'Shop Talk': Will Revelations About Malcolm X Tarnish Legacy?

A controversial, new biography of Malcolm X, and Dennis Rodman's nomination for the basketball Hall of Fame are two of the topics under discussion in this week's "Barbershop" roundtable. Guest host Allison Keyes hears from author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, Kevin Williamson of the National Review and sports columnist Kevin Blackistone.

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ALLISON KEYES, host:

I'm Allison Keyes and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

It's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are freelance writer Jimi Izrael, sports columnist and sports journalism professor Kevin Blackistone, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, and deputy managing editor of the National Review, Kevin Williamson. It's all yours, Jimi, take it away.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Writer): Hey, thanks. How are you doing, Lady A?

KEYES: I'm good. How you been?

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, I'm making it work. Fellas. Welcome to the shop. How we doin'?

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Civil Rights Attorney, Editor): Hey, hey, hey.

Mr. KEVIN WILLIAMSON (Deputy Managing Editor, National Review): Great, how about you?

Mr. KEVIN BLACKISTONE (Sports Columnist): Excellent.

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh, we got double Ks in the house. I'm down with that. K-dubs, what's up, man?

Mr. WILLIAMSON: How are ya?

Mr. IZRAEL: My man, you know, like I said, I'm trying to make it work. All right, we haven't seen you in a while, so welcome back.

Mr. WILLIAMSON: Thanks.

Mr. IZRAEL: All right, let's jump right in it. So, all right, let's get started talking about the new biography called "Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention." And this is kind of sad. It's very sad. The book's author, Manning Marable, passed away three days before the book came out. Now, this biography is supposed to reveal some details about Malcolm's life that we hadn't previously heard, Allison.

KEYES: It is actually sad, Jimmy. And earlier this week on the program, Michel Martin talked to Zaheer Ali, one of Marable's lead researchers for the book. He said there were a few interesting revelations, including the fact that Malcolm embellished a part of his life that anyone who's read "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" or saw Spike Lee's movie is familiar with.

(Soundbite of archived recording)

Mr. ZAHEER ALI (Researcher): The Detroit Red era of Malcolm's life is exaggerated. He was not really that hardcore of a hustler.

KEYES: And some of what's revealed in this biography is quite personal and provocative. At least two of Malcolm X's daughters, by the way, are reportedly displeased with some of the allegations about their parents' marriage. And there's a whole 'nother issue, 'cause Manning Marable describes a homosexual relationship Malcolm X allegedly had with a former employer.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, thanks for that. Respect to Zaheer Ali, but what's the metric for hustlers? I mean, are we judging the earnestness of his hustle? Or the volume of - I mean, I don't know what that means. You know, he wasn't that much of a hustler - that doesn't mean anything to me. You know, at the end of the day, I don't know that we're going to learn anything that changes, you know, Malcolm's legacy. I mean, I don't think we will.

KB, you want some of this?

Mr. BLACKISTONE: Well, you know, the interesting thing to me is that the whole allegation about homosexuality as a young hustler is actually not new. That's been written before at least four, five, or six years ago in another book. And it's been batted about and still, I don't think, has really changed the whole image of Malcolm X as this national black masculinity type of icon. But obviously Manning Marable's scholarly research is going to bring it to a new light or to a different light. But like you, Jimi, I don't think it changes what Malcolm X means to so many people.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know what, A-train, help me out here. It should kind of go without saying, right, that his autobiography was embellished in places. I mean, yours will be too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: If one is ever written.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, I mean, that is as it should be. I mean, when you're telling your own story, you're going to tell it the way you want. But whatever his street credentials were, so much as they matter, his contribution to the conversation about race and class in this country can't be denied.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right. You know, it's interesting because, you know, we saw a recent controversy with a new biography of Mahatma Gandhi that just came out called "Great Soul" by Joseph Lelyveld, which, you know, claims that during his early years in South Africa, Gandhi had a bisexual relationship with a German named Hermann Kallenbach. And either way, my response is, so what?

I mean, if it is true, which I'm not saying that it is, I mean, you know, you could tell me that, you know, Mother Teresa was a cross dresser and kicked puppies down the street, but I'd be, like, she's Mother Teresa.

