Obama's Father's Day Speech Stirs Reaction

The guys in this week's barbershop — Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Nick Charles and Gustavo Arrellano — comb through the latest headlines. This week, they talk about Senator Obama's Father's Day message, reaction to the trial verdict of R&B singer R. Kelly, and the NBA's Celtics big win over the Lakers to clinch the national title.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is Tell Me More from NPR news. It's time for our weekly visit to the barber shop where the guys talk about whatever is in the news and whatever is on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for our shape up this week are freelance writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, columnist Gustavo Arellano and media executive Nick Charles. I may jump in here or there but for now take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Yo, yo fellas! What's up? Welcome to the shop. How we doing?

Mr. NICK CHARLES (Media Executive): Hey, Jimi, what's up?

ARSALA IFTIKHAR: Hey Jimi.

IZRAEL: You know what, you know what? Your boy, Senator Barack Obama issued stern admonitions to black fathers in the speech he gave on Father's Day. Now, let's take for in consideration, Obama is a junior, and you may feel that pain of a father's absence a little more than an average kid. Michel, I wasn't really buying it. But I think he got some tape, don't you?

MARTIN: Yeah, this is, do you guys want to hear a little bit of it?

Mr. CHARLES: Yeah.

MARTIN: And obviously, you know it was a long speech. It was given at church. I would argue a sermon. And there was some sermon qualities where, you know he got a lot of the - you know he had some hooping moments where you know, got the crowd going, but that everything that struck me is that he got very personal. Here's a short clip.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): So I resolve many years ago that it was my obligation to break the cycle.

(Soundbite of crowd)

Senator OBAMA: That if I could do anything in life, I would be a good father to my children. That if I could do anything, I would give them that rock, that foundation. I wish to built their lives.

MARTIN: Kind of unusual thing to hear from a presidential candidate. Jimi, take it away.

IZRAEL: Thanks so much. I guess what disturbed me, Nick was that directing the message squarely at black men kind of suggest some kind of in-bred pathological defect and you know, with me, that dog don't hunt. What do you say Nick?

Mr. CHARLES: I agree with you. I think you know, if you're going to call people out, call everybody out, I think it's not just black fathers or black men who have issues with being parents or being able to take care of their kids, and I think if you're going to be the president of everybody, you got to call everybody out.

MARTIN: OK, but hold guys. Statistically it is true that African-American kids are far less likely to live with their parents than kids, both parents. Particularly fathers than kids of other groups. That's just the truth, right?

Mr. CHARLES: That's also...

IZRAEL: Last time I checked, Michel it takes two to tango. I mean, you know, father can't stay in the house if the mother doesn't want him there, right?

Mr. CHARLES: More importantly than that, you know, the statistical and economic and legislative stuff that keeps fathers out of houses. You know, if you're in a situation where you are working class or in the underclass and you still have a man in the house, you can't get aid from the government. And even if that...

IZRAEL: That's right.

Mr. CHARLES: And even if that guy wants to be there and try to help out of best he can with whatever minimum wage he has, he can't show up in the house. When, you know - and when it come looking for to see exactly what the situation is. So there are lot of issues around being able to parent that have nothing to do with the desire for men to parent.

MARTIN: So both of you object to his - in your view singling out or having a message that seem to single out African-American fathers? Is that what...

Mr. CHARLES: I have no problem with the message. I just have that problem with sending it to one particular group and that's unfair because Latino fathers, Asian fathers, Caucasian fathers find themselves in the same situation.

MARTIN: Mm. What do the other guys think?

IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: What if the...

Mr. GUSTAVO ARELLANO (Columnist): I don't see the problem at all with a presidential candidate talking about fatherhood. Fatherhood is one of the - or parenting is one of the principal foundations of having a good society, having good cultures. So for Obama to say that message, I think it's important. You know it's true that, you know maybe he shouldn't have targeted specifically African-American fathers. I wouldn't be able to speak because I'm not African-American nor am I father so - but I still think that it's important to get that message out there. I think it's brave of him to say that and to then suffer any criticism that he may have. It's a good conviction. And also, of course, he is speaking from personal experience so I think that's why he's...

IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. ARELLANO: He's speaking about that specifically because he was affected by having an absent father.

Mr. CHARLES: Yeah, but you know, with there something about that I am a father now. And my father was always in my life when my parents divorced. My father got the kids, but I also understood why I had friends who didn't have that how they came to not have it. I never saw myself as being in a better position or being a superior position because my dad was always around. It's just different circumstances. I think the desire to be a good parent is in every man. And these things sometimes, you know, events conspire and sometimes there are people who just, you know drop the ball. But a lot of people, you know, don't have the wherewithall to do it.

