Many view ‘black friend defense’ as a tired, hollow argument
By TERRY TANG and DEEPTI HAJELA
Friday, March 1
Kelly Darden Jr. still remembers one of the first times he experienced the “black friend defense.”
Back in high school, a group of white classmates dressed in Confederate-inspired clothing as part of a social club called the “Rebel Rousers” and insisted they weren’t racist when confronted because some of them knew Darden, who is black.
“It was insulting,” the 64-year-old Greenville, North Carolina, man recalled Thursday. “I was insulted by it even when it was occurring.”
Darden and countless other African-Americans have experienced variations of the “black friend defense” — saying that a person can’t be racist because of the color of the company he keeps — for generations. And the trope played out in front of a national TV audience this week as Republican Rep. Mark Meadows defended President Donald Trump against testimony by Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen , who claimed the president is racist. Meadows, of North Carolina, quickly sent social media into a frenzy when he pointed to Lynne Patton, a black Trump administration staffer, and said Patton never would tolerate working for a racist .
Many consider the “black friend defense” a tired and hollow argument.
“The fact someone would actually use a prop, a black woman in this chamber, in this committee, is alone racist in itself,” Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan said in response to Meadows’ interaction with Patton, who works at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
An outraged Meadows, who is white, hit back, saying he can’t be racist because he has nieces and nephews of color and he is friends with Rep. Elijah Cummings, who is black and was chairing the hearing.
The “defense” has a history of being part of a politician’s playbook.
Trump himself has trotted it out more than once. While giving remarks during a 2016 presidential campaign stop, Trump pointed to someone in the crowd and yelled “Look at my African-American over there.”
A few black celebrities have been called props or “Uncle Toms” for throwing support Trump’s way or simply just meeting with him. Kanye West, Steve Harvey and Jim Brown have all been criticized.
Harvey, who voted for Hillary Clinton, told media outlets in 2017 that he regretted meeting with the president at Trump Tower because of the backlash. He only did so in the hopes of helping with Trump’s transition to the White House.
In “4 Little Girls,” Spike Lee’s 1997 documentary revisiting the deadly 1963 Birmingham church bombing, former Alabama governor and onetime staunch segregationist George Wallace talks about how he has helped black people. At one point, he is seen sitting behind the governor’s desk and summons a black man.
“Here’s one of my best friends right here … my best friend right here. I wouldn’t go anywhere without him,” Wallace says while holding the man’s hand. The man stands quietly but doesn’t say anything.
The phenomenon was the subject of a 2014 study done by University of London Business School professor Daniel A. Effron.
In his research, Effron noted that former Bosnian leader Radovan Karadzic said he held no anti-Muslim prejudice because his former barber was Muslim. In 2016, Karadzic was convicted of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity for wartime atrocities including the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslim men.
Tyler Parry, an associate professor of African American Studies at California State University in Fullerton, said using black people as political props is something that occurred as far back as the 19th century in debates about slavery. In Antebellum-era writings by former slave owners, they would often describe their relationship with slaves as a friendship. It was a way for them to justify their stance on slavery.
Parry said he finds it remarkable that people in the public eye keep using “the black friend” excuse over and over in almost verbatim language rather than issue a mea culpa. It comes off shallow and brings the authenticity of the friendship into question, he said.
“There’s a few studies that say it’s a way to overcompensate — particularly a white person or a person of privilege feels the need to accumulate friends of color in case they are ever accused of racism,” Parry said. “If they can deflect the criticism and place it upon their friend as a way to explain it, they can get off the hook.”
Patton, the Trump administration staffer, denied she was a figurehead being exploited by Republicans. A former event planner best known for her work on the wedding of Trump’s son Eric, Patton slammed Democratic lawmakers who “placed more credence on the word of a self-confessed convicted perjurer” than a highly educated black woman working alongside the president.
“That is not the resume of a prop. It is however, the resume of someone who remains completely unfazed by the criticism of others and laser focused,” Patton wrote on Instagram.
