'Shop Talk': Is Tea Party Criticism Of The NAACP Legitimate?
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
It's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for their shapeup this week are freelance writer Jimi Izrael, Republican strategist Marcus Skelton, screenwriter and editor John Ridley and NPR's own political editor Ken Rudin. Take it away, Jimi.
Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Writer): Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas, welcome to the shop, how are we doing?
KEN RUDIN: How are you doing?
Mr. MARCUS SKELTON (Republican Strategist): Everything is going good. Albert Haynesworth is in shape and ready to go for the Redskins.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. IZRAEL: Why can't you just say, good, man, like everybody else?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. IZRAEL: And, yo, first time in the shop, J.R. Who shot you? How you livin', bro?
Mr. JOHN RIDLEY (Screenwriter, Editor): I'm doing well, man, how are you?
Mr. IZRAEL: Good, man. I'm making it do what it do. Well, let's keep it in motion. You know, the NAACP wrapped its annual convention today in Kansas City. And the big news out of there, Michel, was the resolution condemning the quote, unquote, "racist element" in the Tea Party movement.
MARTIN: There was other news out of there, I think it is fair to say, is -Michelle Obama spoke. But what seems to have captured the headlines is this kind of back and forth the Tea Party leaders about what they say are racist elements in the program. And then we had on the program yesterday, we had two Tea Party supporters who are of color debating the issue.
But then the Tea Party, well, their point of view was that there are fringe elements as part of this movement that don't really represent the whole event. Well, then yesterday, Tea Party Express spokesperson Mark Williams decided to fan the flames first by saying the NAACP, quote, "makes more money off of race than any slave trader ever." And then he decided to blog, today, pretending to write as NAACP President Ben Jealous. I'll just give you a flavor of what he said.
He wrote: How will we colored people ever get a widescreen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn? Totally racist. The Tea Party expects coloreds to be productive members of society. So there you go. Well, go ahead.
Mr. IZRAEL: Wow. Wow.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Go ahead. Go ahead.
Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Helter Skelton, what's up, man? So, you're the Republican strategist, right? Was the NAACP right to take a stand against the Tea Party party, or is the group trying to are they trying to become relevant again, the NAACP?
Mr. SKELTON: Well, I think the NAACP has always been relevent. I mean I directly and indirectly benefit from stuff in the NAACP. But when it comes to making a, you know, a soft resolution, I think that's laughable. We know, that they always attack the racist elements in the Republican Party, but don't do it in their own party when it comes to people like Harry Reid and negro dialects, you know, they come and condone that.
But, you know, what they could do, is that they actually agree with some of the things that the Tea Party is working with. You know, they believe in - both of them want to believe in Constitutional rights. Both of them believe that deficit spending and how we're going to grow our middle class and, you know, both of them believe that the government is overpromising, overtaxing and under delivering.
Mr. IZRAEL: So they have more common than they have than they disagree with.
Mr. SKELTON: I think so. If Newt Gingrich and Al Sharpton can get together and work on something, I think the Tea Party and the NAACP can actually agree on, like, well, maybe one thing. I don't think it'll be 100.
MARTIN: So, what's up with this Mark Williams? What's up with that? I mean, is that okay with you?
Mr. SKELTON: Oh, no. I mean I'm not I wouldn't say that. You know, but the thing is I think that, you know, working together with and then, you know, as you pick out certain elements, you know, you pick out elements amongst everybody else, but you won't pick out your own elements, you know. And I think that's one thing I definitely disagree with the NAACP. 'Cause I think it's a (unintelligible) people problem, not a Democrat or a Republican problem.
Mr. IZRAEL: It's definitely a people problem, 'cause you know with the Tea Party, you know, Fat Albert and the Cosby kids are more organized than the Tea Party, man.
Mr. SKELTON: Oh, I wouldn't say that. I wouldn't say that. You will find that out in November.
Mr. IZRAEL: Okay, man. I'm waiting with baited breath. Ken dog.
RUDIN: Wow. First of all, there are so many things to touch here. I disagree with Marcus on one thing. Harry Reid and the negro comment, first of all, Harry Reid apologized profusely for that. Everybody accepted it as apology. And also, it wasn't so much the NAACP versus the Tea Party, it's racist elements in the Tea Party. It's still a fact that members of the African-American members of Congress, when they were walking out of voting for the health care bill, they were pelted with racial taunts by people self-identifying themselves as members of the Tea Party.
Emanuel Cleaver, the congressman from Missouri was spat upon by somebody -identified himself as a Tea Party.
Now, there are a lot of people in the Tea Party who say this is despicable conduct. We have tried. Weve done everything we can to root out these racist, intolerant elements but it exists and I think the NAACP wanted to call them out on that.