MARTIN: Mm.

IZRAEL: Thanks. Sometimes...

Mr. CHARLES: Yeah.

MARTIN: What about Arsalan?

IFTIKHAR: We also have to look at it from a political vantage point. Professor Michael Eric Dyson wrote an interesting piece in Time Magazine where he was essentially saying that Barack was essentially killing two political birds with one stone. He wanted to be seen by the nation as an honest broker. He was, you know speaking to black folks, but he was also tacitly reaching out to white voters who might be on the fence. You know, with the whole Jeremiah Wright thing, you know the whole honest broker thing, and I think we have to look at it. Again, this is a presidential campaign, so we do have to look at it from a political vantage point as well and you know, again, it may not have been the best venue for it. But I think again, I think he was trying to kill two political birds with one stone.

IZRAEL: Now, A-Train, you are on the record as an Obama supporter. I just got to tell you man, your boy cannot get votes at my expense. Now, what's this with Obama's staffers, they removed two women in Muslim scarves from a photo opportunity. What's up with that? Now, wait a second, A-Train, give us some background on the scarves the young ladies were wearing.

IFTIKHAR: Well, the Hijab...

IZRAEL: Ridiculous.

IFTIKHAR: The Hijab or the head scarf is something that devout Muslim women wear as a part of their Islamic identity. It's not something that you know, something that they believe is a religious mandate and something that's, you know, part and parcel of their life, and so they were two 25-year-old women in Michigan. One of them was a lawyer, who were asked by some of the volunteered manned staff in Detroit, you know to not be in the picture. Basically you know if...

MARTIN: Did they say why? Or they just figured it out why?

IFTIKHAR: Well, they were given two different reasons. You know. one of them according to USA Today, one of the volunteered mans people who herself was African-American, woman in her 20s. She actually told one of the girls that because of the cold political climate that were in with Muslim-Americans and things that deals with Muslim world, you know it wouldn't be wise. Another one was told that we don't allow people with you know, baseball caps or bandanas on so you know your head scarf wouldn't be allowed on either. Even though you know, Hijabs and Yamakas and Sikh men, you know wearing a turban, you know are all protected under a constitutional freedoms. And you know, honestly, when I heard the story, I mean, to be honest it was a dumb mistake. It was redunculous. It was ludicrous. It was...

IZRAEL: Mm.

IFTIKHAR: It does not speak to the Obama campaign. He took a picture the next day, it was another - a woman wearing Hijab at Wayne State University. He personally, according to Politico, he actually personally called both ladies apologizing that he himself was offended, and unfortunately, it's sort of a by product of what we've seen you know, the smears going around Barack's some sort crypto-Muslim you know and any sort of association with Muslims is a sin, so if he does events with Muhammad Ali or Dave Chappelle, both of whom are Muslims, you know are we going to see a hub-bub being raised there as well?

IZRAEL: I don't know about that. Gustavo, I'm not completely on board with A-Train's summation of that. Was this a need jerk reaction? Was this airing on the side of caution?

Mr. ARELLANO: It was both, and it's unfortunate. This to me is a sad story because it was not Obama himself who is telling these young Muslim ladies you can't be in my picture. It was campaign workers who were trying to be way too cautious, who are already thinking in purely political turns. And no, they realized that in this day and age they show a picture of a woman in Hijab, in some parts of the United States, the Hijab is going to be associated with terrorism especially with those question marks in which to me, is ridiculous that there's question marks about Obama being this Manchurian Muslim out there. With you think, you know, he has proven time and time again that he is not. But yet, these people are still going to get that association.

Oh my God, Obama is with the woman with the Hijab. Osama, rather Obama wants just the Muslims to rule the United States. It is sad, it is really sad. It is good for Obama to apologize to Muslim ladies and those campaign where - because he really need to talk to this campaign stop and say, look, I am not got to stand for this type of erring on the side of caution. We got to be truthful to what we believe in and not worry about what others are got to think about us.

MARTIN: Something tells me that conversation's already taken (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Speaking of Jimi. There was something else you wanted to talk about, right?

IZRAEL: I want to ask Nick. I mean, Nick, what was the right thing to do in this case? I mean...

