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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Hudson faces a family tragedy and questions about whether neighbors should have done more. Plus, what looked like a racial incident on a campaign trail is now looking like hoax.

On today's Bloggers' Roundtable we've got Anthony Bradley, creator of The Institute blog, K. Tempest Bradford of The Angry Black Woman blog, and Corey Richardson, who blogs at vexedinthecity.wordpress.com. Hi, Folks.

Mr. COREY RICHARDSON (Vexed In the City Blog): Hi, Farai.

Ms. K. TEMPEST BRADFORD (The Angry Black Woman Blog): Hi.

Mr. ANTHONY BRADLEY (The Institute Blog): Hi there.

CHIDEYA: So, let's start out with this horrible tragedy that people are paying attention to around the world through the Internet, through all sorts of different ways. Jennifer Hudson. She went from being an "American Idol" contestant to an Oscar winner for "Dreamgirls," but on Friday, her mother, Darnell Donerson, and brother Jason Hudson were found shot to death in their Chicago home. Now Hudson's seven-year-old nephew has gone missing.

Police have found a boy's body in the back of an SUV that they were looking for in a manhunt, but they have not identified the body. A lot of people think that it is probably the Hudson boy. Now, the estranged husband of Jennifer Hudson's sister had been questioned in the killings, but they have not charged him in the crime. That man spent seven years in prison for attempted murder, vehicular hijacking, possession of a stolen vehicle.

Now there's so many angles to this. Let me start with the family angle. Tempest, Jennifer was willing to give her mom money to move but her mother, you know, has roots and wanted to stay in the neighborhood. What is it - is this yet another example that you cannot fix other people's lives, that your plan for other people's lives and for keeping them safe is something that may be unworkable? And what must it mean to this young actress, that you know, she tried and it...

BRADFORD: Yeah, it's unfortunate. Yeah, it's such a terrible, you know, situation, and it is true that, you know, when - even if you have personally achieved success and you want to, you know, get your mother, get your family out of the neighborhood where you grew up that may not necessarily be the best neighborhood, it doesn't surprise me that there would be still some people who are reluctant to leave. You know, the reports I read said that her mother just had a lot of ties to that neighborhood, and I can relate.

You know, the neighborhood that my grandmother lived in and I spent a lot of my childhood in is not the best neighborhood right now, but you know, we have roots there. We want to stay, but you know, could that lead to something, you know, along the lines of this? Maybe, but I like to - choose to think that, you know, there are - that it can get better, that, you know, the neighborhood would go back to being the way it was when I was growing up. And perhaps Jennifer's mother felt the same way. Perhaps she just - she felt secure there because she knew the neighborhood.

CHIDEYA: Anthony, let me read you a little something from the Chicago Sun Times columnist, Richard Roper. He said: Sadly, gunshots are so commonplace in that area that even though neighbors heard gunshots at 9 a.m., nobody called police. A family member found Donerson in a living room around 3 p.m. and called for police, who found the second victim in a bedroom in the house. For all the years I've lived in the Chicago area and for all the years I will live here, it will probably be this way. We're all in the same time and the same place, but within that place there are parallel worlds.

First off, people not calling the police when they hear gunshots. Do the neighbors bear any responsibility or burden for just not paying attention or not thinking that this was worthy of comment?

Mr. BRADLEY: Well, one of the things this reminds us is that the state affairs in the neighborhood was so bad that gunshots is sadly seen as simply background noise. It's sort of like screeching tires or car engines or sirens. And sadly, we see a case where if neighbors actually called the police whenever there was gunshots, the phones would be ringing off the hook. And what happens is that because gunshots have become standard for the background noise, no one actually acts until they see a body because gunshots are simply a part of everyday life, and that's really part of the deeper tragedy here.

CHIDEYA: There's this other aspect, the parallel lives, which is that, you know, we can all operate in the same time and space, and yet you never really know what's happening in someone else's life. And of course, when you take that to the level of celebrity...

Corey, you have this woman who is in "The Secret Life of Bees," who now has this Oscar, who has a new album that's doing really well. What do you think are appropriate reactions by fans? And what I mean by that is that we live in a world where you can contact celebrities through, you know, MySpace, Facebook, you know, through their agents' offices, all these things, when, you know, any time I've seen a story online about this there are posts on message boards. But beyond that, what do you think is fair game in terms of responding as a fan or a supporter, and what do you think is off limits?

