FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
I'm Farai Chideya, and this is News & Notes. Now on to a special Atlanta edition of our Bloggers' Roundtable. BET founder Bob Johnson is taking swipes at Senator Barack Obama again. And are historically black colleges and universities doing enough to prepare the next generation of black professionals? Today we've got writer Amani Chanel, who blogs at My Urban Report, Andre Walker of the political blog Georgia Unfiltered, and former music industry executive Michael Fisher. He blogs at The Assault on Black Folk's Sanity. Welcome, everybody.
Mr. AMANI CHANEL (Blogger, My Urban Report): Thank you. Good to be here.
Mr. MICHAEL FISHER (Blogger, The Assault on Black Folk's Sanity): How you doing?
Mr. ANDRE WALER (Blogger, Georgia Unfiltered): Thanks.
CHIDEYA: So glad to have you here. Now let's kick it off with BET's founder, Bob Johnson. He supports Hillary Clinton. And in an interview this week with the Charlotte Observer, Johnson told the newspaper that former vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro was right. He's referring to her remarks that Obama wouldn't be a viable White House candidate if he were not black. Johnson went on to say Obama's campaign has, quote, "a hair-trigger on anything racial." Now, in January, he made what many people saw as a dig at Obama when he seemed to refer to the senator's teenage drug use. An Obama spokesperson said Johnson's most recent comments are just another example of the Clinton campaign and its supporters doing anything to win the nomination. So, Amani, the Ferraro comment was dead for the last few weeks. Why do you think Johnson tried to revive it?
Mr. CHANEL: Well, he revived it when he made the comments that he did. And of course, being a mouthpiece for the Clinton camp as he is, he's going to get a lot of attention any time he says anything related to Barack Obama. We have to remember that Barack Obama and his support - he's biracial. I mean, he's black and he's white. So I think that - you know, of course the fact that he is - relates to black people that black people relate to him, that he - it's going to be an issue always throughout this candidacy, both for the media and for the public. But, I mean, we have to look at his issues. I mean, he has galvanized people, he is rallying people and his support is coming despite his color issue. And he is going to continue to go forward. It's going to interesting to see if there's any continued fallout from Bob Johnson's comments.
CHIDEYA: You know, it strikes me, Michael, that Bob Johnson seems to be particularly vehement in his protestations. Do you have any sense, just a speculation on why that might be?
Mr. FISHER: Well, Bob Johnson made his money based on white folks helping him make that money. He's a talented man, but without the support of a significant segment of the white entertainment industry, he wouldn't be where he is. So he's got to pay his dues. He's a shill, and that's all there is to it. I mean, I've been in the entertainment industry since '85, and resigned about three years ago because of these types.
CHIDEYA: Andre, it seems like last night, the candidates played pretty nice in the debate. So do you think that the surrogates and the supporters are really going to be the ones who take out the knives?
Mr. WALKER: You know, the surrogates and the supporters, they get very - they like to exaggerate and embellish a lot, because they support their candidate so much. So I think that they're going to do what they personally feel will have the most impact on building their candidate up and taking the other candidate down. What I would say is that with, in regards to Bob Johnson, I think he makes a very valid point, because, you know, when you look at what Senator Obama's trying to do, he's trying to go from the Illinois state senate to the U.S. senate to the White House in a span of four years. That is completely unheard of, and, you know, both Bob Johnson and Geraldine Ferraro, they both - they basically described John Edwards four years ago. John Edwards was a freshman U.S. senator from Illinois, he was very charismatic, you know. He had a lot of energy. But he never made it because, you know, he didn't have the experience. And I think that both Johnson and Ferraro are making a very valid point there.
Mr. FISHER: Well, let me put it this way. I think - I think there's a lot of hypocrisy going on here. For example, in the previous segment, it was just mentioned how miraculous it was that Joseph Ratzinger, the Pope, Pope Benedict came over here and what great reception he got. Now, this man is a former Nazi who was part of a Nazi regime that actually killed millions of Jews, an active member of the Nazi Party. He's received with all the honors. On the other hand, a former Marine that fought for our country - and this man fought against our country - on the other hand, a former Marine that has an exemplary record in fighting for our country, who makes a number of remarks that he feels need to be said because he sees some injustice that our country did, is vilified as a Hitler, as a Nazi.
CHIDEYA: We're talking about Reverend Wright.
Mr. FISHER: Exactly.
CHIDEYA: The former Marine.
Mr. FISHER: Exactly. So you know, two religious figures. What's the difference? One guy is actually - actually went and helped kill millions of people. The other guy didn't. One guy is...
CHIDEYA: I don't know that we can say he actually went and killed people, although it was documented that he was a member of the Nazi Party.
Mr. FISHER: No, no. I'm not saying that he killed people. I'm saying he was part of the regime. He was part of the regime.
