'Barbershop': What's the Buzz

The men in this week's "Barbershop" dish on the stalled immigration bill and actor Isaiah Washington's firing from Grey's Anatomy. They also share personal thoughts on Father's Day.

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MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up: It's your turn to tell us more in our Backtalk segment.

But first, it's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop. Sitting in the chairs for a shape up this week are opinion writer and blogger Jimi Izrael, University of Texas professor, Ed Dorn, editor and civil rights leader Arsalan Iftikhar and Ruben Navarrette, a syndicated columnist.

I hear the guys want to talk about the stalled immigration bill. The whole sexual responsibility thing brought up by a couple of recent court cases, that Isaiah Washington mess - he got fired. And hopefully some thoughts on being a dad. I may jump in, but for now, take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Hey, what's up fellows? Welcome to the shop.

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: What's happening? Thanks.

ED DORN: Jimi, thanks.

RUBEN NAVARRETTE: Good to be with you.

IZRAEL: Hey, hey. Let's talk right in the bucket. Talking about immigration. The immigration bill, wait, hey, Ruben, do you smell that? That smells like a dying slow death to me and that...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NAVARRETTE: I don't know. No, brother, no. It's not dying. It's alive. It lives. It lives.

IZRAEL: Well, Ed, how do you read it?

DORN: This is an interesting contest between two wings of the Republican Party. There are folks. There's the law and order wing that believes that anybody who comes into the country illegally ought to be rounded up and sent back to wherever they came from. And then there's the corporate wing and the agricultural business wing that thinks that we need cheap labor.

There's a fairly easy way to resolve this, and that is to give a little more red meat to the law and order conservatives, tossing in a few billion dollars more for border patrol agents to, you know, build a higher fence along the Texas-Mexico border and so on.

IZRAEL: A-Train, do you think it's that simple?

IFTIKHAR: Well, I mean, you're building a 700-mile border fence on a 2,000-mile border. I mean, this is a good overall compromise bill, but unfortunately, it's been tossed around so much like a political football that you can barely recognize it.

IZRAEL: Ruben, do me a favor, look into your crystal ball. A year from now, this immigration bill, is it dead? Is it alive?

NAVARRETTE: I mean, it could frankly go either way, but the way it's looking now and I'll jump on this comments from before, if in fact Republicans are able to put some meat on the plate in terms of enforcement measures, in terms of more border patrolmen, more, you know, walls or whatever, I think that will cut off the ring and force the Democrats to deliver because the Democrats also have a tough balancing act.

And that's between organized labor - which they want to make happy - and Latino voters who they want to make happy. What makes it such a delicious, you know, issue is that both parties are stuck between rock and hard places trying to keep their coalitions together, and it ain't easy.

DORN: Let me - can I comment on the sleeper issue here that...

IZRAEL: Sure, Ed, go ahead.

DORN: ...one that doesn't get as much attention? And that's this provision that allows us to bring in more people with technical skills. That's the old H1 Visa provision. Corporations have found that it is easier, faster, cheaper to go out and hire engineers, technicians, nurses from abroad and import them than to improve the quality of American schools so that we could produce our own engineers and technicians. That's one of the things that I wish people would pay more attention to, particularly Democrats and particularly members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

IZRAEL: Wow. I'll be interested to see how this pans out. But, you know, for now, let's take a look at Mike Nifong answering to the man for his handling of the Duke lacrosse rape case. And Genarlow Wilson still sits languishing in jail. Now, from the curb, these things might look unrelated, but how can we use these as object lessons to keep our daughters off the stripper pole and teach our young men about respecting women and themselves?

MARTIN: Jimi, can I jump in for one second?

IZRAEL: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Hi, guys. Just to clarify for everybody who hasn't caught up, Mike Nifong is the prosecutor in the Duke rape case, and now he's up on ethics charges before the bar association. The allegation is he had reason to believe that this was not a strong case, and he went for it anyway.

And then the Genarlow Wilson case, there's no doubt that he had sex with the young lady. The issue was that he was at a New Year's Eve party. He was 17. The girl was 15. This was all captured on a videotape. The girl herself never claimed that she had been assaulted. Another girl did. But the question is that she was underage. And so the issue is...

IZRAEL: Yeah. Ten years. Yeah.