Mr. RICHARDSON: Well, I think that, you know, it really is up to the person in question who has been the victim, or you know, is associated with the victim of the crime or of the tragedy. You know, so if Jennifer Hudson were to say that, you know, don't send me cards, don't send me flowers, donate to an anti-violence charity, or don't - you know, I don't - you know, don't just send me a message, but you know, let's use this instead of just a moment of personal tragedy but also a time of collective reflection as to, you know, what's going on in our neighborhoods. I think that's one way of looking at it.

In terms of - from the side of the fans, you know, it's like watching anyone else that you know experiencing something, you know, horrible, and you don't quite know what exactly is the right thing to do because people respond differently.

You know, in this case, I guess because of where we are now in our society in that we are ultimately voyeuristic, and that line between what's, you know - what's off limits and what's within bounds with our celebrities - you know, we have Bossip, we have Paris Hilton, we have all these different sites that you can go to and find out so much that we almost have this personal kinship and connection with celebrities. And so people feel like, wow, if that happens to so and so, it's almost like it happened to me, and so therefore I got to write a card. I got to send a letter. I got to send some flowers or something.

CHIDEYA: Well, we, like everyone else, want to send out our thoughts to the family, and it's just one of those things that it's a real tragedy. We are going to go ahead and take a break, but I want all of you guys to stay with us because we have plenty of other things to talk about, including politics. So next on News & Notes, we have more from our bloggers. Plus, when gospel meets the spirit of competition. It's called the How Sweet the Sound Tour, and we'll tell you more.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: I'm Farai Chiedya, and this is New & Notes. Welcome back to our Bloggers' Roundtable. Today we are talking with Anthony Bradley, creator of The Institute blog, K. Tempest Bradford of the Angry Black Woman blog, and Corey Richardson, who blogs at vexedinthecity.wordpress.com.

So I'm going to keep trucking and talk about the case of the McCain mutilation, maybe that's what we'll call it?

Last week, a 20-year-old McCain volunteer reported to the police she was attacked by a robber at an ATM machine in Philadelphia. She said the robber got angry when he saw that she had a John McCain bumper sticker on her car, proceeded to punch her in the back of her head, pin her down and carve the letter B into her cheek. And you can see on our Web site, News & Views, nprnewsandviews.org, a picture of her with a black eye and this B - this reddened B on her cheek. She said that the suspect told her, you're going to be a Barack Obama supporter.

Well, later this girl admitted she made up the entire story. She had described her attacker as a six-foot-four black man wearing shiny shoes. Tempest, why do you think somebody would go ahead and run a hoax like this?

Ms. BRADFORD: Well, mainly because it - it speaks to an unfortunately sort of archetypical fright that people - I'll say people have, but I guess more accurately it would be white people. I mean, because she's drawing on very specific and well-known stereotypes. A - you know, a large black man attacks a young, white woman. Oh nos. And it's just such a familiar narrative that it doesn't surprise me that this, you know, when she concocted this plan that this is the first thing that came to her mind.

And in another time, she would have been believed without question, but as somebody on our - on the ABW blog pointed out, this is because of the Internet, because of the way that news and information like this moves that it was like really easy to disprove. It was really skeptical to begin with, and it's sort of like an old media smear campaign, and so, yeah...

CHIDEYA: So what you're saying is that in addition to everything else, she didn't do a good job at trying to hoax people.

Ms. BRADFORD: No. Definitely not because it just - first of all it - you know, she said that she was at an ATM. All ATMs have cameras so it was really easy to prove that no one came up to her while she was standing at the ATM. She carved the B into her face backwards and upside down and badly, and it didn't - and just in general, it just didn't seem like something like somebody would do. Muggers don't generally tend to make political statements.

CHIDEYA: Corey, let me go to you. The executive vice president of Fox News wrote on his blog before the woman admitted she made up the story: If the incident turns out to be a hoax, Senator McCain's quest for the presidency is over, forever linked to race baiting.

Now of all the things that would link a campaign to race baiting, I'm not sure that this is the one. But why do you think the vice president of Fox would have chosen this as this kind of line in the sand?

Mr. RICHARDSON: I think that at this point, really, that was the moment that the McCain campaign jumped the shark. You know, that was the exact time when just everyone looked at the McCain campaign and was just like, oh, this is nothing more than a confederacy of dunces in a serious string of inexplicable errors. You know, I don't think...

