Guys in the Shop on Politics and Pop

Jimi Izrael and the guys in the Barbershop discuss how racism is affecting the presidential race. They also weigh in on basketball superstar LeBron James' recent mama drama on the court, and the trial of R&B singer R. Kelly.

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CHERL CORLEY, Host:

I'm Cheryl Corley and for Michel Martin and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. We are broadcasting from Chicago public radio. Coming up, you'll tell us more about our coverage, listener questions and comments up next in our Backtalk segment. But first 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, civil rights attorney and editor, Arsalan Iftikhar. Syndicated columnist, Ruben Navarrette and media executive Nick Charles. Now I may jump in once or twice, but for now, go ahead and take it away Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: C-love, thanks so much. Hey yo, fellas, Whassup? Welcome to the shop. How we doing?

BARBERSHOP GUYS: Pretty good, Jimi. Good man. Good.

IZRAEL: Well, you know what? Check this out man. Senator Hillary Clinton is still in it to win it, as she squeezed West Virginia determined to run the race until the brakes fall off. Ruben, what do you think? Is it time for the dip? Why does she insist on staying in the game?

RUBEN NAVARRETTE: Because you are not getting rid of this woman without a wooden stake and a crucifix OK?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NAVARRETTE: There's no way that she is going to go quietly into that good night. The Clintons learned a long time ago that just because 300 newspapers calling you to resign as president, or just because people say that you are down and out or you should resign or should step down or quit, doesn't mean you have to. They reinvent the game all the time. They are not going to quit this game. But what's troubling about what happened in West Virginia and really what is happening in recent contests and in Indiana included, is that this kind of fermenting of racial division, I think, that the Clintons are doing, is paying dividends in terms of the electorate. I am no longer so concerned about what Bill and Hillary are saying. I am concerned about the electorate is saying and the degree to which we see racism playing out with the common folk.

IZRAEL: Nick?

NICK CHARLES: Yeah, eight years ago in 2000 it was a soccer mom vote. This year it is a Dukes of Hazzard vote and people in West Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky coming up next week. It seems that these are the kinds the electorate that people want to get. You know, Clinton is stressing about a certain kind of blue collar, quote, unquote "white working class vote" that Obama cannot get. And a great piece by Ruben Navarrette who - on the Shop and a great piece by Kevin Merida in the Washington Post pointed out how the race and racism is bubbling to the service and people are acting as though they are surprised about it, but this is what is going to happen when you have a black candidate for the first time who can seriously challenge for the presidency.

IZRAEL: A-Train, I have been wanting to get at you about this. Now every is familiar with the story about the guy who did the t-shirt with Curious George that said Obama 08. I forget where that was in the country.

Mr. CHARLES In Georgia.

CORLEY: Yeah. That was in Georgia.

IZRAEL: So it was in Georgia and he was saying that, you know, his grandchild had a scene of resemblance. Now, people are crying racism, but I am not so quick to go there. Correct me if I'm wrong but there are several caricatures of George Bush that reference chimps, apes, and monkeys of other sort. A-Train, get it, you are on record as an Obama supporter. What do you make of that?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Well, I think someone should go out there if we are going to depict cartoon characters as presidential candidates and make a Marge Simpson t-shirt with Hillary Clinton underneath for all the bluehairs that she represents. One of the overlooked stories of the West Virginia night again, was the, you know, first of all, pundits would have you believe that West Virginia was the mecca of Democratic presidential primaries and in one fell swoop, Senator Obama made the greatest political chess move of his campaign by bringing John Edwards into Michigan, a state that he did not campaign in and basically brought the granddaddy of the white blue-collar vote on to his own stage, and I think that was a checkmate move and Hillary needs to tip her king piece over, otherwise she is going to look like a terrible political chess player.

CORLEY: Let me just jump in for a second. A lot of people think that Edwards's help might have come too late? What do you think?

IFTIKHAR: I think it was actually politically timed perfectly because I think the next best thing that Barack Obama could do is take John Edwards to Florida, the other state that delegates weren't seated and announce that he is the vice presidential candidate. I think from a political strategic vantage point that would just be utter genius.

IZRAEL: Ruben, you know, I'm not convinced. I think it's too little too late, although he's got the delegates in this pocket, so there is that, but what do you think?

