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'Shop' Talk: Death of NFL Star, 'I Wish I Was White'
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'Shop' Talk: Death of NFL Star, 'I Wish I Was White'
'Shop' Talk: Death of NFL Star, 'I Wish I Was White'
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MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

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

Coming up, Back Talk where you tell us what you have to say about the stories on the show this week. Your calls and blog postings are next.

But first, it's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop where the guys talking about whatever's in the news and whatever's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shapeup this week are freelance writer, Jimi Izrael; editor and civil rights attorney, Arsalan Iftikhar; media executive Nick Charles; and Ruben Navarrette, a syndicated columnist.

I know the guys have a lot to talk about. I may jump in, but for now, take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Hey, hey, fellows, welcome to the shop. How are we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, J, what's up?

NICK CHARLES: Doing good, J.

RUBEN NAVARRETTE: Doing good.

IZRAEL: All right. Well, I'm afraid we got to start the shop off with kind of a sad note. Washington Redskin Sean Taylor was shot during a break-in at his home in Florida. He died later from his injuries and, of course, our condolences go out to the family and friends of this young man, shot down at the age of 24.

Now, Ruben, is it just me or does the media always presume the worst-case scenario when young black men get shot?

NAVARRETTE: No, I don't think it's just you. I think that's true, and I think that the added dimension of this is professional athletes. You know, if you have a story about a professional athlete who ends up getting shot, there's a history there in various sports - whether it's boxing or football or basketball - of folks misbehaving. And so I think when they hear that, they jump to a conclusion automatically that, oh, if somebody got shot, it must have been during the commission of a crime like maybe a holdup or something.

In this case, it was a case of a victim. He was somebody who, apparently, according to the reports, had his house broken into, he fends off the attacker and he ends up getting shot.

IZRAEL: Nick, how do you feel about that?

CHARLES: I'll give you two statistics. One is that 85 out of every 100,000 black men between 15 and 24 in 2004, died from homicide, compared to the national average of six per 100,000. The fact of the matter is it is an epidemic. And, you know, whether he's a victim or he knew his attacker or he knew the - the details are murky, his house was broken into a week before, someone left a knife on his bed. Because of the news every night and the toll that happens every day of young black men dying en mass, automatically, the knee-jerk thing to think is, oh, my God, there's another one.

IZRAEL: Arsalan, having listened to Nick and Ruben, so this couldn't be a random act of crime?

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, it could've been, but, you know, Antrel Rolle, who plays cornerback for the Arizona Cardinals, who's known Sean since he was six years old and they played at the University of Miami together, you know, said that, you know, he did fear for his life. And I think that what saddens me the most is that, you know, we hear about Sean Taylor because, you know, he was number 21 on the Washington Redskins. If he was a social worker, you know, in the streets of Philadelphia, who got murdered, you know, we probably, you know, wouldn't even hear a blip on the radar.

IZRAEL: Mm-hmm. Do a lot of these cases go unsolved? I mean, I know we haven't found Biggie and Tupac's killers yet.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, exactly.

IZRAEL: I mean...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: I mean, Arsalan, why? What's up with that? I mean, are we not worth investigating?

IFTIKHAR: Well, I think that's a very valid question. I think that a lot of times, the police, you know, point to the lack of leads or the fact that there are too many leads, especially when...

IZRAEL: Right.

IFTIKHAR: ...dealing with a high-profile victim like that. But I also, you know, do think that, you know, it is symptomatic of the pandemic there. You know, if this was a white quarterback for an NFL team...

IZRAEL: Right.

IFTIKHAR: ...you know, we might be finding a lot of more expedient justice.

NAVARRETTE: And I think another reason stories like this are noteworthy is because - you remember our conversation about Michael Vick not long ago, and this notion that somehow, for better or for worse, the narrative was if he were somebody who left - who was from a one-world and he went into the world of professional sports and his million-dollar contracts and endorsement deals, but he never left the other world behind. And so now applying it to this, I think that a lot of folks look at these individuals as having, you know, the golden ticket. This God-given ability, this talent, they make a lot of money at it and we hope that somehow that will allow them to be pulled out of those circumstances.

MARTIN: But...

NAVARRETTE: Do you want to know why it's newsworthy? That's why it's newsworthy. It's man-bites-dog.

MARTIN: But what role was Sean Taylor in? I mean, his father was a police chief. He went to, you know, a private school.

NAVARRETTE: Again...

MARTIN: Why is he supposed to be from a hood? I don't think he was.

IFTIKHAR: Well, but I mean...

IZRAEL: I think there's a talk that he led this kind of a hood life. And I think we're just going to have to wait for more facts to unfold. And in the meantime, we're just going to have to send our condolences off to the friends and family. Just wait for that fact to come out.

But more from the world of football. Inexplicably, Ricky Williams, former marijuana enthusiast, quote fingers up, and seeker of knowledge has found his way back into the NFL.

Nick, now, for those of us who don't know about Ricky, can you give us some background?