CHIDEYA: Yes. I just want to make that clear, that he was not in the trenches, but he was a member of the Nazi Party.
Mr. FISHER: I spent much time in Germany. So I know what Joseph Ratzinger's reputation is. So the whole thing is that, you know, that Bob Johnson doesn't go and criticize this particular situation, whereas he goes and criticizes Obama for a - some kind of associations that, you know, are peripheral, is just honest, hypocritical.
CHIDEYA: I want to - Amani, I actually just want to take you to a little bit more about Reverend Wright. We mentioned that he's a former Marine, long history of military service. He actually did a funeral for a deceased judge, appellate judge Eugene Pincham. And he mentioned that Pincham, quote, "befriended Jews, Muslims, rabbis, Imams, fathers in the Catholic Church, and Farrakhan in the Islamic faith." And then he went on to say, quote, "Bill O'Reilly of Fox will never get that, Sean Hannity's stupid fantasy will keep him forever stuck on stupid when it comes to comprehending how you can love a brother who does not believe what you believe." So once again, he's inserting himself into the political world, criticizing some folks from Fox News. Is it smart for him, regardless of his feelings, to actually express them in a public forum?
Mr. CHANEL: Well, I mean, he has that right to express his feelings and, you know, after that whole incident I went onto YouTube and googled his name because I wanted to see the original speeches. And all of the hits that came up were just those comments that were made. People had reposted those incendiary comments. You have to take those comments in perspective. And they weren't really done - that wasn't really done in the media's portrayal of his comments. So of course he has the right to go back, and this is the first time he's really spoken out about it. That's the way he feels. Will it hurt Obama? I mean, he's associated because he's his former reverend. But yet he has his personal rights. I mean, that's the beauty of living in America, is that we can all - we should all have the freedom to express our feelings and our thoughts. And I think that's what he's doing in this situation.
CHIDEYA: Now, Michael, also during the eulogy, Reverend Wright said America's founding fathers, quote, "planted slavery and white supremacy in the DNA of this Republic." You know, this is something that many different people have addressed. In some ways, even Condoleezza Rice recently did. But when this comes out of Reverend Wright's mouth, do you think that people will listen to it with a different ear?
Mr. FISHER: Well, obviously they do. But it's true. Thomas Jefferson was famous for breeding black women as slaves and said - there are several quotes of his where he said, I'd rather have some black women that I can breed because they make, they give me more money when I sell them. You know, it's a fact. Now, we have to move forward from that. But the fact that Reverend Wright talks about certain things that happened in reality, they happened in reality. I don't understand why people go around trying to not acknowledge what really happened. Take Mr. O'Reilly. He openly - he's the main one criticizing things - and he openly said to Mr. McCain, the Jews - by implication the Jews, because he meant the New York Times - are trying to destroy the white Christian power structure, white male Christian power structure of which you, Mr. McCain, and I, are part of. And McCain did not go and say, no, that's not the case. So, you know, there's a lot of race baiting going on from the part of people at Fox or other different institutions. But, you know, nobody talks about that.
CHIDEYA: I'm going to take this in a slightly different direction, Andre, which is that a lot of these questions are being sort of framed around can we move on? Can we move on from slavery? Can we move on from the civil rights era, or how much do we need to reference it? How much do we need to still ascribe blame? So when people talk here in Atlanta about - you know, Atlanta having such a strong civil rights history - are people saying we need to move on? Are people saying we need to preserve history? How do people frame these conversations?
Mr. WALKER: You know, I believe that it's half-and-half. I think that people believe that we need to move on, we need to move forward into the future and move towards a society that is more - where racial harmony is a lot better. And we've got a lot of work to do. But it's - I think it's also very important to look at the past, to recognize that, you know, our country does not have the best history, but, you know, non of us as individuals have the best history. We've done things that we're not so proud of. But we have to accept that, recognize that it happened, but then also move forward and not necessarily dwell on the past and constantly, you know, pass blame and say, you know, these guys are the reason why we're doing so well - doing so terrible. You know, sometimes some of the blame should be put on our shoulders.
CHIDEYA: I'm going to stay with you for a question about HBCUs, historically black colleges and universities. And there are some wonderful ones here. However, there are also incidents like when Morris Brown fell due to academic and financial issues. So there could be major cuts in funding from the federal government to HBCUs. But overall, how do you think the HBCUs are doing in really preparing their students to take leadership positions?
Mr. WALKER: You know, I think they're doing an excellent job. In the political circles that I've run into, I've run into several students from Spelman and Morehouse who are extremely active in their community, in political circles, working hard for things that they believe in. And in a political world, that is something that definitely has to be applauded, that, you know, that these schools are teaching their students that not only, you know, you're coming here to get a degree and to leave and to go and make some money, but you also need to give back to the community, your community, and make the world a better place.
