Wildfires Force 'Shop' Member to Evacuate

In this week's Barbershop, Jimi Izrael, Ruben Navarrette and Keith Boykin discuss Navarrette's recent evacuation from his home in San Diego in the wake of the California wildfires, why Democratic senator and White House hopeful Barack Obama has upset the gay and lesbian community, and the decision of a Detroit party promoter to give preferential treatment to lighter-skinned African-Americans at his party.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, it's kind of a letters to the editor, TELL-ME-MORE style. Our BackTalk segment is next.

But first, it's time to check in at the Barbershop where the guys talk about whatever's in the news or whatever's on their mind.

Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are freelance writer and blogger, Jimi Izrael, TV host and author Keith Boykin, and Ruben Navarrette, a syndicated columnist.

I hear they want to talk about the fires in Southern California. I know Ruben's from the San Diego area so I hope he'll tell us whether he's okay.

Also, a performer on Senator Barack Obama's upcoming concert series draws criticism from gays and lesbians. And a party just for light-skinned black women? What's that all about? I may jump in, but for now, take it away, Jimi.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Columnist, AOL Black Voices): Hey, hey, fellas. Welcome to the shop. How are we doing?

Mr. KEITH BOYKIN (TV Co-Host, "My Two Cents"): Great.

Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR. (Syndicated Writer, The Washington Post Writers Group): Hey, I'm doing okay.

Mr. IZRAEL: All right. Well, let's start things off on a serious note. As fires continue to rage in Southern California, over half a million acres have been burnt so far. Ruben, you're from San Diego. Give us a view from the ground.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right. You couldn't get any closer to the fire. I'm right in the middle of it. I was one of the nearly one million people who evacuated their homes on Monday. My wife and I took our two little ones, a toddler and an infant, to a modest hotel up in Orange County about 30 miles away from our home. It was almost full. We got our rooms, but they had to turn away like two or three hundred other people from San Diego. People from San Diego had to go all the way up to Los Angeles to get away from the fire, in many cases. And so we just got back into our home on Wednesday. And so it's crazy. I mean, there's smoke and particles still out in the air in San Diego. If you're a young person, a baby, an elderly person, somebody with heart or lung problems, you're not supposed to go outside.

This sort of focuses the mind because as a journalist, we're taught to sort of go into the fire. Back when I was young and dumb, you know, a reporter, I'd had taken my laptop and my notepad and ran into the fire or at least gotten closer to the fire until I was turned away.

Mr. IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: And not this time. Now, I'm a daddy, and the daddy instincts take over.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: And so I'm grabbing formula and diapers and my laptop and just running. And that's what we did.

MARTIN: Ruben, can I ask you a question?

Mr. IZRAEL: (Unintelligible)…

MARTIN: I'm sorry, Jimi. Jimi was going to say what I was going to say, which is we're really glad…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Oh.

MARTIN: …that you're fine and everything's fine.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

MARTIN: But can I - how do you find out when it's time to leave? What do you do? Are you just making an individual decision?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Oh, okay.

MARTIN: Or just come around and, like, go in the street and say, okay, everybody out now?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Mm-hmm. It comes in phases. And I'll tell you one thing that really gets your attention in a hurry. You get something called a Reverse 911 call. That's where the cops call you instead of you calling the cops. It's an automated call that comes to you, and it came to us at 7:00 in the morning. And basically, a recording tells you that the city that you live in should be on notice and prepare to evacuate. They say you don't have to evacuate yet, but you might start packing up and thinking about it.

Well, girl…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: …that compared to the fact that I just heard it was 10 miles away was all I needed to hear.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow. (Unintelligible)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Okay? I didn't need to stick around for the follow-up call which came at 3:30 where they tell you then, okay, you better leave. At that point, we were already gone.

MARTIN: Wow.

Mr. IZRAEL: Keith, how did the government's response to this compares to Katrina?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOYKIN: I don't think there's even a comparison. I mean, you have people in the Superdome in Hurricane Katrina who couldn't get out, and government wasn't there. And this time, I understand the people who were stuck in the stadium there - were not really stuck, they're being well-fed and taken care of. They have baby formula and activities and the president has responded. It's like night and day. And I don't think it's just because of race, quite frankly. I think it's also about resources and money and preparation, so many other things.

MARTIN: Ruben, do you mind - can I ask you the same question?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

MARTIN: Do you think that in part things are smoother in San Diego because of Katrina or do you think it's race plays a part of it? Do you think that the -you know, San Diego had their problems…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I don't think…

MARTIN: …with governance in the past.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

MARTIN: Do you think it's just - what do you think?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, I'll tell you what. I mean, I don't think it was about race at all, but I think that there are differences. I think that you benefit from the experience of having gone through 9/11 and Katrina. And some news just recently, we've met here with Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security chief. And you know, you got to know about Chertoff, every time somebody mentions Katrina, he gets like a nervous itch because let the record show that that almost cost him his job.