NAVARRETTE: There's two ways to argue it. First you could say that given that John Edwards had such strong support among union members, it would have been swell to have him on board before Pennsylvania, maybe even before Indiana. You know, in that respect maybe this was too late. On the other hand, I love the poetry of it. John Edwards endorses Barack Obama one day after Barack Obama gets slammed in West Virginia. And what are you saying there? He said, I am endorsing Barack Obama because this guy understands in his heart that we need to be one country and not two. Now who do you suppose he's thinking about there? Hillary Clinton and the Clintons want to divide us into two separate countries at least. And Barack Obama, he says, according to Edwards, wants to unify us into one. So I think it's poetic that here Barack Obama at least walked off with the support of one southern white male, you know. In fact it was John Edwards. And I think that the timing in that respect was perfect.

IZRAEL: You know, poetry aside, I'm not feeling it. C-love, bust it.

CORLEY: Well, I was just going to tell people if they were joining us that they are listening to Tell Me More from NPR News, and I'm speaking with Jimi Izrael, Ruben Navarrette, Nick Charles, and Arsalan Iftikhar in the Barbershop. So take it away, Jimi.

IZRAEL: You know, well, speaking of poetry in motion, Cleveland's own cavalier, LeBron James, told his mother to sit her ass down when she tried to jump into a foul ball scuffle at a home leg of the NBA playoffs. Now wait a second, fellas. I'm ashamed to admit this. I've been in a similar circumstance with my mom, although I've never - I didn't...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: No, wait a second.

NAVARRETTE: You were in game four of the NBA playoffs?

IZRAEL: No, no, I wasn't! No, not quite. But I was in a fisticuffs, and my mother decided she wanted to jump in. And I told her to move out the way, you know, so I could knock this guy down. And I wanted my mom to understand that if she didn't get out the way, somebody was going to get hurt, and it might - I didn't want it to be her. Nick, jump in here.

CHARLES: All I've got to say is it's lucky it wasn't Al Iverson's mom, because she would have started swinging, because she's serious. She's not talking...

IZRAEL: She might have cut somebody.

CHARLES: Exactly, she's not talking, she's just coming with a blade, let's go.

IZRAEL: Right, right.

CHARLES: You know, I understand. I think, you know, she's worried about her son, and it's the heat of the moment. I don't think she was really that upset. I think, you know, him telling her what he did in the heat of the moment, because he would never talk to his Mom like that. And he's a nice, respectful, young man. So I don't make a big deal of it. I think that, you know, she's maybe sitting too close. Maybe three rows in instead of on the floor is where you should keep moms.

CORLEY: Well, LeBron James did try to clean up what he said to his mother. We have a little bit of audio here.

IZRAEL: Oh, that's right. We've got some tape on that.

CORLEY: Yeah, from his press conference. So this is what he had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

LEBRON JAMES: Commissioner doesn't care if this is your mother or your kids or anybody. You can't allow fans and players to get involved with each other. You know, I can't afford for my mom not to be at every last one of my games. You know, I can't afford that. So, you know, I told her to sit down in a language I shouldn't have used, you know. Thank God today wasn't a Mother's Day. That was yesterday, but all I could think about is her, you know, just - because I know my mother, so, it's just fine. We're good. We're good.

CORLEY: So, did he clean it up?

IFTIKHAR: Well, I'm the biggest Boston Celtics fan in the world, and LeBron James is the most redunculous (ph) player in the NBA. I love him. He's the greatest. Now remember, it's game four, NBA playoffs, Paul Pierce in the Boston Celtics on a breakaway by LeBron wrapped himself around LeBron. They started do-si-dosing into the crowd. And basically Paul was just trying to hold onto him to make sure that LeBron didn't get hurt. Momma James starts yelling at Paul Pierce. Kevin Garnett of the Celtics runs over to Momma James and says Mrs. James, we're just playing. She has to understand, this is the playoffs. This is the NBA playoffs. This is win or go home. It's not junior varsity in the peewee league no more.

IZRAEL: Hey, here's a question I have for the fellas. You all, did this make you think any less of him for having to check his mother like that? Let's start off with Ruben. Go ahead.

NAVARRETTE: No, no, not at all. I think it's kind of a cute story and you know, harmless in the overall. But I'm not sure if it's a story about a sort of stage mom who wants to get involved in her son's activity in this case, and it happens all the time, or whether it's about, you know, this kind of improper language. And a lot of people watching this and sort of saying, wow, this is curious how NBA players talk to their momma's on Mother's Day, or the day after Mother's Day. I think it's probably more about a mother who just got a little enthusiastic, but people do that all the time. There was a story recently in San Diego, here, about, believe it or not, a mother at a suburban soccer game. It got so testy that she pulled out a gun.

