FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
And now, on to our blogger's Roundtable, we've got more politics, plus Angelina Jolie gets nominated for NAACP Image Award, and New Jersey apologizes for slavery.
With us this week, Carmen Van Kerckhove, she is the cofounder and president of New Demographic, an anti-racism training company. She blogs at Racialicious.com. Also, Shay Riley of the blog Booker Rising and Bomani Jones. He teaches at Duke University and blogs at Bomanijoines.com. Welcome everybody.
Ms. CARMEN VAN KERCKHOVE (Cofounder and President, New Demographic; Blogger, Racialisicous.com): Thanks, Farai.
Ms. SHAY RILEY (Blogger, Booker Rising and Bomani Jones): Hello.
CHIDEYA: So we have been talking about the presidential race and during last night's debate in Las Vegas, Hillary Clinton declared a truce.
Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): Senator Obama and I agreed completely that, you know, neither race nor gender should be a part of this campaign.
CHIDEYA: Shay, you've been blogging about the issue. What are people saying?
Ms. RILEY: Well, it's very interesting, because most of my liberal and moderate bloggers support Obama. And they even have some moderate conservative - readers of my blog - who are supporting Obama. Of course, my Republican readers are supporting the Republican candidates. And what people are saying is that they believe that this was intentional in behalf of the Clinton campaign in order to tag Obama as, you know, the black candidate.
Because up until now, he's been, you know, promoting himself as, you know, an American politician trying to bridge together different groups of people who happens to be black as opposed to the black candidate. And so a lot of my readers feel that his was purposively done, you know, just an array of things whether the spade work comment or the fairy tale comment or just, you know, other things that are seen as racially coded language in order to…
CHIDEYA: Fairy tale comment coming from Bill Clinton.
Ms. RILEY: Yes. In order to, you know, tag Obama with this label and needing using black surrogates to do so. So people have been very upset with that on my blog.
CHIDEYA: I'm going to go to you, Bomani. There's also a question some bloggers are saying that all the talk about race, as important as it might be, is a distraction from the fact that a lot of candidates have not laid down a firm agenda for America, that there's a question of, well, what are you really going to do for us? How do you feel about that?
Mr. BOMANI JONES (Teacher, Duke University; Blogger, Bomanijones.com): Well, I thought that was the larger point that Hillary Clinton - they could have been made about Obama with the statement that Lyndon Johnson pushed through those initiatives not Martin Luther King. There's a question about Obama with his track record whether he has the experience necessary to push through any agenda at all, let alone what agenda that he can come up with.
If race injected as an issue has been a distraction, I'm somewhat stunned because maybe I have a bit of an old-school mentality. But it's kind of hard to avoid that Obama is black thing no matter how much people, you know, put it out there or pull it back. But I thought Clinton had a point, that the reason the civil rights legislation was pushed through as it was is because Lyndon Johnson was a most incredibly connected politician of his time. The agenda becomes very important and I think we have lost sight of that a bit.
CHIDEYA: Now, Carmen, you are someone who looks at how people react to race in the workplace. What about this debate in terms of - let me make a distinction. There are a lot of us who are news addicts, including a lot of bloggers. And then there are some people who are just like, oh, my gosh, can you turn off the TV? Can you turn off the radio? Can you click off the blog? Do you think that the issue of race, as it's playing out, is going to turn some people off?
Ms. VAN KERCKHOVE: I think that's always a possibility. But what to me is most unfortunate about how all the back and forth about race has developed is that it really seems to go against the spirit of Obama's approach to race. While the rest of the political machines seems to be stuck on this 1960s mindset, to me, as a multiracial Asian American woman, what I find most refreshing about Obama is that he really gets how race in America is lived in 2008.
You know, everyone else is still pushing this binary model that pretends like there are only two battling forces. You know, you're either black or white. You're either a victim or an oppressor. But Obama, you know, in his speech this weekend, I was really moved when he talked about a grassroots movement of people of all colors - black, white, Hispanic and Asian. And to me, that really reflects that he gets how race is lives in 2008.
CHIDEYA: Shay, there's also - as the candidates move on to Nevada, Barack Obama has been using the phrase, yes, we can, which, in Spanish, is Si, se puede. And is there, among other things, you know, a linguistic attempt to make this bridge to a multiracial America? If so, is it working?
Ms. RILEY: I think it can work. I mean, with the limited amount of Spanish that I know, I was thinking si, se puede, too, and you know, and hoping that he would use that. I would use it if I were him in Nevada. And you know, and it just shows that he's trying, you know, he's been running on this theme of change and transcendence. And that's part of his effort to bridge these different groups of people. But what's interesting is that a Rasmussen poll recently showed that there's this growing divide, if you will, among Democrats - racially, in terms of whom they're supporting with, you know, al overwhelming majority of white Democrats supporting Clinton and overwhelming majority of black Democrats now supporting Obama. It will be interesting to see how the Latino vote goes. But I think it will go for Clinton, personally.
So as an independent observer, I'm still deciding whether I'll even vote in the Democratic or the Republican primary. I'm not sure which one yet. It's just interesting to see how this is all shaking out racially as, you know, the candidacy - as the candidates, rather, try to promote change and bring the different groups together. But there seems to be more of a racial divide.
CHIDEYA: Bomani, earlier in the show, we spoke with Kwame Kilpatrick, the mayor of Detroit. And he was saying that what he wants to see from any candidate is really a focus on urban issues and how the federal government can interface better with cities. Is there space in the debates right now for talking about issues that are specific, that may not be specifically, for example, black issues but because of the urbanization of the black community, heavily effect African-Americans? Is there a way to really focus in on specific issues - urban issues, education, all that - in the middle of these other debate?