CHIDEYA: But it's not like the McCain campaign hired this woman. You know, they didn't....

Mr. RICHARDSON: No, no, no, no. And the problem is not John McCain. The problem is his campaign. The problem is that there are people around him who would use this as some type of, you know, again, line in the sand and go, you see how these Obama supporters are? You can't trust these Obama supporters. They're a bunch of thugs. You know, and then there's other people who would look at this and think, OK, well, we saw this before with Susan Smith. You just blame a black guy. You say he's six-foot-four.

When I heard the description of the alleged mugger, I was like, I think I know that guy. It described half my friends. So you know, I just think that at that point it had reached a - such a tenor of silliness and such a point of just absurdity that, you know, when the Fox News vice president says it will reach - you know, talked about the race baiting and - really, he was just saying that it - that now it's officially gotten that dumb, you know.

CHIDEYA: Anthony, though...

Mr. RICHARDSON: And...

CHIDEYA: Let me go to Anthony. There was that time when some of Senator Obama's volunteers hustled along these Muslim women so that they wouldn't be in a camera shot, and that got a lot of concerned commentary this summer. Of course, there was an apology. You haven't heard as much from the Obama side of there being incidents that cross a line verbally, but there have been, you know, from supporters, things that are definitely are in questionable taste, at best.

One of them is that in West Hollywood there is a Halloween prop in the front yard, a couple of guys who have a mannequin dressed as Sarah Palin hanging by a noose. They have a whole little explanation on video, sort of saying, well, it is a Halloween month, and we wouldn't do this in any other month, and we wouldn't have done it with a black male mannequin. That doing it with a white female mannequin is different. How do you buy into something like that where you've got a Sarah Palin figure hanging by a noose?

Mr. BRADLEY: Well, it just reminds us that people in our country have some real serious issues. I mean, the woman in the - in this hoax had some mental problems that related to this, and also, for these guys out in California. What you find is that people, for some strange reason, have chosen the image - these images of violence to somehow communicate some of their own political positions.

What's interesting about this particular new situation is the idea that it's sort of art. The guy said that it's sort of Halloween and spooky. It is quite questionable because Halloween, you know, typically, Halloween costumes would be about fictional characters or people that had passed on for generations, and because this guy is doing it at his private residence, I mean, he does have some freedom to do that, but I - you know, I actually am OK with the fact that we live in a country where people can be free to do things like this.

It's one of the tradeoffs in our - with respects to being this free, that people are free to do really dumb and stupid things, and that's something that we're - that we have to actually, sadly, bare the cost of.

CHIDEYA: Tempest, there's also something else. Governor Palin's still answering questions about the $150,000 in clothes that the party lent to her and her family. Is this something that people should be scrutinizing or is this just a small issue at a time when we should be thinking about the issues? Issues of governance, as apposed to, well, what is she wearing and will she return it on time?

Ms. BRADFORD: Right. I definitely agree that this is a really stupid thing to be focused on. I mean, I can understand it a little bit if it is in the context of how is the McCain campaign spending their money, spending the Republican National Party's money on the different campaign things.

But at the same time, nobody's asking about - as someone pointed out in the op-ed piece, nobody's asking about John McCain's, you know, shoes that cost over $500, and you know, how much is his wardrobe costing and how much is his hair and makeup costing. Because, you know, he doesn't have a lot of hair, but somebody does it. So it's a dumb thing to focus on, really, and it really just speaks to the whole sexism thing that has been going on since this campaign started.

You know, they did it to Hillary. They're doing it to Sarah Palin in a different way but it really just comes down to nobody would be - nobody has questioned, you know, Barack Obama, Joe Biden or John McCain on their hair and makeup costs. But they're questioning Sarah Palin. I'm no fan of hers, but this is kind of ridiculous.

CHIDEYA: All right. On that note, we're going to have to wrap it up. We're getting so close. Thanks, guys.

Ms. BRADFORD: Thanks, Farai.

Mr. BRADLEY: No problem.

Mr. RICHARDSON: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: We were talking to Anthony Bradley, creator of The Institute blog, who joined us from the studios of KWMU in St. Louis. K. Tempest Bradford of the Angry Black Woman blog joined us from our NPR studios in New York, and Corey Richardson, of the blog Vexed In The City, joined us from KUT in Austin, Texas. .COST: $00.00

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