Associated Press writer Jesse J. Holland in Washington contributed to this report.
Tang, Hajela and Washington cover race and ethnicity for The Associated Press. Follow them on twitter: ttangAP, dhajela, and jessejholland and search for their work at https://apnews.com .
DeVos proposes federal tax credits to advance school choice
By COLLIN BINKLEY
AP Education Writer
Thursday, February 28
The Trump administration renewed its push for school choice on Thursday with a proposal to provide $5 billion a year in federal tax credits for donations made to groups offering scholarships for private schools, apprenticeships and other educational programs.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos unveiled the plan as a “bold proposal” to give students more choices without diverting money from public schools.
“What’s missing in education today is at the core of what makes America truly great: freedom,” DeVos said. “Kids should be free to learn where and how it works for them.”
Legislation for the tax credits is being introduced by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala.
DeVos said she expects to face opposition, and Democrats quickly let her know she’ll get it. Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate education committee, said the proposal is “dead on arrival.”
“Secretary DeVos keeps pushing her anti-public school agenda despite a clear lack of support from parents, students, teachers, and even within her own party,” Murray said in a statement. “Congress has repeatedly rejected her privatization efforts, and she should expect nothing less here.”
The proposal will also face a difficult time in the House, where Democrats gained a majority in the November midterm elections. Rep. Bobby Scott, chairman of the House education committee, said Democrats “will not waste time on proposals that undermine public education.”
“We’re focused on reversing our chronic underfunding of public schools so that all students — regardless of their background — can learn in schools that are healthy, safe and provide a quality education,” Scott said.
Education officials crafted the plan in an attempt to make school choice more politically appealing, after previous initiatives failed to take hold. Congress rejected DeVos’ efforts to boost funding for charter schools and to create federal vouchers to attend private schools.
Opponents of charter schools and vouchers argue that they steer money away from public schools. But DeVos contends the proposal would spark new funding that could be used for a range of education options including public or private schools.
“The only folks who are threatened are those who have a vested interested in suppressing education freedom,” DeVos said. “The program won’t take a single cent from local public school teachers or public school students.”
But The National Association of Secondary School Principals called the plan “insulting” and said it “reflects this administration’s persistent disdain for public education.” The group contends that it would make it harder for public schools to attract and retain good teachers.
The plan, called the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act, would allow states to set their own rules around the credits, including which students are eligible for scholarships and where they could be used. Possible programs include apprenticeships, private schools, home schooling, special education, tutoring or public virtual schools.
The proposal would offer a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for individuals and businesses that donate to scholarship groups approved by the state, meaning that every dollar given takes a dollar off the donor’s tax bill.
Credits would be capped at 10 percent of an individual’s gross income and 5 percent of a business’ taxable income. Education officials said it’s unlikely the $5 billion annual cap would be hit.
States could decide not to participate, but DeVos said she believes that would lead to a backlash from students and their families. “Demand will rise, and pressure will mount on those that have not yet embraced the opportunity,” she said.
Eighteen states already offer their own scholarship tax credits, including Alabama, Arizona, New Hampshire and Virginia. Most programs are aimed at helping students from low-income families or those with disabilities. A federal version was discussed as part of last year’s tax overhaul but wasn’t included in the law.
Lawmakers described the new plan as a response to President Donald Trump’s call for school choice in his State of the Union address. Trump’s speech largely avoided education but included a single line saying that “the time has come to pass school choice for America’s children.”
Speaking alongside DeVos, Cruz said Thursday that he believes in public schools, but he argued that providing options will spur improvement at all schools.
“Competition improves,” he said. “And in this case, injecting new money to give that freedom, to give that competition, to give that power of choice, will enhance the quality of education to kids all across the country.”
The proposal drew applause from some groups that support school choice, including the Center for Education Reform. Jeanne Allen, the group’s CEO, called it “a welcome sign in the battle for more opportunities for students.”
Some conservative groups found fault with DeVos’ proposal. The Heritage Foundation applauded it for pursuing school choice but said federal tax credits would open the door for undue federal regulation.