CHIDEYA: Now, when you think, Amani, about the HBCUs, there's a lot of criticism in some circles that people do not give back. They may go, they may graduate, become doctors, professionals, business people. But the endowments are so much smaller than for schools like liberal art schools that have similar academic qualities. You've got people like the Cosby's giving big money giving big money to certain schools. But do HBCU graduates, you think, need to do more?
Mr. CHANEL: Probably yes. I'm not a graduate of a HBCU, I went to University of Florida, but that would be a challenge for them, it seems, to raise money, to become - stay and remain financially viable. I was looking to this statistic that I found here online. And this sort of states this current situation they're facing. They have 75 percent of African-American students attended black institutions at one time, but today 14 percent do. So there are several different issues that are looking at. Remaining viable, both for the black community, for students who want to go on to college, of course, to raise money from their alumni, alumnus, the students who've graduated from them. And to also - they're now competing with the traditional universities, the ones that accept all students. So it seems that they are challenged, but I wouldn't say that for students that do attend HBCUs, those that I met professionally, they go on to do wonderful things. They have a wonderful tradition, a legacy here in this country, and there's definitely a place for them here.
CHIDEYA: Michael, do you think that the HBCUs are still having a massive ripple effect on the black community in terms of the students they produce?
Mr. FISHER: Again, also I didn't go to an HBCU. I went to an Ivy League college. So I can't really say much. I mean, I observe that a lot of the business people that I deal with are graduates, and I think that's a great thing. I don't know to what extent that they support these universities. I think it's very important to support them.
CHIDEYA: Well, let me transition you to something else, because we want to know, being here in Atlanta, we've had - I have to say my crew and I, coming from L.A. and D.C., we've already had a lot of good soul food, and hopefully we'll have some more. But folks are also talking about the congestion, people moving in, real estate getting more expensive. Do you think this city is a little overstuffed? How has it changed? And, you know, some people have complaints, what about you?
Mr. FISHER: Well, I came down here from New York, mostly because they have trees down here, which I've never seen while I was in New York. And it was a whole new thing for me. Grass, trees, you know, open space. So I can't say that it's overcrowded. I do see more and more foreclosures in our community, even among our more seemingly wealthy members of our community. It's the shame on the housing projects have gone down quite a bit. But at the same time, it's an opportunity. Actually, I would say more people should come down here. They should plan better on how to do it, but I think it's still a viable place to come, and I enjoy it very much.
CHIDEYA: Andre, what do you think about the state of the city?
Mr. WALKER: I'm sure somebody will correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that I'm probably the only native Atlantan in this studio today.
Mr. FISHER: Probably the only native Atlantan in Atlanta.
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Mr. WALKER: And, you know, I wear that as a badge of honor, but, you know, I'm always excited to meet other folks to find out what part of the country or what part of the world they came from, because Atlanta is a national and an international city. You know, just to piggyback off of what Michael said about the housing market. You know, throughout the '90s, a lot of houses, a lot of apartments, a lot of condos, were being built here in town. And basically, you know, I think what you're seeing is, you know, it's really simple economics. You've got too much supply and not a whole lot of demand. And it's, you know, it's wreaking havoc on everybody, you know, not just in the black community but everywhere all over Atlanta and Georgia. So, you know, I think, hopefully if this housing market will come back up, people are getting these houses, they're buying them. And, you know, Atlanta's growth will continue. And, you know, on a political standpoint, I think we're looking to pick up maybe one or two additional seats in Congress because of that.
CHIDEYA: Amani, final thoughts?
Mr. CHANEL: Yes, as far coming to the city, I mean, I've been here for about two years, so I'm probably one of the newer comers here in this studio. But I love Atlanta. The traffic, I don't have any issues with it, I mean, depending upon where you're commuting from. I'm sure there are those who complain. I think with the housing market, of course, I think there's been a lot of mortgage fallout across the board that has affected this community, but as a young professional I think there's a lot of opportunity here.
CHIDEYA: All right. On that note, we have been speaking with Amani, Andre, and Michael. Thank you so much.
Mr. CHANEL: Thank you.
Mr. WALKER: Thank you.
Mr. FISHER: Thank you.
CHIDEYA: Amani Chanel blogs at My Urban Report, Andre Walker is from the political blog Georgia Unfiltered, and former music industry executive Michael Fisher blogs at The Assault on Black Folk's Sanity. All were with me at the studios of Georgia Public Broadcasting, and you can find links to their blogs and ours at nprnewandnotes.org. You can also find our online series Speak Your Mind. To find out how to participate, go to our blog, nprnewsandviews.org, and click on "speak your mind."
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CHIDEYA: That's our show for the day. Thank you for sharing your time with us. To listen to the show, subscribe to our podcast, visit our website, nprnewsandnotes.org. To join the conversation, go to nprnewsandviews.org. News & Notes was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.