Mr. IZRAEL: J.R.
Mr. RIDLEY: Well, I, you know, honestly, I for one actually applaud Mark Williams for having the guts to say what everyone else is thinking, when he said more money was made off of the NAACP - off of blacks than slave traders. Who knew that? And that's an interesting statistic. It's not really a statistic because there are no dollar amount involved. But clearly, they made a dollar more than slave traders. So, thanks Mark Williams for pointing that out.
Also, he said, the absurdity of a group that calls blacks colored people hurling the charge of racism. As a Negro, I never what the C stood for before. So if Mark hadn't come out and told me, I never would've known that the NAACP, when they're agitating for Brown vs. Board of Education and Civil Rights Act, clearly just a bunch of self-hating Negroes that are overcompensating.
Thank you Mark Williams for educating me and the rest of colored America. Thank you.
Mr. IZRAEL: John, how do we know that that's a real number that he's throwing out there with the NAACP making more money off black people?
MARTIN: I think he's being sarcastic.
Mr. RIDLEY: He said it.
Mr. IZRAEL: Oh, then it must be true then, right?
Mr. RIDLEY: It's obviously true. Look, I dont, I'm a little - I'm not sure why I'm sitting here first thing in the morning explaining. The Tea Party has done more in its illustrious eight months for people of color than the NAACP ever will. End of discussion. Let's just table it and move on.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. IZRAEL: Okay. That's certainly one approach, right?
RUDIN: But Jimmy, like quoting Mark Williams is like quoting like, there used to be an African-American congressman from Chicago named Gus Savage who would always do anti-white, anti-Semitic comments and the white press loved it because they would always, you know, love to quote him. I mean why go after somebody like Mark Williams when you know he's going to say some incendiary? You know...
Mr. RIDLEY: Why go after a spokesperson who's speaking for the group? Exactly.
RUDIN: But what is the group?
Mr. RIDLEY: Why go after the guy who is speaking for the group? Exactly.
RUDIN: But what group is it? The Tea Party is a conglomeration of just some angry people around the country who say they're the Tea Party, but there's no...
Mr. RIDLEY: Exactly. So why go after the guy who is paid to speak for the group? I agree. I'm agreeing with you. I think it's absurd to pick on the one guy who is paid to speak for the organization. Exactly.
MARTIN: Well, I think the question here is at what point do people pick their hands up and put their hands up on something that is really a matter of culture and sort of defining the boundaries of language. I mean, because yeah, there is the policy and people are free to look at the policy, they are free to look at candidates who espouse the policy and say, do I like you or do I not like you? Do I agree with you? Do I not like you?
But then there's this questions of like the New York Post cartoon that a lot of people were, you know, some people were offended by that some people seem to equate Barack Obama with a gorilla. You know, what I mean? So that to me is this question is where do you push back on language? When is that a good use of your time and when is it not a good use of your time? I think that's kind of in part what we're talking about here, so.
RUDIN: And you have Rand Paul, a Republican candidate backed by the Tea Party in Kentucky, who was asked about whether he would support the 1964 Civil Rights Act and he said, well, I'm not sure because of public accommodations. It's federal intrusion into government. You know, federal intrusion into business and that basically that's not what the Republican Party needs to stand for.
MARTIN: I'm going to just ask Marcus one question before we move on to other things, which is that, you know, as a, you know, youre a former chairman of the D.C. Young Republicans, which is one of the largest young Republican clubs in the country, youre African-American, you obviously, you have said and you believe in limited government, you think that's something to uphold.
Mr. SKELTON: Right.
MARTIN: On the other hand, you dont like some of this language either. So what do you think is the right approach to something like this? Do you this is...
Mr. SKELTON: Oh, think it's an approach of when it happens on either party you got to stand up for it. You know, I dont see, and I always joke about it every week, you dont see the NAACP coming to help out Michael Steele in the RNC right now. We can be silent on that, it doesnt matter. But the most important thing is if we see it in our party we do. A matter of fact, Chairman Steele did stand up to Rand Paul when he made his comments about civil rights.
MARTIN: Yeah. But he's also been criticized for his (unintelligible) when he said comments that - when he's criticized Rush Limbaugh for comments that he thought were racist people criticized him for that. And he apologized for that, so, so.
Mr. SKELTON: Well, the thing is not about overall Michael Steele. The thing is about pointing out when race is a problem in either party. You know, it always seems when Democrats come out they find every black person in the country to say well, he's an old good man. You know, Harry Reid was a prime example of that. NAACP...
MARTIN: But I think, but people do have a difference of opinion about whether what he was saying had some basis in fact or not. I mean or...
