeasance in office, corruption, neglect of duty, or other high crime or misdemeanor” under the state constitution, but top Democrats said they don’t believe it will come to that.
Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe predicted that Northam — who served as McAuliffe’s lieutenant governor — will eventually leave office.
“Ralph will do the right thing for the Commonwealth of Virginia,” McAuliffe said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Northam apologized on Friday for appearing in the photograph on his yearbook page. He did not say which costume he was wearing, but said he was “deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo.” On Saturday, though, the governor reversed course and said the picture “is definitely not me.”
While talking with reporters, Northam acknowledged he once used shoe polish to put on blackface as part of a Michael Jackson costume for a 1984 dance contest in Texas, when he was in the Army. Northam said he regrets that he didn’t understand “the harmful legacy of an action like that.”
Asked by a reporter if he could still do Jackson’s famous moonwalk, Northam looked at the floor as if thinking about demonstrating it. His wife put a stop to it, telling him, “Inappropriate circumstances.”
His shifting explanations did little or nothing to sway prominent Democrats who had swiftly disowned him.
One of the few voices backing Northam on Sunday was former Virginia Rep. Jim Moran, a Democrat who served in Congress from 1991 to 2015.
Moran told ABC’s “This Week” that Northam’s record — including his support of Medicaid expansion and of public schools in minority neighborhoods — shows that the embattled governor is a friend of African-Americans and that he should ride out the storm.
“I think it is a rush to judgment before we know all of the facts and before we’ve considered all of the consequences,” said Moran, who is white. “I don’t think these public shamings really get us all that much.”
But both of Virginia’s U.S. senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, joined the dean of Virginia’s congressional delegation, Rep. Bobby Scott, in saying they no longer believe Northam can serve effectively. James Ryan, president of the University of Virginia, said it would be “exceedingly difficult” for Northam to continue serving.
If Northam does resign, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax would become the second African-American governor in the state’s history. He stopped short of calling for Northam’s departure but said he “cannot condone actions” from Northam’s past that “suggest a comfort with Virginia’s darker history of white supremacy, racial stereotyping and intimidation.”
McAuliffe faulted Northam’s handling of the furor.
“If it wasn’t him in the photo, he should’ve said that on Friday,” McAuliffe said. “Instinctively, you know if you put black paint on your face. You know if you put a hood on. And so if it isn’t you, you come out immediately and say, ‘This is not me.’”
Ultimately, McAuliffe said, “It doesn’t matter whether he was in the photo or not in the photo at this point. We have to close that chapter. We have to move Virginia forward.”
Northam, a pediatric neurologist who came to politics late in life, spent years courting the black community in the run-up to his 2017 race for governor.
He recently came under fire from Republicans who have accused him of backing infanticide after he said he supported a bill loosening restrictions on late-term abortions.
Late last month, Florida’s secretary of state resigned after photos from a 2005 Halloween party showed him in blackface while dressed as a Hurricane Katrina victim.
Associated Press writer Ben Finley contributed to this report.
Jussie Smollett strikes emotional chord: Attackers won’t win
By ANDREW DALTON
AP Entertainment Writer
Monday, February 4
WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (AP) — Jussie Smollett was blunt, emotional and defiantly determined Saturday night at a Southern California concert some urged him not to play, telling the crowd before singing a note that he had to go on with the show because he couldn’t let his attackers win.
“The most important thing I can say is ‘thank you so much, and I’m OK,” said the “Empire” actor and R&B singer from the stage at the Troubadour in West Hollywood in his first public appearance since he reported to police in Chicago on Tuesday that two masked men had assaulted him and put a rope around his neck while using homophobic and racial slurs.
“I’m not fully healed yet,” said Smollett, who is black and openly gay, “but I’m going to be, and I’m gonna stand strong with y’all.”
The concert had been planned long before the incident, and his family members and others had urged him to postpone it.
But Smollett said he couldn’t do that.
“I had to be here tonight, y’all. I couldn’t let those (expletives) win,” he said to screams and cheers from the packed room of about 400 people. “I will always stand for love. I will only stand for love.”
His small band then launched into an upbeat song and he broke into dance, wearing a simple white buttoned shirt, white sneakers and black jeans, shuffling across the front of the stage and at times standing defiantly with a fist in the air.