“It would grow, rather than reduce, federal intervention in education,” the group said. “It would be better for the Education Department to keep highlighting the great advances that states have made in school choice.”
Follow Collin Binkley on Twitter at https://twitter.com/cbinkley
Pakistan brings captured Indian pilot to border for handover
By ZAHEER BABAR
Friday, March 1
WAGAH, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistani officials brought a captured Indian pilot to a border crossing with India for handover on Friday, a “gesture of peace” promised by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan amid a dramatic escalation with the country’s archrival over the disputed region of Kashmir.
The pilot, identified as Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, was taken in a convoy that set out from the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore to the border crossing at Wagah earlier in the day, escorted by military vehicles with soldiers, their weapons drawn.
The Pakistani military has said his plane was downed on the Pakistani-held side of Kashmir on Wednesday.
On the Indian side of the border, turbaned Indian policemen were lined up along the road as a group of cheering Indian residents from the area waved India’s national flag and held up a huge garland of flowers to welcome the pilot back.
The expected handover comes against the backdrop of blistering cross-border attacks across the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir that continued for a fourth straight day, even as the two nuclear-armed neighbors sought to defuse their most serious confrontation in two decades.
Tens of thousands of Indian and Pakistani soldiers face off along the Kashmir boundary known as the Line of Control, in one of the world’s most volatile regions.
Tensions have been running high since Indian aircraft crossed into Pakistan on Tuesday carrying out what India called a pre-emptive strike against militants blamed for a Feb. 14 suicide bombing in Indian-controlled Kashmir that killed 40 Indian troops. Pakistan retaliated, shooting down two Indian aircraft Wednesday and capturing the pilot.
Since the escalation, world leaders have scrambled to head off an all-out war on the Asian subcontinent. President Donald Trump in Hanoi on Thursday said he had been involved in seeking to de-escalate the conflict.
Khan, the Pakistani premier, told lawmakers on Thursday, “We are releasing the Indian pilot as a goodwill gesture tomorrow.”
But India made it clear that the latest escalation has changed its strategy and that going forward, it will strike, including inside Pakistan, if they get information of an attack in the planning. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier Thursday warned “India’s enemies are conspiring to create instability in the country through terror attacks.”
Also Friday, Pakistan’s civil aviation authority partially re-opened the country’s airspace, allowing travel to four major cities, another sign tensions with archrival India were de-escalating.
The agency issued a statement saying all domestic and international flights will be allowed to and from the cities of Karachi, Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta. It said other airports, including the one located in the eastern city of Lahore that borders India, will remain closed until March 4.
Islamabad closed its air space on Wednesday after saying that Pakistan’s military shot down two Indian warplanes and captured the Indian pilot. The closures snarled air traffic.
Residents of the Pakistani border town of Chikhoti reported heavy shelling overnight and Friday morning. More than 200 people had fled to a military organized camp about 20 kilometers (16 miles) away from the border.
Police in the Indian-controlled Kashmir said one man was wounded and at least two civilian homes were damaged in the cross-border shelling.
Kashmir has been divided but claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan since almost immediately after the two countries’ creation in 1947. They have fought three wars, two directly over the disputed region.
Kashmir: India and Pakistan’s escalating conflict will benefit Narendra Modi ahead of elections
February 27, 2019 Pakistan accused India of ‘grave aggression’ and violation of the de-facto border between the two sides in the disputed Kashmir region.
Author: Sita Bali, Head of department, Staffordshire University
Disclosure statement: Sita Bali does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: Staffordshire University provides funding as a member of The Conversation UK.
Tensions in the Kashmir region were already building after more than 40 Indian troops were recently killed by a suicide bomber. India’s “pre-emptive strike” over the disputed border on Tuesday – the first of its kind by India since it went to war with Pakistan in 1971 – has escalated the situation further. India said it had targeted a terrorist training camp and accused Pakistan of violating a 2003 ceasefire, while Pakistan now claims to have shot down two Indian fighter jets.