CHARLES: Well, you know, the Texas Tornado, as he used to be called, when he played at the University of Texas. Great running back, but a bit of a flower child, very shy. He used to give interviews with his helmet on and a visor so he wouldn't make eye contact. He came into professional football. He had the skills, but he just didn't have the temperament. And, yes, he liked to, you know, burn a couple of weeds now and then.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CHARLES: And that doesn't, that does not jive with the NFL's policy. But, you know...

IZRAEL: Okay, well, or the law.

CHARLES: Well, hold up, hold up. He actually went to California...

IZRAEL: Go ahead.

CHARLES: ...and got a dispensation from medicinal marijuana.

IZRAEL: Right.

CHARLES: So he was able to smoke. And then he said he'd stop smoking so he could get back into NFL.

IFTIKHAR: You know, they let all pro-linebacker Ray Lewis back into the National Football League after he was acquitted of manslaughter charges. They're thinking about bringing Pacman Jones back into the NFL and so, you know, to give Ricky a hard time because he smoked some of the wacky tobbacky I think is a little bit rough.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Let's keep it moving and talk about the NBC series on the concerns of black women this week, called "African-American Women: Where They Stand," and I think there's one standing in the studio.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Yo, Michel, I know you got that juicy clip right about now, right?

MARTIN: I'm just wondering whether you're all are going to lie to me and tell me you actually watched the series or what? I mean, because you're all...

IZRAEL: I did.

NAVARRETTE: I didn't lie to you.

MARTIN: Did you watch it?

IZRAEL: I watched it. I watched it in split - while playing "Manhunter" on the other screen.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CHARLES: I watched some of it online because I think if you blinked, you miss it on the (unintelligible) on the news.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

MARTIN: This is a short clip from the NBC series on "African-American Women," and this is Angela Burt-Murray. She is the editor-in-chief of Essence magazine.

(SOUNDBITE OF NBC SERIES, "AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMEN: WHERE THEY STAND")

ANGELA BURT: I mean, the African-American women has always been the caregiver and the nurturer for the community. So even as African-American women continue to excel, there's obviously significant concern about how her brother is doing. And she wants to see even if it's not, you know, a personal relationship with her, she wants to see black men do well.

MARTIN: What do you think? What does everybody think? Is it that - I'm just curious like Arsalan.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

MARTIN: If they did a series on - I don't know what would you say...

IFTIKHAR: Well, I thought it was...

MARTIN: ...Muslim Women and where they stand?

IFTIKHAR: I think it's great, you know, just because, you know, we happen to know how empowered African-American women are, I think that that doesn't necessarily mean that the American public knows that. And I don't think that it's a story that can be told enough. I'm sorry.

MARTIN: Well...

IFTIKHAR: In one of those stories that said that African-American women make up 30 percent of the Democratic primary voters in South Carolina. I mean, that is a swing vote.

CHARLES: Well, I agree with Arsalan to a point. But I think this is one of those, you know, every so often they discover a group and here you have black women, they're much more important than three minutes every night to five nights - as opposed to having some really in-depth ongoing coverage of what their lives are like.

MARTIN: Is that - I don't know.

Ruben, what do you think with this whole like single you out as a group?

NAVARRETTE: Latina thing.

MARTIN: Latina thing. I don't know. I mean, on the one hand, we do it like there's a Latina magazine, there's Essence magazine. There's a Catalina. There's Aubrey, there's, you know.

NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

MARTIN: On the other hand, the mainstream does it though is kind of like ick. I don't know, what do you think?

NAVARRETTE: Yeah. I mean, I sort of have mixed feelings about it. My first instinct is to say what Arsalan said, which is the more the merrier, you know. We need to hear the story more and more, but I think when you start getting into a demographic, in this case, black Americans, and you start splitting that up into pieces then it gets a little hokey. I mean, somebody got the idea of doing African-American women. They could just as easily have done African- Americans under 40, or over 40, or whatever...

MARTIN: Step light. Step light.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NAVARRETTE: You know, so to, or you know...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Where are you going with that?

NAVARRETTE: So I think there's lots of different, I guess I'd feel the same way if they did a special on Latinas. They've said with you got this 40 million, 44 million Latinos in the country, but let's just take a look at the women No, no, let's take a look at the men. No, no, I mean, once you start splitting it like that I'm not sure you're accomplishing all these.

CHARLES: Well, as think it's (unintelligible) for black women for the simple reason they are far outpacing the accomplishments of the black men, particularly in college and with businesses.

MARTIN: Jimi, what do you think?

IZRAEL: I think...

MARTIN: I'm afraid to ask actually. What is...

IZRAEL: I think there's a difference between, you know, a news program doing like a niche-marketing thing, and this kind of passes for me as colonial anthropology as much as TV.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: I'm not down with that, right.

MARTIN: Ow.

IZRAEL: I'm not down with that. You know what I'm saying? I mean, you know, seeing it is doing in fact the same thing called black men at risk. They got something there, they're kind of ratcheting up. And, you know, for me, it's like they deal - they deal with black people and they deal with blackness like it's - as a disease that has to be studied. I'm not down with that. You know, I mean, well here...