He went out of his way to tell us here at the editorial board in San Diego about differences that he saw between the two crises, about sort of having hindsight and having the experience of Katrina to fall back on. And I'll just end with this, I think there are people in Louisiana who resent the comparison. They think that what they faced was much more significant than what we faced. And then there are people in San Diego who likewise resent the comparison and think that they did a lot better under pressure than the folks back there did.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm. Thank you.

Mr. BOYKIN: It's kind of a no-win situation, I think for the Bush administration because if they do a good job here that people are wondering why they didn't do a good job before and they don't take into account the fact they might have learned something from the whole experience before.

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh, my man. Thank you so much for checking in, and we're so happy to know that you and your family's doing well. Now, Barack Obama is catching heat from the gay community for, including Donnie McClurkin - Rev. Donnie McClurkin and his Gospel Outreach Program.

Keith, for those of us who don't know much about McClurkin, can you explain what's it at the heart of the outrage?

Mr. BOYKIN: Well, Donnie McClurkin is what is called an ex-gay. He used to be gay. He say he's molested by a relative as a child. He converted, I suppose is the term, a few years ago.

Now, he preaches against homosexuality. He says that gays can be delivered from their lifestyle, as he puts it. And it's caused quite a bit of controversy in the gay and lesbian community about him for sometime, particularly in the black gay and lesbian community.

When the decision was made by the Obama campaign to include McClurkin in this gospel concert Embrace the Change tour that's taking place this weekend in South Carolina, a lot of gays and lesbians were understandably surprised about the decision because it was linking Obama, who's pretty much gay-friendly, with McClurkin who is not.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're making our weekly visit to the Barbershop with Jimi Izrael, Keith Boykin and Ruben Navarrette. Back to you, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thank for that, Michel. Ruben, Obama's a member of the United Church of Christ. That's one of the - probably the most liberal, open and friendly churches in the world, probably in just - for due diligence, I used to work for United Church of Christ as a staff writer. Was this a political misstep or just kind of faux pas?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Misstep, misstep, and you know, it's fair game, I think, when Republicans cozy up to leaders who may be homophobic or whatever, and they just want to sort of the votes that go along with those folks, and Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and others. And it's fair game also that in 1984 when Jesse Jackson ran a historic campaign for president, he was questioned for - about his relationship with Louis Farrakhan. There should be somebody on staff where you ran presidential campaign whose sole job it is, is to check out the background of anybody who you are going to appear on stage with.

Mr. IZRAEL: Keith, I'm not trying to turn you to the gay Al Sharpton, But I'm going to ask you a really broad question.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOYKIN: You always use that joke.

Mr. IZRAEL: What does the gay community want from the next president of the United States?

Mr. BOYKIN: I think they want somebody who is going to lead the fight on employment and discrimination bill, be supportive of gays in military. I don't think that they're expecting a president who's going to support them on marriage, because I think that most of the leading presidential candidates in the Democratic Party aren't there yet. And so I just think - I think they want somebody who's going to move the ball forward a little bit but definitely not move the ball backward.

Mr. IZRAEL: Let's switch gears for a moment, kind of get to news of the strange about this club promoter in Detroit who recently tried to host a light-skinned party where only light-skinned women were allowed versus dark-skinned women.

MARTIN: No, and I don't think that's quite right, Jimi. I think that what…

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay.

MARTIN: …happened is that light-skinned women and I'm still trying to figure out how he was going to define that. Okay? But they got in free.

Mr. BOYKIN: Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh. Wow. I mean, you know, I didn't know that. Wow. Okay, anyway.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: They also have to Libras. They have to be Libras.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yes. About to being light-skinned liberals so he cancelled it amidst a lot of national outrage.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Oh yeah.

Mr. IZARAEL: Now, Keith.

Mr. BOYKIN: That's right.

Mr. IZARAEL: Where have we heard that before in this century?

Mr. BOYKIN: We still have all these biases and prejudices. It goes back to slavery, the light-versus-dark distinctions. This in an example where the people there who organized it just got carried away, but it's a reflection of so many things that are going on in larger society. It's sad but it's true.

Mr. IZRAEL: Sure. And Ruben, I know in South America they have kind of a skin-tone caste system.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Oh yeah. You bet.

Mr. IZRAEL: What's up? I mean, tell - enlighten us a little bit about that.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: It's really the same thing. I mean, in Latin America, in Mexico it's no surprise that most of the folks who run Mexico are light-skinned. If you are going to look for a dark-skinned person in Mexico you have to go back to Benito Juarez, you know, 150 years ago. But I don't get this because we all know that some very beautiful people, men and women who have dark skin. What do you with people like Iman and other models who are just gorgeous, you know, who may have darker skin?

Mr. BOYKIN: Well, I'm sure…

Mr. IZRAEL: Filmmaker - hold on - filmmaker Spike Lee actually touched on this in his film "School Daze." I believe that was 1988. We got that clip we can drop right about now, Michel?

Mr. MARTIN: You really want to play it? You want to hear?

Mr. IZRAEL: I really do please.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Oh, yeah.

Mr. MICHEL: Okay. And go ahead. Here it is.

Mr. IZRAEL: Watch it.

(Soundbite of movie, "School Daze")

Unidentified Woman #1 (Actress): (As Character) It ain't even real. You wish you had hair like this.