Mr. JONES: Well, it could very easily be done if someone simply brought the topic. It's not hard to create any topic of conversation in a debate or anything else. All someone has to do is bring it up and bring it up in a way that makes it compelling to a broad number of people. The problem, I think, as things stand now, is that black people are so marginalized (unintelligible) black and considered to be so dedicated to the Democratic cause. And in this case, I think there's a general assumption that the black population will follow behind Obama just because, I mean, he's black. You know, that's how the assumption will be that it will go that way. I think I would like to see more of discussion of urban issues. And I certainly think there's room. I just don't think I will come up because if you really, you know, look at the studies on who votes when and why, you're not going to see that come up in this election because the votes that these people are trying to carry as of right now really aren't that concerned with urban issues.
CHIDEYA: I will take quick tour of the entertainment world. Angelina Jolie recently nominated for Outstanding Actress by the NAACP Image Awards. This was for "A Mighty Heart," where she wore what some people consider brown skin to play Mariane Pearl, the wife and widow of Daniel Pearl, the journalist who was slain.
Now, Carmen, you've been blogging about this at Racialicious. What are people saying about whether or not it's weird for her to be nominated for this role?
Ms. VAN KERCKHOVE: A lot of people I know definitely think it's very weird. And you know, I looked up on the NAACP site what the mission of the Image Awards is and it says that it honors projects and individuals that promote diversity in the arts in television, recording, literature and motion pictures. And I would imagine that that would mean diversity both in the images on the screen and also among the people involved in the arts.
But I'm really not sure how casting a white actress to play an Afro-Cuban woman really helps diversity. I mean, I think it's really unfortunate. You know, there are so many great talented young black actresses - Sophia Okonedo from "Hotel Rwanda," for one; Kerry Washington from "The Last King of Scotland," who I think would have been amazing in this role. But they were not allowed to really be able to make the most of this part because of Angelina Jolie. And I'm not sure that the NAACP is sending the right message by honoring that decision.
CHIDEYA: Bomani, is this case in a positive way of kind of extending the world of blackness? There are a lot of people who weren't black who were nominated this year - America Ferrera, Jimmy Smits, people who did "Dora The Explorer," Dr. Sonja Gupta. Is this just like the black big tent being unfurled over everyone else?
Mr. JONES: I mean, I can't make sense of it. I do remember very clearly a year that LL Cool J won the Image Award for Best Male Rap Artist and didn't have a record out that year. Like, I mean, the Image Award…
CHIDEYA: But his text were marvelous.
Mr. JONES: I'm sure they were. And I'm sure someone has said the same about Angeline Jolie somewhere around this. I can't figure this one out. This is much different than giving Bono a Lifetime Achievement Award for his work with African children. This, I've tried to make sense. I didn't know about it until, you know, I've realized we would discuss it here. And I've yet to come up with one good reason for this.
I was under the impression the Image Awards were about paying tribute to black performers who so often are ignored. The last thing Angelina Jolie is, was or ever will be is ignored.
CHIDEYA: Shay, there's also been this whole issue of the Writers Guild, the NAACP was able to, you know, strike a pact. And then when you look at the Golden Globes, they weren't able to strike a pact. I'm not sure that some numbers have shown that not that many people watch these award shows anyway. But are keeping an eye in, you know, the blogosphere on this whole writer strike and how it may affect the Oscars, may affect a lot of other things?
Ms. RILEY: It doesn't seem to be, you know, big issue among my readers, per se. We, you know, tend to focus more on political issues. But you know, in getting back to the deal that WGA struck with NAACP Image Awards, you know, it's a win-win situation for both of them because NAACP's show can go on without having a, you know, strike outside its doors. And WGA, I'm assuming, wants some concessions because it would not make for good image to have mostly white, I presume, striking writers showing up at the NAACP Images Awards either for the NAACP, which would be seen as, you know, opposing, you know, people who are trying to increase their salary; or for the striking workers who would be seen as opposing a civil rights group's activity. So it was a win-win situation.
CHIDEYA: Bomani, moving on again, New Jersey was the last northern state to free slaves. And last week, the state legislator apologized for slavery. Now, is this one of those things where - although very few states have apologized - it's okay to just say we've got to just stop talking about this, we don't need any more states to apologize? Or is this a huge step forward?
Mr. JONES: Well, I would hope that the apologies for slavery would be followed by a real discussion of the true machination of slavery in this country. And I think that people have an unfortunate tendency to simply look at slavery through the lens of like holding people captive and not just the total dehumanization that came from slavery. So the apology itself, I suppose, is cool. But I would hope that beyond that would be a little bit more of a deeper understanding of what the system was. I appreciate it. And I further think it's - the impetuous is on the state, since that was a state issue when it came up. The federal government did not ban it but the states were the ones that worked hardest to protect or to shut it down. So it's greatly appreciated, I suppose. But it's just an incomplete step.
CHIDEYA: All right. Well, guys, I wish I had time to let you two chime in on that. But it has been a lot of fun. Thanks you, all.
Ms. RILEY: Thank you.
Ms. VAN KERCKHOVE: Thank you.
Mr. JONES: Thank you.
CHIDEYA: We've been talking with Shay Riley of the blog Booker Rising. She was at member station WBEZ in Chicago. Also, Carmen Van Kerckhove, co-founder and president of New Demographic, an anti-racism training company. She blogs at Racialicious.com. She was at our New York Studios. And Bomani Jones of the blogs at Bomanijoines.com. He was at the Duke University Studios.
You can find links to their blogs and ours at nprnewsandnotes.org. And the conversation doesn't stop here. Our online series Speak Your Mind give you a chance to sound off on the issues you care about. To find out how, go to our blog, nprnewandviews.org, and click and Speak Your Mind.
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