KEYES: Not the puppies.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: She was hanging - she was helping lepers in Kolkata. And so, you know, for me, the legacy of Malcolm X will always be, for me, encapsulated in Ossie Davis's eulogy for him, where he said that, quote, Malcolm was our manhood, our living black manhood. And we will know him then for what he was and is: a prince, our own black shining prince who didn't hesitate to die because he loved us so."

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. Right. Right. Yo, K-Dubs, man, you know, what's interesting to me about the conversation about Malcolm X is that people are talking about the film "Malcolm X," Spike Lee's film...

Mr. WILLIAMSON: Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: ...as if it wasn't a fiction.

KEYES: True.

Mr. WILLIAMSON: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: I mean it was based on scripts by three different people. It was David Mamet wrote a version, James Baldwin wrote a play that was also bought to kind of fold into the movie, and then you have Spike Lee doing his thing. So, you know, it was a fiction. At the end of the day, you know, Malcolm X in plain English told black people to demand civil rights. And this assertion of will and his ability to articulate the unfiltered frustration of many black folks made him the enemy of the establishment. And I don't know what we do about that today or how that weighs today, but I think we're trying to like I think some people are trying to re-couch his place in history as something less than.

What do you think his legacy is?

Mr. WILLIAMSON: Well, I think he's kind of a tragic figure in the sense that I do admire that aspect of saying we're not going to wait for someone to give us out rights; we're going to go out there and take them ourselves. But, you know, the fact that Malcolm X is the sort of figure he is, I think, is destructive in a lot of ways.

I mean this is a guy who spent the first half of his career as a, you know, evangelist (unintelligible) crackpot race cult. He spent the second half of his career engaging in some of the most destructive and counterproductive politics the 20th century had to offer.

He was an awful, awful figure in a lot of ways. But he was a terribly charismatic figure and someone who said something that needed to be said at the time. And he was really the only person, in a sense, available to fill a role that needed to be filled at his time. And he's a hugely complicated character, but I think in the context of his life and what he actually thought and believed and did, you know, a gay relationship when he's young is going to be the least of his reputational concerns I think.

Mr. BLACKISTONE: Hey, that's interesting, because as a black man I don't...

Mr. IZRAEL: I'm read - hold on, hold on a second. Yeah. I'm reading his legacy as less tragic than complicated. You know, you're trying to yeah, what are you talking about? Where's the tragedy piece?

Mr. WILLIAMSON: Well, I think that we had an opportunity at that time to take things socially in a slightly different direction, and Malcolm X and the movement that he stood for, I think, probably did more damage to the cause of fully integrating blacks in American public life and American private life than it did good.

Mr. IZRAEL: So because he wasn't an accommodationist, you know, that's tragic?

Mr. WILLIAMSON: No. It's not that he wasn't an accommodationist; it's that he was a racist and he believed crazy things that weren't true.

KEYES: Although, he changed his mind about that later in his career.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: When he went to the Hajj.

KEYES: Once he went to the Hajj. I mean, really?

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah. Yeah. But that's in the...

Mr. WILLIAMSON: I know the story and all that but he essentially, you know, left the embrace of Elijah Muhammad to embrace Fidel Castro, which isn't really much of a move up in the world as far as I'm concerned. He said he believed in the things that he taught over the course of his life. Whether he was well-intentioned or not, whether he was, you know, at some point a transformation figure or not were destructive.

Mr. BLACKISTONE: And I would just say, as a black man coming up reading his autobiography and for most of my friends coming of reading his autobiography and getting to know Malcolm X, we did not see him anything or his narrative, anything has been tragic, but instead saw it as being heroic. And, in fact, and also did not see, I don't think the Nation of Islam as being a crackpot race cult. I think we saw it considerably different.

And I know that over the years I've been drawn to various events put on by the Nation of Islam that I learned a lot from and, in fact, even own a double album set by Minister Farrakhan as a violin player.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

KEYES: OK. All right. I got it. Gentlemen. Gentlemen. Gentlemen. Gentlemen. Gentlemen.

Mr. IZRAEL: Hold on. We've got to keep it in motion.

Mr. WILLIAMSON: And the fact that you do believe that I would say is why I say he's a destructive figure. He led people to (unintelligible)...

KEYES: OK. We've got to jump in here because we could talk about this for 17 minutes but we don't have that time. So, if you're just joining us, you're listening to our weekly Barbershop segment.