Smollett kept the tone mostly celebratory through his hour-long set before addressing the attack head-on toward the end of his hour-long set, when he told the crowd he wanted to clarify a few things.
He said he was bruised but his ribs were not cracked. He went straight to the doctor but was not hospitalized, and physicians in both Chicago and Los Angeles cleared him to play but told him to be careful.
“And above all, I fought the (expletive) back,” he said to cheers.
Then he paused and said, emphatically but with a laugh, “I’m the gay Tupac.”
Fan Monique Davis said after the show that she was shocked he spoke so bluntly and directly about the incident, but she’s glad he did.
“It was amazing, it was emotional, it was inspiring,” Davis said. “He showed everyone in the room he was strong.”
Smollett told police the men attacked him as he walked home in Chicago early Tuesday, throwing a chemical substance at him in addition to shouting slurs and putting the rope around his neck.
No arrests have been made, and police have not found surveillance video of the attack, though they found footage of Smollett walking home with the rope around his neck.
Smollett had made his first public comments about the incident on Friday in a written statement that said he had been “consistent on every level” with the police during their investigation, countering comments on social media saying he had changed his story and been uncooperative with investigators.
Chicago police also said Smollett has been cooperative and they have found no reason to think he’s not being genuine.
Smollett stars alongside Terence and Taraji P. Henson in “Empire,” the Fox TV show about the power struggles of a family in the music business that is now in its fifth season. The series has allowed Smollett to play, sing and occasionally write music in addition to acting.
Last year he released a solo album, “Sum of My Music, which made up much of Saturday night’s set, along with songs from “Empire.”
He often sits at the piano on the show but stood front and center at the microphone at the Troubadour, the legendary Los Angeles club that helped launch the careers of James Taylor, the Eagles and Elton John.
He was joined in jubilant dance by his family members during his encore.
Earlier, they had taken the stage and voiced their support before he came on.
“To be honest, as his big brother, I wanted him to sit this one out,” Joel Smollett Jr. said. “But we realized this night is an important part of Jussie’s healing. He’s been a fighter since he was a baby. He fought his attackers that night, and he continues to fight.”
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Andrew Dalton on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/andyjamesdalton.
Plane breaks apart over California neighborhood, 5 killed
Monday, February 4
YORBA LINDA, Calif. (AP) — Five people died and two were injured after a small plane apparently came apart Sunday over a suburban Southern California neighborhood, raining debris on streets and backyards and igniting a house fire, authorities said.
Four people in the house that burned in the city of Yorba Linda were killed, along with the pilot, who was the only person in the twin-engine plane, Orange County Sheriff’s Lt. Cory Martino told reporters.
Martino said the dead occupants of the home were two males and two females but did not provide other information about them.
The Cessna 414A that can carry up to eight people took off from the Fullerton Municipal Airport about 12 miles (19 kilomters) west of the blaze, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said.
The two-story house burst into flames after being hit by the plane’s main cabin and one its engines, sending panicked neighbors into the streets.
The second engine dislodged and fell onto the street, creating a large hole in the asphalt, according to Eliott Simpson, an aviation accident investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board.
“It was a boom. It sounded like something exploded. It shook our house,” said John Wolbart, who lives a block away.
He said he ran to the burning house and saw a woman come out with singed hair.
The wounded were taken to a hospital with burns, said Pokey Sanchez, an assistant chief with the Orange County Fire Authority. A firefighter was also treated for a minor injury.
Clint Langford, who lives about a half-mile (0.8 kilometers) away, said he was in his living room when he heard a low rumbling.
“It’s the eerie, low rumbling sound that keeps getting lower and louder. It was scary,” he said. “And then all of a sudden boom. It shook the house.”
He looked out his front door and could see plane parts falling out the sky in the distance.
Pat Rogers, who lives about a mile (1.6 kilometers) from the crash site, told the Orange County Register he saw the plane on fire and coming apart.
Video posted on Twitter showed panicked residents running to the house as it became engulfed in flames and dark smoke. One man used a garden house to douse a burning wing that landed on the street.
Aerial footage from news helicopters showed plane parts, including side panels and a propeller, scattered on rooftops and driveways near the burned house.