MARTIN: It's interesting because it's like being kind of in the newsroom, so- called general audience newsrooms where you're kind of like, okay, you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. If you don't do these series and people really don't care if you do, and then people feel they're under the microscope, like you are saying like, why do you need to study me, like I'm not a bug, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NAVARRETTE: To ask you that correctly and with the occasion, it can't be done in a stereotypical way.

IZRAEL: Well, you know, this is me. I'm that dude. And I thought the health care information was really timely, but, you know, it will always about these programs is I'm wondering, where are all the happily married black women are because only the women that can't find men good enough for them...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NAVARRETTE: Oh no.

IZRAEL: ...a man who is (unintelligible)...

MARTIN: All right, all right.

NAVARRETTE: Jimi, oh, it's the women's fault. It's...

MARTIN: Yeah.

NAVARRETTE: Like you're going to understand now.

CHARLES: It's pretty stupid.

IZRAEL: Let's keep on moving.

CHARLES: Let all (unintelligible).

IFTIKHAR: They're out there, you just don't like them.

MARTIN: Don't like (unintelligible). I'll be forwarding all the mail.

NAVARRETTE: Yeah, yeah.

CHARLES: (Unintelligible).

IZRAEL: Okay, we'll check this out, check this out. Now, speaking of people singing entire songs, you know, singer Allen Watty sings the song about wishing he was white, so he can experience true freedom.

MARTIN: You want to hear that?

IZRAEL: Wait a second.

MARTIN: You guys want to hear?

IZRAEL: I know we got a clip.

MARTIN: You want to hear?

IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

MARTIN: Here it is.

IZRAEL: So bust that clip right about now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMETIMES I WISH I WAS WHITE")

ALLEN WATTY: (Singing) Sometimes I feel, I wish I was white, so I could feel, just how it feels to be treated right. I'm not ashamed of me. Just one time, I want to see, how it feels to be treated equally, because I have learned to face the fact. I'm never going to be treated right as long as I am black.

IZRAEL: Wow. Now, you know, now you know what? I think that's Michael Jackson on the low, but, yo, Nicky(ph), this Allen guy, do you think this is, you know, any kind of thought-provoking satire? Was it just kind of young - one young man's cry for help?

CHARLES: No, I don't think he's that off base. You know, in this kind of parody. It's kind of satirical, it's kind of funny, and we - all of us sit and talking about white privilege, white privilege. Well, he just put it in a song and said, okay, white privilege exists, so maybe I want to get that as opposed to being a black person because, obviously, black can't work with some folks.

IZRAEL: Wow.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NAVARRETTE: Black can't work, because that's like you take it back to electronic store and say I'd like to give this back...

MARTIN: (Unintelligible).

IZRAEL: All right. This is garbage.

CHARLES: You know, aside from my son and like, you know, throw it back to the (unintelligible) days, you know, I think that it's kind of like Weird Al Yankovich, you know, singing about "Eat It," you know, it's funny. You understand them that that they're trying to get across. I think it's harmless, and I think it's got a pretty decent hook to it.

IZRAEL: Well, you know, my favorite song, the song that had a good beat with a great singer and some you could kind of hum along too. Yo, Michel, you got that for me right about now?

MARTIN: Oh yeah. Here it is. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M BLACK AND I'M PROUD")

JAMES BROWN: (Singing) Uh, with your bad self. Say it louder.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) I'm black and I'm proud.

BROWN: (Singing) Say it louder.

Group: (Singing) I'm black and I'm proud.

NAVARRETTE: That's what I'm talking, Godfather.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NAVARRETTE: You know, that's what I'm talking about.

MARTIN: But that's - that was kind of my question. It doesn't - don't both of them feel a little dated. I mean, aren't we back beyond both songs. It's just feels musty to me. I don't know.

CHARLES: Why does this feel musty, Michel? Do you think we are in the post- race age?

MARTIN: No, no, I don't think we're on a post-race age. I just think that the way we talk about these things have to change because we keep having the same conversation over and over again - people don't want to hear it.

IFTIKHAR: I agree with you. We need new paradigms. But I think unfortunately...

CHARLES: Sure.

IFTIKHAR: ...we're locked into language we know.

MARTIN: That - I mean, when you're sitting around at Thanksgiving dinner table talking about white privilege? I think not.

CHARLES: No, I was talking about white and dark meat.

MARTIN: Okay.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: They know.

NAVARRETTE: This is very fair, very fair.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: We got a call it a wrap. Fellows, thanks so much Michel went up to the shop, and I got to kick it back to the lady of the house, Michel Martin.

MARTIN: All the right. Jimi Izrael joined us from WFSU in Tallahassee, Florida. He's a freelance writer and reporter. Ruben Navarrette writes for the San Diego Union Tribunal and CNN.com. He joined us from KPBS in San Diego. Arsalan Iftikhar is a contributing editor for Islamica magazine and a civil rights attorney. He joins us from our studios in Washington. And Nick Charles is the vice president of Digital Content at BET.com. He joined us from our Bureau in New York.

You can find links to all of our Barbershop guests at our Web site, npr.org/tellmemore.

Gentlemen, thanks so much for joining us.

IFTIKHAR: Thank you, Michel.

NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

CHARLES: Thank you.

IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

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