Unidentified Woman #2 (Actress): (As Character) Girl, you know, you weren't even born with blue eyes.

Unidentified Woman #1: (As Character) That's right. Blue contact lenses.

Unidentified Woman #3 (Actress): (As Character) She's just jealous at you.

Unidentified Woman #1: (As Character) Jealous?

Unidentified Woman #3: (As Character) Rachel, I've been watching you look at Julie. You're not slick.

Unidentified Woman #1: (As Character)_ If that was true, he wasn't much to look at.

Unidentified Group: You know you're right.

Unidentified Woman #2: (As Character) Pickaninny.

Unidentified Woman #3: (As Character) Barbie Doll.

Unidentified Woman #4: (As Character) (Unintelligible) Heifer.

Unidentified Woman #3: (As Character) Tar baby.

Unidentified Woman #2: (As Character) Want to be white, jigaboo?

Unidentified Woman #4: (As Character) Don't start.

Unidentified Woman #2: (As Character) We're gonna finish it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow. Thank you for that, Michel. That was the beautiful Ms. Tisha Campbell and boy, in all - in her cinematic brilliance.

Mr. BOYKIN: Then the musical number comes after that, too.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right, right.

MARTIN, host: Do you know it's funny, I'm listening to that and there was - I remember thinking it was funny at that time, but - I don't know, maybe it's because we're older, it's not funny, it's painful, I think. I can't believe we're still having this conversation. I mean, come on.

Mr. IZRAEL: It is called a plantation conversation. Keith, are ever going to be past this?

Mr. BOYKIN: We were having a conversation while I was in college 20 years ago, and we're still having it now because we haven't done anything to change it. Not that society hasn't really dramatically changed; the images that we put out there in our culture haven't changed, not even have a dialogue about it in our society, in our community, so why wouldn't it then changed.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, there's a lot of things that a community does to itself, you know? There are so many things that I can get on a soap box and say, well, you know, Hispanics are being hurt by the other - by external forces in the following ways. But there are cases where Hispanics hurt themselves. And likewise, here, when you first start having kids, if you have somebody who shows favoritism in a household to a lighter-skinned baby as opposed to darker-skinned baby, that sort of how it starts, and certainly, that's how it starts in the Latino community.

MARTIN: You know what? Can I push back on this, Ruben?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

MARTIN: Because I think it's both end. I mean, the society offers like a feedback loop here. If you look on, you know, Univision or Telemundo not to be…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right. That's true.

MARTIN: …you know, picking on them - and who are the anchors. You know, who are the talent and what are their features? And if you pick a women's magazine…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

MARTIN: …and who was being held up as the object of beauty? So, I guess, I - it's hard for me to sort of say that it's just within the community when the culture basically tells you constantly what it is that you're supposed to aspire to, and what if you don't fit that?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah. You're right. All I can see is light-skinned African-Americans than dark-skinned Americans…

MARTIN: But can I ask you though as guys though. This is one of the things that fascinates me because women talk about this a lot. I know women of color talk about this a lot. Do you guys feel as men of color that this is something that you are held to the standards of appearance that you think affect your life?

Mr. IZRAEL: I mean, me, personally, I remember in, like, all the '80s, I was totally out of the picture because I didn't look like El DeBarge. I didn't - I wasn't light skinned with curly hair. I was totally out of the loop. I mean, (unintelligible) with this me and nappy headed and (unintelligible) brown, so, you know, it's - now is different. You know, now - you know, I got the long locks and it's all different. But in the '80s, the '80s was a dark period in my social life. No pun intended.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: No pun intended.

Mr. BOYKIN: Well, I like Jheri curl in the '80s so I'm…

MARTIN: Oh we've got (unintelligible). That's not you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay, that's definitely - you can't blame them or anybody.

Mr. BOYKIN: No, that's my fault, you know, but…

MARTIN: What about you, Ruben?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: You know, Latinos spend a lot of time going at each other, criticizing each other.

Mr. BOYKIN: We do too, as blacks.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: You know, and - you know, my gay friends say that, my Jewish friends say that. Everybody has that same sort of dynamic that worked in there community.

Mr. IZRAEL: I hear you, bro. Well, with that, we're going to have to call it a wrap. Gentlemen, thanks so much for coming in. And speaking of objects of beauty, I got to pass on to the lady of the house.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Oh, yes.

Mr. IZRAEL: My boss…

MARTIN: Oh, yes.

Mr. IZRAEL: …Michel Martin.

MARTIN: Just keep it coming, keep it coming.

MR. NAVARRETTE: Smoking, smoking.

MARTIN: Jimi Izrael is a freelance writer and reporter. He joined us from WFSU in Tallahassee. Ruben Navarrette writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and cnn.com. He joined us from his office in San Diego. And we are so glad, you and your family are safe. Keith Boykin is the host of BET's "My Two Cents" and is an author. He joined us from our bureau in New York. You can find the links to all of our Barbershop guests at our Web site, npr.org/tellmemore.

Gentlemen, thanks so much for joining us today.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Thanks.

Mr. BOYKIN: Thank you for being here.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

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