The main body of the plane was found in the backyard of another home not far from the burned house. The fire spread to a SUV that was parked in the driveway.
Debris was scattered over four blocks, Simpson said.
Rain from a winter storm helped firefighters extinguish the house fire.
The National Transportation and Safety Board will investigate the cause of the crash.
Associated Press writers Daisy Nguyen in San Francisco, Jennifer Kelleher in Honolulu and freelance photographer Alex Gallardo in Yorba Linda contributed to this report.
Foxconn again shifts Wisconsin plan after Trump intervenes
By SCOTT BAUER
Sunday, February 3
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Foxconn Technology Group has shifted its stated strategy yet again on Friday for a massive Wisconsin campus, crediting a conversation with President Donald Trump for cementing plans to proceed with building a factory to make high-tech liquid display screens.
The news capped a week of confusion about Foxconn’s plans in Wisconsin. The company announced in 2017, to much fanfare, that it planned to invest $10 billion in the state and hire 13,000 people to build an LCD factory that could make screens for televisions and a variety of other devices.
The company last year said it was reducing the scale of what was to be made in Wisconsin, from what is known as a Gen 10 factory to Gen 6. But this week, even that was thrown into question with Foxconn executive Louis Woo said it couldn’t compete in the television screen market and would not be making LCD panels in Wisconsin.
But on Friday, in yet another twist, Foxconn said after discussions with the White House and a personal conversation between Trump and Foxconn chairman Terry Gou, it plans to proceed with the smaller manufacturing facility.
“Great news on Foxconn in Wisconsin after my conversation with Terry Gou!” Trump tweeted.
Wisconsin’s new Democratic governor criticized the company Friday for its flip-flopping.
“There’s no limit, frankly, to skepticism if the messaging isn’t coherent,” Evers told reporters. “I’m comfortable that they’re still committed to the state. They’re committed to this Generation 6 technology, but that doesn’t mean that we (won’t) encourage them to be more transparent and consistent in their messaging.”
The latest Foxconn statement did not say whether the commitment to this size factory would affect the type of workers who would be employed in Wisconsin. Foxconn executive Louis Woo told Reuters earlier this week that about three-quarters of workers in Wisconsin would be in research and development-type jobs, not manufacturing. Woo said the Wisconsin project would be more of a research hub, rather than having a manufacturing focus.
A Foxconn spokeswoman had no immediate comment about what its plans to build the “Gen 6” factory would mean for the makeup of the workforce. The difference between a “Gen 10” and “Gen 6” plant rests with the size of the original glass used to make the screens. The larger plant, which had been part of Foxconn’s initial plans, would have used glass more than three-times as large as what the smaller facility will use. The “Gen 6” plant can make screens ranging in size from a smart phone to a 75-inch television, while the larger plant would have allowed for devices as large as 9½ feet by 11 feet.
The “Gen 6” plant is expected to be smaller in size and less expensive than a “Gen 10” factory, but Foxconn has not specified just how large it will be.
Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics company, said Friday the campus will house both an advanced manufacturing facility and a center of “technology innovation for the region.”
Local Wisconsin government and economic development officials where the Foxconn campus is located praised the news, saying construction of the “Gen 6” factory will coincide with construction of other related buildings over the next 18 months.
Wisconsin promised nearly $4 billion in state and local tax incentives to Foxconn if it invested $10 billion and created 13,000 jobs for the project, which Trump heralded last year as the “eighth wonder of the world.”
But Foxconn has repeatedly revised its plans for what will be made in Wisconsin and who will work there, causing confusion in the state and leading critics of the project this week to accuse Foxconn of a “bait and switch.”
The original deal was struck by then-Gov. Scott Walker and Trump. Evers, Wisconsin’s current governor who used Walker’s support for Foxconn against him in the race, was a critic of the project during the campaign but has said this week he’s working closely with Foxconn on the project.
Foxconn earlier this week cited a changing global market as requiring a move away from making LCD panels in Wisconsin. Apple is Foxconn’s main manufacturing customer and it has forecast a drop in revenue from the Chinese market due to decreasing demand for iPhones.
Associated Press writer Todd Richmond contributed to this report.
Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sbauerAP