FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.
On today's Bloggers' Roundtable, marchers in Washington call for justice against hate crimes, and a teenage girl may have committed suicide over a MySpace prank.
Joining us today, Shavar Jeffries from blackprof.com; also, Patrice Elizabeth Grell Yursik, creator of afrobella.com; and Nashieqa Washington from yourblackfriend.com.
Ms. PATRICE ELIZABETH GRELL YURSIK (Blogger, Afrobella.com): Hello.
Ms. NASHIEQA WASHINGTON (Blogger, Yourblackfriend.com): Glad to be here.
Mr. JAVAR JEFFRIES (Blogger, Blackprof.com): Hi.
CHIDEYA: So let's…
Mr. JEFFRIES: Very happy to be here.
CHIDEYA: Let's start out with this hate crime protest. On Friday, tens of thousands of marchers took to the nation's capital, demanding the government crackdown on racial hate crimes. The frustration comes from incidents, including nooses in the Jena Six case. Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III led marchers to surround the Justice Department building, and they said they hope to send a message for change to the new attorney general, Michael Mukasey. Here's what one marcher, Tabitha Walton(ph), told NPR.
Ms. TABITHA WALTON: We're marching for justice. We're marching for equality. We're marching the same treatment under the law. The Constitution, it's supposed to protect us. We're marching to have anyone who commit any hate crimes be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
CHIDEYA: Patrice, some observers said, wow, I'm surprised how many people turned out. Were you surprised that tens of thousands of people showed up? And is protest marching, is gathering in the nation's capital a form of protest that makes a difference?
Ms. YURSIK: I was a bit surprised, actually, at the size of the turnout because I honestly wasn't completely clear about the initial goal of the march. I think - I understand it was a response to the series of racially motivated brutality and the preponderance of nooses as symbolic threat, but I didn't really get that and I think - I don't know, I mean, I - obviously, he reached people, but I wasn't fully aware of it. I was more of aware over the counterprotest against Al Sharpton's protest.
CHIDEYA: Tell us about those protests - counterprotests.
Ms. YURSIK: The counterprotest was - that was - I read about it on whataboutourdaughters.blog and it was kind of to highlight Dunbar Village and other issues that get swept under the rug versus the bigger, more attention-getting issues like Jena Six, which continues to cause controversy within our own community.
CHIDEYA: Now, Shavar, what about the clarity of the message? Do you think that there was a clarity of message here?
Mr. JEFFRIES: I thought the message was clear. And I thought it was an important message to send because we've seen the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department politicized under the Bush administration. And we basically have a Justice Department over the last seven years now, which has been AWOL when it comes to civil rights matters. And it's consistent with what we've seen in terms of politicization of the Justice Department across the board, whether the U.S. attorney scandal, whether it's the fact that Attorney General Gonzales in many ways had to back and call the president. So I thought it's an important message to send, which is that the federal government needs to play an active role in ensuring that the federal civil rights laws of this country are enforced.
CHIDEYA: Nashieqa, what message did you draw about the validity - not the validity but the power of protest in this current era?
Ms. WASHINGTON: I think it's relying on the paradigm that we're all accustomed to as far as the civil rights era is concerned. But I do think it's important that we show that we're able to gather these many people in opposition to the lack of enforcements of these laws. So I think it is important as well as the counterprotest, just to kind of cap on that. And I don't know if the counterprotest, but it's important to also highlight the intraracial problems as well.
CHIDEYA: Yeah. The Dunbar Village case had to do with African-American perpetrators and an African-American victim. Is that something that gets enough attention?
Ms. WASHINGTON: Well, within the black community, I think, it gets enough attention. But I think we're still kind of falling prey to this idea that we don't want to air our dirty laundry when it's obviously clear to everyone what's going on within the black community were imploding.
CHIDEYA: That's a strong word. Shavar, what do you think about that?
Mr. JEFFRIES: Well, I do think that we have a lot of black issues internal to the race that need to be our principal focus. I don't think the media's interested in covering the extent to which black folks meet with one another to talk about the challenges we have internally.
I mean, here in Newark, where I live, everyday, I mean, there's community-based functions, where people of color are trying to organize with one another to face the very serious crime challenges we have, the educational challenges we have. The media just isn't interested in that. If we start talking about what white folks aren't doing, they'll show up.
So I don't think it's that worried about airing our dirty laundry. It's just the media isn't interested in covering those stories unless we can talk about some white perpetrator. But I do believe that our principal focus needs to be on working with one another to resurrect our communities because poor black people are really having it bad right now. And I think we can do a much better job internally in changing that reality.
CHIDEYA: And Patrice, there recently were a few different studies that talked about downward mobility, not for all African-Americans, but particularly for people whose families were middle class or solid working class, people falling into poverty, some staggering statistics. What do you think - and will a protest march like this about hate crimes really do anything about some of these other issues that have to do with economics, social mobility?