The origins of the Kashmir conflict lie in British imperial disengagement from the subcontinent. At independence in 1947, the unpopular Hindu Maharaja of Kashmir was faced with invasion by Pakistani tribesmen. He turned to India for help, signing the treaty of accession that took Kashmir into the Indian Union. India sent troops to Kashmir and so began the first war between India and Pakistan.
The Pakistanis were held off by Indian troops after they occupied one-third of Kashmir in 1948. Today, Pakistan continues to occupy that third and India holds the remaining two-thirds including the Kashmir Valley. The border between these two areas in Kashmir is demarcated by the Line of Control (LoC), established after fighting in 1947-48. This demarcation has changed little in all the conflicts of the subsequent years.
Maharaja Hari Singh’s move to join India was supported by the popular secular Kashmiri political movement – the National Conference, led by Sheikh Abdullah. Particularly so, as India agreed a special status for Kashmir within the Indian Union – spelled out in Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. A further article in the constitution prohibits people from outside Kashmir from buying land and property in the state, allowing Kashmir to preserve the balance of its ethnic and religiously mixed population (60% Muslim, 35% Hindu and 5% Buddhist).
Pakistan has always maintained that, in accordance with the logic of partition, Kashmir should have been integrated with it. It attempted to take Kashmir by force in 1947-48 and again in 1965, with no success. The Kargil conflict in 1999 was the last substantial direct confrontation between the two militaries.
India and Pakistan’s rivalry isn’t territorial or ideological – it’s psychological
Since then there have been regular terrorist attacks on mostly military, paramilitary or government targets in Kashmir – see the full list here. Successive Indian governments have held the Pakistan military and their Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) responsible for training and aiding the terrorists involved, which Pakistan denies.
After this latest suicide attack, claimed by the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) terror group, the debate now rests on whether the wider apparatus of the Pakistani state was aware of, and can be held responsible for, the actions of a terrorist group based in their country and with supposed links to the ISI.
The suicide attack that killed Indian paramilitary personnel takes on added significance because it occurred in the context of the looming general election in India in which the BJP, led by Narendra Modi, is trying to retain its grip on power. Modi and his BJP came to power with a thumping majority in May 2014, promising competent, clean government and economic development.
However, things have not gone well for the government in recent months. The Indian economy is suffering from the long-term effects of the decision to demonetise in 2016 and the inability to generate new jobs. The BJP was also defeated in five state elections in 2018, including key states of the Hindi belt such as Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
With Modi’s supposed record of economic competence and good governance under challenge, he has increasingly relied on his party’s version of extreme nationalism to keep people’s support. The BJP’s Hindutva ideology sees India as a Hindu country and believes all Indian Muslims should have been forced to move to Pakistan in 1947, and now constitute a fifth column in the country. So an attack such as the recent suicide bombing – whether or not it was actually instigated by Pakistan – plays into Modi’s narrative.
That the attack was carried out by a young man from Indian Kashmir also serves to illustrate the failure of the Modi government in dealing with the Kashmir problem. For more than three years the BJP was itself part of the government of Kashmir in alliance with the People’s Democratic Party of Mohammed and Mehbooba Mufti. This alliance fell apart in 2018, mostly over disagreements between the two parties about how to handle the increase in violence in Kashmir and the radicalisation of young Kashmiris, who were once again taking up arms against India.
The Jaish-e-Mohammad terror group, unusually, took immediate responsibility for the attack. Equally, the Indian response to the attack was a first, in that India has never before responded to terrorism within its borders by attacking Pakistan. India’s airstrike is considered the first major use of air power against Pakistan since 1971.
At this stage there are claims and counter claims from both sides about what the Indian bombing raids achieved. Pakistan is threatening an appropriate response, so there is potential for an escalation of this volatile situation between two nuclear armed countries.
Amid an intensifying war of words and action between the two, the only beneficiary will be the BJP. As jingoistic fervour rises in India, they hope they will be swept back to office on the crest of that wave.