IFTIKHAR: Oh snap.

IZRAEL: Wow.

NAVARRETTE: Pistol-packing mommas in the suburb.

CHARLES: Was her name Iverson?

CORLEY: Now, you have to leave that mother alone.

CHARLES: I might think about it. The thing is that I don't think it's a big deal. I think what it is a good example of is the fact that the Celtics, their whole tactics and strategy against LeBron was to rough him up. And I think she has seen that like all of us have. She's looking at a series and saying, wait a minute, you guys started this in game one. This is game four, and you guys are still doing it. Get off my son.

IZRAEL: You know what I see? That the media since LeBron James have gotten signed, all those years ago, they have been focused on the way LeBron's relationship with his mother, and how she's kind of this - she's his personal cheerleader. She's been his personal cheerleader all these years. And I have to co-sign that. I don't co-sign her, you know, going to my man's office - it's essentially his office - and you know, getting up on his desk and trying to show him how to do his business. You know, because sometimes you've got to let your baby be a man. But you know, that's his mother, she needs to be in the front row cheering on her son. I'm down with that. Go ahead C-love, give it.

CORLEY: All I was going to say was it was just a very entertaining moment at the least. And we had another entertainer in the news this week. And it seems like he will be in the news for quite a while. R. Kelly and his trial which began this week in Chicago.

IZRAEL: Yeah. Fourteen counts of child pornography stemming from an infamous sex tape that leaked onto the streets. Now I'm probably the only person on this panel that has seen the entire tape. You know, I'm not bragging. Just in the interest of reporting, I watched the whole tape. And I have to tell you ladies and gentlemen, I do not believe I witnessed anything on that tape that he will be convicted of. Now Arsalan, let's just - we'll start with you...

IFTIKHAR: Oh my God.

IZRAEL: No, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on. I'm going to tell you why, A-train. Here's what I'm going to tell you. Because we can not carbon date a videotape, and there's no way to determine how old or how young that young lady is, certainly without her cooperation, and she is not cooperating.

IFTIKHAR: Well, being from Chicago myself, again, for years we've always had this discussion, who's better? R. Kelly or Common Well, guess what, Common won. And R. Kelly just needs to put his key in his own ignition if he believes he can fly and go trap himself in a closet in Tahiti or somewhere.

IZRAEL: C-love. C-love.

CORLEY: Oh, that's very good. You worked in all of those song titles.

IZRAEL: C-love, go ahead and give some of this.

CORLEY: Well, all I'm going to say is just to set the record straight for people who might not have heard of this story - although I can't imagine how not - that R. Kelly is accused of videotaping himself having sex with a girl as young as 13 at the time. And of course he's pleaded not guilty. And if he is convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.

IZRAEL: Thank you, Nick, for reminding us about that. Nick, will he be convicted?

CHARLES: He will be convicted, not because of any legality in the fact that they can't carbon-date the video and tell whether she's 13, 15, 16, or 25. He'll be convicted because people are going to be morally outraged when they see the video and what he asked her to do in the video.

IZRAEL: If.

CHARLES: Yeah, if it's allowed for them to see the video, what he did in the video. And he may get convicted of that. Whether it's legal or not, I don't know. But the fact is people are going to be turned off by what went on in the video, and they are not going to give a rat's behind how old she was.

IZRAEL: Yeah, you know what? I'd tell you what, man. Let this be a lesson to you. However you get down in your own private home, keep the video camera off. And with that...

CHARLES: You're talking about yourself right, Jimi?

IZRAEL: No.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: I am not talking about myself. And with that, we're going to have to call it a wrap. Ladies and gentleman, fellas, thanks so much again for coming. And I've got to kick it back to the host sitting in for Michel Martin, C-love.

CORLEY: Thank you so much. Thank you so much, Jimi. Jimi Izrael, a freelance journalist who writes for theroot.com joined us from WCPN in Cleveland. Ruben Navarrette who writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and CNN.com joined us from KOGO in San Diego. Nick Charles is the vice president of digital content at BET.com. He joined us from our New York bureau. And Arsalan Iftikhar, a civil rights attorney and contributing editor for Islamica Magazine joined us in our Washington studio. Gentlemen, thank you so much.

IFTIKHAR: Peace.

CHARLES: Thank you, Cheryl.

NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

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