We're joined by author Jimi Izrael, attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, sports columnist Kevin Blackistone and editor Kevin Williamson.

Back to you, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Allison. Now, moving on, Glenn Beck and Fox News announced that they're parting ways sadly. While the press release was very polite, it's possible that Beck was too isolating. And is it possible that he was too isolating and too far right for Fox? Allison?

KEYES: Well, he was criticized for alienating, well, mainstream conservatives. Here he is last year at the Washington, D.C. event called "Rally to Restore Honor," where he was talking about principles Americans should live by, like honesty and reliance on God.

Mr. GLENN BECK (Host, "The Glenn Beck Program"): We will then know that God is not on our side, rather we have put our life in shape so we know we will be on God's side.

(Soundbite of applause)

(Soundbite of whistle)

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow.

KEYES: Exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Allison. So, all right, fellas. Hundreds of thousands of people supported Beck and he also seemed to be the media face of the Tea Party. Do you guys think the Tea Party would have gotten much attention without him? K-Dub, you're in here first.

Mr. WILLIAMSON: Well, gosh, you know, I've been a guest on his show a few times and I've followed his career since he was in radio and I think he's a tremendously talented guy and I'm sure that he will continue to be a real player and a real influence whatever he's going to do after Fox News, through his radio arts and whatnot.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, he's...

Mr. WILLIAMSON: Yeah, he certainly was there at a right moment in time to get himself in front of the Tea Party phenomenon and to sort of, you know, be their biggest public megaphone. Although, I suspect that that movement would have been tremendously influential even without his support and without that outlet, and I suspect that he would have been as influential without them as well. But they were a nice pairing. You know, they came together at really the right moment in time for both parties.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, yeah, clearly, Glenn Beck is no crackpot so we're glad to have him around.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, actually, Jimi...

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, A-Train. Go ahead, A-Train. Go ahead, man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Actually, Jimi, speaking of tragic and destructive figures, I think that argument would probably be more apt for Glenn Beck. Let's not forget, this is a man who called President Barack Obama a racist. And he said that he, quote, "has a deep-seated hatred for white people and white culture." My question is what is white culture? Is it for those of us who don't dance the George Bush jig?

You know, I think that finally, you know, I think Fox News actually, for the first time ever, drew a line in the sand and said you know what; we've really had enough of you. And I actually think he's probably going to ride off into the sunset and not have nearly as much prominence as he had on his bubbled soapbox on Fox News.

Mr. IZRAEL: K.B., quickly.

Mr. BLACKISTON: Yeah, well, I'm just amazed that he lasted this long. And I agree with that description that he would more likely fit the crackpot race cult culture than would Malcolm X in the totality of Malcolm X's life.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, speaking of crackpots...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: ...NBA player Dennis Rodman...

Mr. BLACKISTONE: Good segue.

KEYES: Oh, come on, Jimi.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, he's getting his due. I mean The Worm is headed to the Basketball Hall of Fame. Who saw that coming, Allison?

KEYES: OK. He's got a wild life and mad style. Mad style. But he's also got skills on the court. OK, where did he get the outfits? But the rebounds. But the rebounds, said the rabid Bulls fans.

Here's Dennis Rodman on Jay Leno's "Tonight Show" back in the late '90s.

(Soundbite of archived program)

Mr. JAY LENO (Host, "The Jay Leno Show"): You think you can play with just a whole year without getting ejected or suspended?

Mr. DENNIS RODMAN (NBA player): No. No.

Mr. LENO: No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RODMAN: No. Hell no. That wouldn't be right, right?

Mr. LENO: Yeah.

Mr. RODMAN: You know, I can't play the, you know, good boy, you know, good ship lollipop. No.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Man. Man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: Come on. He's the man. He's the man.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah. He was definitely the man. Maybe he should get a contract with Mac makeup.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Yo...

KEYES: Oh.

Mr. IZRAEL: K.B.? K.B.?

Mr. BLACKISTONE: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: Does he deserve to be in the Basketball Hall of Fame, seriously?

Mr. BLACKISTONE: He absolutely does. Points, rebounds and assists is the three most critical statistics in basketball. And for seven years in a row this man led the league in rebounding, putting up numbers in a much tougher time in the NBA that was similar to what Bill Russell did with the old Boston Celtics. And not only that, because of his contributions and because of his contributions as a defender, he helped the Chicago Bulls get to a number of those championships. So I don't think there's any question that he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I actually...