Mr. CHARLES: I think you know obviously it was a knee-jerk reaction. I think it is a sign of the times. I think anybody taking a photograph at any woman with a Hijab is going to get in trouble. It may get to - a visit or a phone call from some federal authority. Because the fact of the matter is not just about these two women. It is about the whole idea of Muslims in general. And people have to come to, the groups is six million Arabs in this country. There are many more people who are Muslim, Arabs, who are Muslims African-Americans, and other folks who are Muslim. And have to get over the fact that you know they have these connections with quote unquote, "terrorism." We have American-Muslims who are nothing more than good Americans who want to be a part of the political process, they want to be able to celebrate the fact of the first African-American is running for the president. And if he is going to be an honest broker and the president of all the people, he should be able to - be photographed with Sikhs, with Hassidim...

IFTIKHAR: Right. Right.

Mr. CHARLES: And with Muslims.

IZRAEL: All right, fellas. All right, fellas. Move...

MARTIN: Let me just jump in for one just second here. If you're just joining us, you are listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. And I'm speaking with Jimi Izrael, Gustavo Arrellano, Nick Charles, and Arsalan Iftikhar in the Barbershop. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: All right, fellas. Moving forward, I hate to say I told you so. But singer R. Kelly was acquitted of 14 counts of child pornography in the Chicago court room this week. Now, A-Train, what did the prosecution need to prove its case in this case?

IFTIKHAR: Well, they needed to prove the counts beyond the reasonable doubt, and this case revolved around reasonable doubt and as an attorney myself, you know it really - again, to me it shows what a high priced lawyer in America could get you. You know, if this was, you know, rolling...

MARTIN: Step light, step light.

(Soundbite of laugher)

IFTIKHAR: I know, I know. Listen if R. Kelly was you know, Rolan Kelly an accountant that nobody knew, and you know had to be defended by a public defender. You know, this is not the first time, you know that we've seen this phenomenon and it really does you know, it shows that you know money and fame you know, can get you somewhere.

MARTIN: But doesn't that presume...

IZRAEL: All right.

MARTIN: You know better than the jury? I mean you weren't in that courtroom everyday.

IFTIKHAR: No, no of course not. And again, like I said it revolves around reasonable doubt.

IZRAEL: Right.

IFTIKHAR: His defense attorneys were successful in proving that there was reasonable doubt on all 14 of these counts. And you know, again, I think he should you know, thank his lucky stars and put his key in his own ignition and trap himself in a closet somewhere.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: No. No. Wait a second. The verdict came down last week. Now Nick, you know it's strange to me that we have the black communities specifically had a strange relationship with these men that have been accused with these types of crimes. We seem to forgive him pretty quick. Now, Michael Jackson, we all know about his troubles. But there's also - Marvin Gaye who famously courted a 17 year old Janice Hunter, and they even had two children, Nona and Frankie. How is this verdict going to affect R. Kelly going forward as an entertainer, you think?

Mr. CHARLES: Well, his next album is going to go gold. That's all I know. I think about it, is you have a guy who - you had a jury and even though Michel is right, we were not in the court room. The fact is they had made up their mind before they went into the deliberations. Because two hours before the verdict came down, two of them wanted to leave. They couldn't - they want to go home. They couldn't wait to get out. And the fact of the matter is if the woman who is the alleged victim herself, had said it was me because that's a big thing. She kept saying it wasn't me. Now, if she had come forward and said, you know actually it was me when I was 13 years old, and I made a mistake or he you know, he coerced me whatever, I would have been a horse of a different color. But the fact that the judge, the victim herself was like, hey, I'm not there.

MARTIN: You know what I'm curious about? You know, but there was a witness who testified that she had participated in the sexual acts.

Mr. CHARLES: Well, she is...

MARTIN: With this young lady.

Mr. CHARLES: She is the most uncredible witness in a long time.

IZRAEL: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CHARLES: She had - even two days ago she admitted she stole the video tape that she's alleged to have had of them during the sex act. She had stolen it from his own bag and it was a different video tape. So she never got her story (unintelligible). She never got her story correct. And as long as she was uncredible, the case was going to be shaky.