Mr. SKELTON: Well, it depends. You know, I see myself as a 6'2, dark-skinned American with a hint of Negro dialect. I was quite offended by what Harry Reid said that, you know.
Mr. SKELTON: And when you see.
MARTIN: Okay. Were you really?
Mr. SKELTON: Yeah. And when you see the NAACP...
MARTIN: You were Republican offended or Marcus offended?
Mr. SKELTON: Marcus offended.
MARTIN: Okay, All right.
Mr. SKELTON: You know, and seeing the NAACP, you know, vouch for Harry Reid, I thought that was very disappointing and kind of see okay, well, I know that's what happens. You know, they pick and choose their battles.
MARTIN: Well, oh, I dont want to debate the whole Harry Reid thing. I do want to just point out that there is data to show that in fact he did have a basis in fact, for what he said, is that people do make these colorist gradations whether we like it or not like it. So he might have actually been speaking from a sociological perspective even though a lot of people - he did apologize.
So I take your point. I'm just throwing out other data because it exists. And so often when we come to race we dont actually deal with facts and there is actually some data on that point.
Let me just jump in to say if youre just joining us, youre listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop with Jimi Izrael, Ken Ruden, Marcus Skelton and screenwriter John Ridley.
Back to you, Jimi.
Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Okay fellas, last week we spent a lot of time pouring salt in my wounds about NBA superstar LeBron James leaving us here in Cleveland to play in Miami next season. Now we even touched on Cavalier owner David Gilbert's(ph) incendiary letter to Cavs fans, calling LeBron quote, "cowardly and disloyal." But then Jesse Jackson jumps into the fray and uses, you know, the slave owner word, Michel.
MARTIN: I think its Dan Gilbert. And do you want to play - well, do you want to hear what he said? Do you want to hear what he had to say?
Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah. Absolutely.
MARTIN: Okay. This is Reverend Jackson. This is from a video posted on BET.com. Here it is.
Reverend JESSE JACKSON (Civil Rights Activist): No owner should express this kind of contempt toward players. And in effect, Gilbert was saying if I own your contract, you're my guy. If I dont own your contract, I will seek to destroy you. And that must stop. The mentality of a runaway slave, if I own you, I'll protect you. But if I dont own you, I'll get you some kind of way. That kind of anger and bitterness has no place in the civil behavior on organized sports.
MARTIN: Well, David Stern evidently agreed because he fined Dan Gilbert $100,000 for those comments. So there you go, Jimi.
Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. You know, me personally, I think the whole LeBron James thing, I think represents kind of a tilt in balance of power. You know, it's rare that players can control their own destinies. You know, and I think Gilbert felt as if James didnt know his role. You know, but his tone was very paternal. And I knew eventually somebody was going to tap into that. I didnt know it was going to be Jesse Jackson.
RUDIN: Well, you know, first of all, I mean Gilbert stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars by the loss of LeBron James. He had a lot of money invested in the team, a lot of money invested in casinos outside of Cleveland. I mean he's going to take it in the pocket. The bringing up of race is troubling and I understand exactly what Jesse Jackson is saying, but in many ways even white players in the old days with baseball, when you couldnt leave from team to team, it was like a slave ownership of players but it was white players too. I think that's the system the way it is in basketball, the way it used to be in baseball, but a black white issue, I thought Jackson was over the top but not surprising.
Mr. IZRAEL: All right Ken, well, you say that but have we ever known an owner to write a letter like that to a white player that's left?
RUDIN: No. No. I mean I think...
Mr. RIDLEY: Al Davis?
RUDIN: Well, like Al Davis was crazy.
Mr. RIDLEY: Al Davis?
RUDIN: It just doesnt seem like race.
Mr. IZRAEL: He was crazy too, right?
RUDIN: But it seems, but it was - look, Steinbrenner would berate and torture his own players, and most of whom were white. But again, this, I mean I think Gilbert's actions were over the top but something that you'd expect from a 14-year-old fan, not from the owner of a professional basketball team.
MARTIN: Al Davis, the Oakland Raiders owner.
Mr. RIDLEY: Yes.
MARTIN: Mm-hmm. Go ahead, John.
Mr. RIDLEY: Al Davis, Oakland Raider who wrote a letter last year to one of his coaches who he got rid of. I - two things, one, just a little pet peeve, LeBron doesnt control - nobody controls their own destiny. That's why it's destiny. It's out there. That's the first thing. That's just me. The other thing is who cares what Jesse Jackson says anymore. I mean seriously. I mean this is a guy who said dont use the N word anymore and then uses it about Obama, talking about castrating the president of the United States of America, the whole Duke lacrosse thing, which was a horrible situation all the way around.