KEYES: That was me cheering.

Mr. IZRAEL: A-Train. A-Train.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: As the second Chicagoan in the Barbershop, and an NBA junkie, I will actually say he does not deserve to be in the Hall of Fame for many reasons. I think the biggest snub was Reggie Miller. The man had 2,563 pointers until Ray Allen broke his all time three-point record this year...

KEYES: Oh, this is (unintelligible).

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Hold on. Hold on. Twenty point six points a game, led the NBA in free-throw percentages five times, one of five players ever in the 504090 Club field goals, three-points, free throws. You know, while Reggie Miller was dropping eight points in nine seconds against the Knicks in the '95 Eastern Conference Semis in game one, Dennis Rodman was, you know, playing, you know, "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: It's - and let's not forget, the five rings that he had were with the greatest player ever. I mean Robert Horry, Big Shot Bob, has seven rings. Steve Kerr has five rings. Ron Harper has five rings. I think that if he was on any other team aside from a Jordan/Pippen team we wouldn't even be having this conversation today.

KEYES: Well, just because Reggie Miller, you feel, got snubbed, does not mean Dennis, with his earrings and nose rings...

Mr. IZRAEL: Exactly.

KEYES: ...and all of that should not be in there.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I just think Reggie had a greater body of work and I think that he got snubbed and Rodman got in because he rode Jordan and Pippen's coattails.

KEYES: Wow.

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh. Whoa.

Mr. BLACKISTONE: I don't think so. Reggie Miller was a great shooter but actually, I think people would be surprised to find out that his scoring average was not as great as you might think it was.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Twenty point six for his career.

Mr. BLACKISTONE: That's how he - that was...

KEYES: His sister could outplay him. But listen, listen, listen, before we run out of time, thanks to that beginning, I've got to ask you guys about this, and Arsalan already blames me for it, so I'll just say it. Gawker ran a headline this week that read: A new dating site is indistinguishable from prostitution. It's called WhatsYourPrice.com. It's like eBay for dating, it says. One actually bids on how much they would pay for a date. Once the offer is made it can be accepted, rejected or countered.

What you think about that, Jimi?

Mr. IZRAEL: I think it's...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: I think it's more right to the point than Craigslist. I mean if that's what you're about I mean cut out the pretense and just pay up. You know, pay to play. Why not? If that's what you're into, why not?

KEYES: Apparently. It suggests paying half the price up front and then the other half at the end.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILLIAMSON: That makes it still a better deal than marriage.

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh. But it is prostitution. That's all it is. It's just prostitution under another name.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: No it's not, man. It's...

Mr. IZRAEL: Clearly. Clearly.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: It's a spin on glorified matchmaking.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: At the end of the day you have a bunch - I mean I don't care either way to be honest with you, but I mean listen...

Mr. IZRAEL: A-Train, if you're paying for a date you're...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: ...that's prostitution.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: You're not paying for sex. It's...

KEYES: Not paying for all dates is prostitution. You have to buy a girl dinner. I'm just saying.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Hey Jimi, if you go - hold on...

Mr. IZRAEL: And one predicates the other though if you have to pay.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Wait. Hold on. So...

KEYES: No it should not.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: OK. Listen, using that logic then, if you go to a bachelor or bachelorette auction and you pay, you know, $100 to charity for a date then that would technically be prostitution too then.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yes, it would be. Yes, yeah, you're right.

KEYES: Even if you're up on the block, Jimi?

Mr. IZRAEL: I wouldn't be up on the block. I'm taken. How about that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: Yes, we know. We know.

Mr. IZRAEL: How about that?

KEYES: Well, that is all the time we have. Gentleman, always a blast.

Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and author of the book, "The Denzel Principle." He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. We had Kevin Williamson, deputy managing editor of the National Review, Kevin Blackistone, Arsalan Iftikhar. Arsalan and Kevin are with me in our Washington, D.C. studios.

Thanks so much.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace.

Mr. WILLIAMSON: Thank you.

Mr. BLACKISTONE: Take care.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

KEYES: That's our program for today. I'm Allison Keyes. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Michel Martin will be back and talk more with you on Monday.

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