MARTIN: ...you know, 10 years in jail. And here's the funny thing about the case is that if they have had intercourse, it would have been a misdemeanor. The fact is that under Georgia law because they had oral sex, it was a felony. Legislature changed the law after the fact to address the fact that it seemed like just the sort of the bizarre sentence. But anyway, he's still in jail. I just wanted to point that out. I'm out.

IZRAEL: Thanks for bringing that in, Michel.

IFTIKHAR: Thank you.

IZRAEL: Ruben, I'm wondering what the takeaway points are for our kids? You know, it looks like bad parenting all around for the Duke lacrosse kids and for Genarlow Wilson. You know, if I'm correct, I believe he made a videotape of him and this young lady. How do we use this as learning moment for our kids?

NAVARRETTE: Again, you're right. Sort of people walking the line, I mean the Duke lacrosse stuff, I mean independent of them not being guilty of what they were charged with, I mean you still had their behavior, bringing strippers to this party...

IZRAEL: Right.

NAVARRETTE: And whatever else happened. And so it's sort of morally suspect. I think the lessons for folks is they need to know, as young people, they need to know about these kinds of cases, that they shouldn't push the envelope with prosecutors like this. It's sort of like teaching kids about speeding and sort of they can argue it out, that the police are profiling this stuff.

The best lesson you can tell people is stay out of the way of prosecutors and stay out of the criminal justice system.

IZRAEL: Ed, go ahead and chime in.

DORN: Good lesson. We had a case of an officer-involved shooting in Austin just a couple of weeks ago. A young man at a club was stopped by police and instead of obeying what the policeman said, he ran off. And while we don't know the details, the bottom line was that he was shot and killed by the police officer. And I think Ruben's point is exactly right. You are better off suffering a few minutes of insult than getting a bullet in your back.

IZRAEL: A-train, now, I know you don't have any kids yet. But you must be taking some notes. You know, when you have your kids, you know, you might have one of each. How do you keep your sons from situations like this and how do you keep your daughter off the stripper pole?

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, growing up in the Cosby decade, you know, I - the worst thing that I had to deal with was wondering what Theo and Cockroach were going to get into every week, you know. And now we've entered this, you know, YouTube generation where we thrive on dysfunctionality as a society. And for myself, I mean, I'm proud to come from a nuclear family and I'm proud to want to have a wife and kid someday. And somehow I sort of view myself as a societal outcast now because there's no dysfunctionality and I think that's a really sad commentary on the state of our social affairs today.

IZRAEL: Well, for me here's the bottom line. We have to teach our boys to be gentlemen and love our daughters enough that they can love themselves. Now, okay, men, let's switch gears a bit and switch on the tube and talk about Isaiah Washington being fired from ABC's hit show "Grey's Anatomy."

And this seemed to be consistent with the firing of a lot of other actors of color of popular ABC shows. Now, Arsalan, are people of color disappearing from primetime TV or was it just time for Ike to go?

IFTIKHAR: You know, when you choke on to one of your castmates and drop the F-bomb again, I mean you deserve to get fired. I don't care if you're white, black or purple. I don't think that the race part played an issue in this case.

IZRAEL: Well, I don't know. Ruben, you know, George Lopez, if I'm correct, isn't on TV anymore either. And he had a hit show. What's up with that?

NAVARRETTE: He had a hit show, but it was, you know, it was a soft hit, you want to put it that way. It used to get about six million viewers a week.

DORN: I watch it.

NAVARRETTE: I liked it too. I got to tell you. Don't cry for George. George had six years of a good show. He's in syndication now. You know, first Latino in syndication. He's doing fine. He's playing golf out in his big house in Pebble Beach. So he's good.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NAVARRETTE: Not everything is about racism, even as far as Latinos on television and all that. I do think that the networks have this horrible habit of sort of going backward. You might see a good number of African-American themed shows out there or Latino themed shows, and then they sort of revert back. Now you got - what, you've got some cavemen on ABC. So there's room for cavemen on primetime television, but not for African-Americans or Latinos.

IZRAEL: Right. Yo, Ed, drop that science.

DORN: You know, what bothers me even more than the disappearance or the under-representation of African-Americans and Hispanics in primetime television is the under-representation of African-Americans and Hispanics in news and public affairs shows. Now, I remember 25 years ago we had Carl Rowan appearing regularly, Matt Robinson was a network news anchor, Bryant Gumbel was hosting one of the morning shows.