I mean honestly, it's to throw slavery around like this, you san say that Gilbert is a kid, you can say that LeBron didnt handle the situation well, whatever, but to make that comparison to slave, this is to me is as bad as what the Tea Party is saying and belittling people of color. It's ridiculous and its uncalled for.
RUDIN: Can I just - I agree completely with John. When people are talking about somebody being like Hitler, to compare, you know, Barack Obama or anybody to Adolf Hitler, who murdered millions of people just diminishes the memory of those who perished.
Mr. RIDLEY: Yeah, especially to black kids, say this is what slavery is. You can go wherever you want, make tens of millions of dollars.
Mr. IZRAEL: Okay. Okay.
Mr. RIDLEY: You could retire if you wanted to. Slaves couldnt retire. Sorry, couldnt do it.
Mr. IZRAEL: Let's move on. Let's move on and talk about Mel Gibson. He's gotten Hollywood in a tizzy because of the series of recorded phone conversations featuring harsh, I mean really harsh language against his wife, even threatening to kill her, Michel.
MARTIN: I'm not sure they're married.
Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, I think that's his girlfriend.
MARTIN: But he is definitely - its his girlfriend. But she's definitely she is the mother of his youngest child.
RUDIN: He left his wife.
MARTIN: And he left his wife for her.
Mr. IZRAEL: Right.
MARTIN: And, you know, it's a (unintelligible) should we play this or should we not play it? But to give you just a little sense of it, of what the flavor of what these conversations were, I'll just play a little bit. It's from Radar -these were posted on RadarOnline. We have to say that Gibson's lawyers dont deny that it was him but they do say these were edited conversations, so there you go. So, here it is.
Ms. OKSANA GRIGORIEVA (Musician): I dont walk around in tight clothes. I stay home for most of time.
Mr. MEL GIBSON (Director, Actor): You go out in public and it's a (beep) to embarrassment to me. You look like a (beep) bitch on heat. And if you get raped by a pack of (beep), it'll be your fault, all right? Because you provoked it, you are provocatively dressed all the time with your fake boobs you feel you have to show off, in tight outfits and tight pants to be see your (beep) from behind. And that green thing today was enough. That's provocative.
MARTIN: That's enough. Thank you. I think weve heard enough.
Mr. IZRAEL: Wow.
MARTIN: I dont know. I'm curious. John Ridley, I'm just I'm curious on your perspective on this and, you know, Jay Leno is talking about it. It's obviously become part of - its hard for me to - it's hard - I think its hard for a lot of us to listen to. The question is does he have a career after this?
Mr. RIDLEY: Well, clearly this is the kind of thing that destroyed Charlie Sheen's career. So I think that this is really it for Mel Gibson. I mean this it. Eliot Spitzer never bounced back, we'll never see that guy again after a behavior like this so...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. IZRAEL: Right.
Mr. SKELTON: I dont know.
Mr. RIDLEY: I mean it's Roman Polanski. Done. So clear - let me say that in Hollywood the only thing you can do that'll destroy your career is go after the NRA, that's it. So at this point I mean honestly, he's going to be on Oprah. He's going to cry. He's going to have a small pivotal role in a movie where he performs well and then moves on. Honestly, I think in Hollywood short of eating human flesh, and even at that, maybe you'll get on a cooking show, but Mel has got a few years left I think in his bag of tricks.
MARTIN: Jimi, what do you think? Yeah.
Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah. And not just that, I mean he's not acting in films that much any more. He's really trying to talk with...
Mr. RIDLEY: Directing, producing, youre right. Yeah.
Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah. He's doing his thing with Icon Productions. So I mean he'll be okay.
Mr. RIDLEY: He's got that Jesus movie money right now, so honestly...
Mr. IZRAEL: "The Passion of Christ."
Mr. RIDLEY: When youve got Jesus movie money you can go out and you can talk like that. If I had Jesus movie money the things that would be coming out of my mouth right now would probably sink NPR forever.
MARTIN: Oh dear. Well let's not do that. Let's not do that.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: John Ridley is a screenwriter and a graphic novelist. He's the editor of That Minority Thing.com. He's a contributor to NPR's MORNING EDITION. He was with us from NPR West.
Also with us, Jimi Izrael, a freelance journalist and author of the book, "The Denzel Principle." He was with us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Marcus Skelton is a Republican strategist. He's also grants adviser for the Higher Education Association and Ken Rudin is NPR's political editor - our political junkie. They were both here with us in Washington, D.C.
Thank you all so much.
RUDIN: Thanks guys.
Mr. RIDLEY: Thank you.
Mr. SKELTON: Later.
Mr. IZRAEL: Yup.
MARTIN: And that's our program for today. Im Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Let's talk more on Monday.
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