Ms. YURSIK: I don't think so. I mean, I think that it is - it's a wonderful thing to gather that many people together. And it is a very symbolic gesture. But I don't know if it addresses those issues of poverty. I think that at the end of it, it's kind of it's easy to wear a T-shirt that says, you know, free the Jena Six, or to hold up a placard or whatever. But - you know, I think without the discussion within our own community before we take to the streets, I don't know if these issues will truly ever be resolved.
CHIDEYA: Patrice, I want to move on to completely different situation. There was a 13-year-old Missouri girl who killed herself after she was attacked by peers on her MySpace account.
According to reports from CNN, Megan Meier met a guy named Josh Evans on MySpace. He told Megan that he wanted to be a couple. Megan reportedly considered him a boyfriend. But she never actually met this Josh in person. And he didn't even exist.
According to the police report, the family's neighbors created this false profile to see if Megan would say bad things about the neighbor's daughter. And the fictional Josh Evans then dumped Megan. Josh, who doesn't exist, and others then posted mean notes and messages about Megan in MySpace's public forum. And Megan, then, hung herself in her room. Someone told the Meier family weeks later that this Josh Evans did not exist.
Do you blame the people who did this prank for her death, Patrice?
Ms. YURSIK: I mean, definitely. I mean, I'm sure that they didn't know ahead of time that their actions would lead her to this desperate act. But - I mean, the fact that adults could be involved in something like this and, I mean, plausibly have come up with the whole idea is just it's really disgusting. It's the kind of story that makes you want to believe in karma. I would love to think that the family who started this whole thing feels genuine remorse. But if you're the kind of people who would attack a 13-year-old girl, you might not know what remorse is.
CHIDEYA: Nashieqa, there is no law actually forbidding this. The FBI and the police say that they can't do anything about it. This is something that obviously is, you know, there is laws about slander. But there is - in the modern era, something like this is a completely different animal. Is it time to go back and change the laws? Or is this just a case where the chips fall where they may, and even if they cause a child's death, there's nothing that can be done legally?
Ms. WASHINGTON: I think I saw a term thrown around, cyber bullying, with regard to…
Ms. WASHINGTON: …the type of story. And I'm not so sure if they can do something to change the law. I mean, again, the fact that this grown or this adult woman - she's obviously very immature - would post something to try to find out what was being said about her daughter. Where do you begin with that? I mean, it's kind of a moral - it's a moral issue at some point. How do you legislate that, is basically the question. How do you keep people who are supposed to be responsible from taking part in irresponsible acts? So I'm not quite sure about that.
CHIDEYA: Shavar, I was at a teen conference once, and a girl came up to me and said, do you think MySpace is dangerous? And I said, yes. I think it's dangerous but cars are dangerous and, you know, crossing the street can be dangerous. The question is what kind of risk do you expose yourself to. But that relies that kind of discussion relies on talking to a teen who has some idea that there are risks.
Who do you put this question of risk on? Should the parents be doing more monitoring? Should MySpace be doing more monitoring? What kinds of - even if it's not as extreme as this, who really should be taking control of these situations?
Mr. JEFFRIES: You know, I would say all of the above. I think MySpace has a responsibility to its public to ensure that there isn't fraud ongoing in their space and that other important public values upheld. I think the government has a role to ensure as well that people can converse with one another and be free from fraud and from other harmful things. But I also think parents, I mean, I have two children myself, and I think I have a responsibility to talk to my children and try to instill in them the right kinds of values and also to protect them and to let them know they need to be able to protect themselves.
And also to, I mean, that you can't be - I don't know precisely what was said about this young girl, and it sounds as if it was very outrageous, but I also want my children to love themselves so that no matter what someone else says to them, it won't so affect their psyche that it affects their self-esteem in the first sense, let alone, it affects to such a grave degree that they feel they need to take their life. So I think there's responsibility all across the board.
CHIDEYA: Well, I want to reintroduce who's with us and the topic.
This is NPR's NEWS & NOTES. I am Farai Chideya.
And we've got our Bloggers Roundtable going on. Shavar Jeffries is from Blackprof.com, Patrice Elizabeth Grell Yursik creator of Afrobella.com, and Nashieqa Washington from Yourblackfriend.com.
You guys are taking a little bit of heat - and I don't mean individually, I mean black bloggers - from the blacktresses on Essence magazine's December issue. You've got Sanaa Lathan, Nia Long and Gabrielle Union. They talked about the ups and downs of Hollywood and they said that the black bloggers have the knives out for them way more than the white press. Gabriel said, quote, "when you hear crap about us, it is coming from our own community which hurts." She griped that black bloggers, quote, "rip us to shreds ever two seconds from our nose to the weave to the clothes to the shoes to the ashy ankles.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHIDEYA: Patrice, Afrobella.com deals with beauty, in part, what do you think about all that?