IZRAEL: She also stole jewelry I believe and everybody stay tuned for R. Kelly's remix. "I believe I can lie." So, Gustavo. Gustavo.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARRELLANO: You know, again, I wasn't on the jury, I wasn't the judge. I don't see the evidence. I really viewed this as - what happens all the time in the United States over all these prosecution of celebrities making into this big huge case that - where they really just try the thing, every single thing possible. It's happening to Barry Bonds right now. It's happened to God knows how many celebrities out here in Los Angeles. And R. Kelly got acquitted. Sure, I agree with Nick. A lot of money is going to get you a type of freedom. If it were just any Joe Schmo on the same charges, he'd probably in jail right now. But also, again, I haven't seen the evidence. I don't think - so if the jury says something was wrong with the evidence that it wasn't irreputable proof, then you know, R. Kelly deserves the freedom that he has. And especially if you - the alleged victim saying it wasn't me. Then hey, we have to believe the victim in some cases right?

IZRAEL: Speaking of beating the odds. The Boston Celtics...

Mr. CHARLES: Oh, geez.

IZRAEL: Took out the LA Lakers to win NBA finals. Pass me with the time. Oh, man. A-Train, I guess I got to let you in here, man. You were right. I was wrong. But we knew it wasn't the shoes, man. Because Kobe is - Kobe's wearing them J's, man.

MARTIN: Wait could you repeat that again?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Let's repeat that again, shall we? Jimi?

IZRAEL: A-train, you were right. I was wrong.

MARTIN: Ah, music.

IZRAEL: But it wasn't the shoes.

IFTIKHAR: No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: Go ahead, A-train.

IFTIKHAR: Gentleman, first of all the Boston Celtics made Kobe and the Lakers look like Alvin and the Chipmunks.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IFTIKHAR: I told, I predicted - hold on. You got to give me my 30 seconds. Now listen, I told you that Kevin, KG, "Big Ticket" Garnett, Ray Jesus Shuttlesworth still got gamed out and NBA finals. MVP Paul "The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" Pierce. We are going to raise their 17th banner. You all said, I drank the green Kool-aid. All I got to say is, I got some dirt on my Celtics jersey. Could y'all brush it off for me?

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: Nick, Nick, I don't believe this. What happened to the Lakers?

Mr. CHARLES: What happened to the Lakers is that the team was not as good as people thought it was. And Kobe, I guess, you know, I think he is probably the most talented player on the planet in terms of basketball. But also, I think he may have gotten a little worn down for the season and carrying this team in so many games. And when it came down to the finals, if he looked around, and he felt like, my God. I have Pau Gasol, a guy who can't wait to run back to Europe to see Spain play somebody in the European soccer championships. And Lamar Odom who shows up for one quarter every game and then disappears for the other three, and you really don't have a point guard that you can rely on as - Boston doesn't have one either.

But you know the Lakers have older one in Derek Fisher and a young one in Jordan Farmar who doesn't know how to run a team. When you look at all those pieces and combine it with really good defense by the Celtics, I'll give them that. You have a team that was waiting to get beat. But, I didn't think they want to lay down like the foolish mattress on Tuesday, the way they did, the fakers. But I can still say.

MARTIN: I still hear some hateration in there.

Mr. CHARLES: No, no, no. The fact that - you know the thing is, I'd also disagree that I saw somebody. I saw David Aldridge from ESPN who used to be at USA Today wrote a piece about how Green is the new black. I don't buy it. You know...

IFTIKHAR: I think it is!

Mr. CHARLES: The Celtics still play in Boston as far as I'm...

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: Go ahead.

Mr. IZMAEL: Go ahead, man. Go ahead.

IFTIKHAR: Well, I was going to say the Boston Celtics were the first team to start all five black players. This is in terms of integration into the NBA, the Boston Celtics read our book historically, check your records, they - and I agree with David Aldridge. Green is a new black. The Celtics are the - move over Detroit Pistons, the Celtics are the blackest team in the NBA.

MARTIN: OK. We're going to have to leave it there, guys. I'm sorry. But, we'll leave it there. I hate to give Arsalan the last word. But, you know he'll come from his club one day. Arsalan Iftikhar's a civil rights, attorney and contributing editor for Islamica Magazine. He joined us in Chicago. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist who writes for theroot.com and tvoneonline. He joined us from WCPN in Cleveland. Gustavo Arellano writes the Ask a Mexican column for the Orange County weekly. He joined us from KUCI in Irvine, California. And Nick Charles is the vice president of Digital Content and bet.com and he joined us from a New York bureau. Gentlemen, thanks so much for joining us in the show.

Mr. CHARLES: Thanks.

Mr. ARELLANO: Thanks.

IFTIKHAR: Thanks, Michel.

IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our show for today. I'm Michel Martin. And you've been listening to Tell Me More from NPR News in the African-American public radio consortium. Let's talk more on Monday.

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