Look on the network shows on a Sunday morning and this is just a vast desert, as it were, populated by middle-aged white men and a few middle-aged white women. So there's notable exceptions: Robin Roberts on "Good Morning America," Gwen Ifill, who hosts her own show.

But I think that compared with 25 years ago, the networks have not made a very great showing here.

IZRAEL: Wow, well, you know, men, our day is coming up. It's Father's Day. Let's talk about what it means to be a father. Ed, I want to defer to you. You've been in the game the longest, man. Please, give us some wisdom.

DORN: Well, I'm the old fogey here. I have three daughters - 26, 20 and 16. The only advice I have - one is be there. Not just on the birthdays and the holidays, not just to show up and take the kids to a game occasionally, but just be there, be present in your kids' life. The other thing is, be lucky enough to choose a good mate.

IZRAEL: Wow, yeah.

DORN: It really does take more than one person to do this.

IZRAEL: Ruben?

NAVARRETTE: I would second that. You not only need a good partner, and you need two people to manage this deal, you need a whole team sometimes. I think you need to set down some really firm markers. The problem in American society is not that we are demanding too much from our children. It is that we are demanding too little from our children.

DORN: That's true.

NAVARRETTE: And when our kids compete domestically, that's one thing, and it's challenging. But when they compete internationally, it's not even a fair fight anymore, to the point we've gotten the government - back to the immigration debate - please protect because we can't compete with these folks for these jobs, these H1B visa jobs.

IZRAEL: A-train, go ahead.

NAVARRETTE: Now, wait a second. This needs to be said. A-train, you haven't had a family yet.

IFTIKHAR: I am not married nor do I have any kids.

NAVARRETTE: So really you're just speculating about what kind of (unintelligible) you have for these imaginary kids.

IFTIKHAR: You know, I'm just lucky enough to learn from the wisdom of both Ed and Ruben. And I agree with both of them. I think it all revolves around personal responsibility. And I think it goes from, you know, the Genarlow case to the NiFong - I mean we have to take accountability for our actions and we have to let our children know, and I have to let my future children know, that when they do good to positively reinforced them, but when they do wrong, that they need to take accountability and responsibility for their actions.

IZRAEL: Amen, brother. You know what? To bounce off something Ed said, you know, I don't think it's a secret that I'm a single dad, you know, I got four kids. Three I made the old-fashioned way and one that I claimed. You know, and you know what I tell my boys and my girl? I tell them, you know what? Condoms are cheaper than lawyers.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: You know, and it really, you know, because one act of irresponsible behavior can derail your life so bad you may never get back on track. And that's real talk.

MARTIN: Jimi, can I ask you something?

IZRAEL: You can ask me anything you want.

MARTIN: Well, thank you. Do you like being a dad?

IZRAEL: Oh man, I love it. I love it. It's a big part of my life and although - I mean I didn't come up with a father in my house. Gratefully, I had my grandfather, you know, who basically is the voice you hear me talk, that unapologetic - just that cat. You know, my grandfather passed away a few years ago. I'm determined to be a father of my children, you know, because it's just real like that to me. I love being a father.

IFTIKHAR: That's wonderful.

IZRAEL: Thanks Michel, that was an important question. And I appreciate that. Okay, well, fellas, we got to wrap it up. I want to thank everybody for coming up to the shop. Ed, thank you, first time being, but not the last.

DORN: Pleasure.

IZRAEL: Ruben, my man is calling from off the road. Thank you so much.

NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

IZRAEL: A-Train, back again for the first time.

IFTIKHAR: Anytime, Jay.

IZRAEL: And I'm that dude, Jimi Izrael. I got to pass it over to that girl, Michel Martin.

MARTIN: All right. Jimi Izrael joined us from our NPR Bureau in New York. He writes for the opinion page of the Lexington Herald Leader. Arsalan Iftikhar is the contributing editor of Islamica magazine. He joined us from our studios in Washington. Ed Dorn is a professor at the University of Texas. He joined us from member station KUT in Austin. And Ruben Navarrette writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and CNN.com. He was all late getting to the studio, so he was on his cell phone.

You can find links to all of our Barbershop guests at our website, npr.org/tellmemore. Gentlemen, Happy Fathers Day to the dads. Happy Fathers Day to all the dads.

NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

DORN: Thank you, Michel.

IZRAEL: Thank you.

IFTIKHAR: Thank you.

MARTIN: And thanks for joining us once again.

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