Ms. YURSIK: I mean, I agree with their essential argument. There is a lot of negativity in the bloggersphere, but I can't say that the black gossip blogs are any more negative than the white gossip blogs. And I read about this issue on concrete loop which is one of the more popular black gossip blogs and, you know, they get their source from Page Six. So the information that the she's upset about…
CHIDEYA: That's the New York Post's gossip column.
Ms. YURSIK: Right, exactly. So the information that she's upset about is, you know, it's being published or made public in the black bloggersphere but it came from a mainstream source to begin with. So I don't want to dismissively say that they should be happy, people are talking about them. But if you're not happy with the way you're being portrayed in the media, then do something positive to counteract that and show that you're about more than…
Ms. WASHINGTON: Absolutely.
Ms. YURSIK: …just appearing at the opening of an envelope in a pretty dress.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHIDEYA: Nashieqa, do you think that the issue is just that you feel more hurt by family in this broad sense than you do by other people?
Ms. WASHINGTON: I think that's true. But I also think that people tend to claim the family or come back to the community because I think another one of the actresses - maybe it was Nia Long - mentioned that we are three of the blacktresses who are firmly based in the community, and I'm not quite sure what she meant by that. Does she mean that the other black actresses are not based in the community somehow or that they are more black or - I just - I wasn't sure what the whole point of this discussion was? And I agree, wholeheartedly, that is Gabriel Union wants some other kind of coverage or less coverage or coverage of her in her art then she should do something, you know, more pertinent than appearing at whatever latest opening or party or - do something with your craft.
Ms. YURSIK: Mm-hmm.
CHIDEYA: Shavar, sites like TMZ.com and Perez Hilton's blog, they're not always very nice to celebrities, is there - should there be any expectation that the blogosphere - black, white, purple - has any obligation to play nice, or is there a pendulum swing where people might have to give up some of the meanness of the blogging world?
Mr. JEFFRIES: You know, I think that black journalists, whether they're bloggers or otherwise, in general, I would hope would have - would be particularly concerned about social justice in the work they do and that of course reflects my own perspective about the obligation I think people of color owe to one another.
Now, what that means in a particular context of entertainers, I'm not sure. Although, I think, it does mean we should demand that entertainers in their work or in their extracurricular activities act in ways that serve the broader interest of the people. I mean, talking about weaves, if their knees are ash, and that kind of thing, to me is frankly so too trivial that A: I don't know why the actresses would be so upset, and B: I would hope that we could focus on things more a bit substantive. But - so my perspective is that I would hope that black bloggers would be a bit - would be a bit more concerned about social justice than others as a general matter.
CHIDEYA: Let's take a very quick tour of another pop culture issue there was, in Los Angeles, the American Music Awards last night. Beyonce got a grand honor, this year's international artist award, but Justin Timberlake beat her for best soul R&B album.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHIDEYA: He beat out Beyonce and R. Kelly. Now…
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHIDEYA: Okay. You're laughing. Why are you laughing?
Ms. WASHINGTON: I didn't watch the show. I think that's funny. It's just - it's funny that Justin Timberlake was the best soul artist for the American Music Awards?
CHIDEYA: Now, what does that mean to you?
Ms. WASHINGTON: It's just - I guess it means that the whole idea of what soul is - it's shifted. The blue-eyed soul, the Robin Fix and the Justin Timberlakes of the world. I guess that it's - everybody is - its fair game now.
CHIDEYA: Shavar, what do you think?
Mr. JEFFRIES: You know I agree with that. I mean, I think - I like Justin Timberlake's work, but I don't know if I would call it soulful in any meaningful way. I think the bottom line is - I mean, I'm reminded about the Oscars when the brothers received the Oscar for "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp." And - which to me was the comedy of the absurd. I think, you know, the bottom line is I think you can't bank on the AMA's, which frankly is an elite sort of white-dominated institution, to be able to define soul in the ways that are going to be - that are likely going to reflect black folks' perception of what it means to be a soul artist and I think this award reflects that.
CHIDEYA: Is it a question of who stole the soul?
Mr. JEFFRIES: I think…
Ms. WASHINGTON: It's who owns the soul?
Mr. JEFFRIES: …that's right. Probably - I don't want to define it totally in racial terms because I think a lot of white folks can get down with the best of them. I just don't think Justin is one of them.
CHIDEYA: All right guys, we're going to have to warp it up there. Shavar, Patrice and Nashieqa, thank you so much.
Ms. WASHINGTON: Thank you.
Mr. JEFFRIES: Thank you.
Ms. YURSIK: Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving.
CHIDEYA: Happy Thanksgiving.
Nashieqa Washington from Yourblackfriend.com, Shavar Jeffries from Blackprof.com and he joined us from member station WBGO in Newark, New Jersey. And we also have from Afrobella, Patrice Elizabeth Grell Yursik.