Roundtable: Biden's Remarks, Super Bowl Preview, Black Youth Study
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Michel Martin in for Farai Chideya.
O. today's Roundtable our regulars give the last word on Joe Biden. We take a look at a new study that probes the minds of African-American youth. And as Super Bowl weekend gets underway, we'll talk tailgating and team favorites. With me to talk about all this, Joe Davidson, an editor at The Washington Post, Mary Frances Berry, professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, and - I'm sorry - they're joining us from studio 3A in Washington - and Nat Irvin, columnist for the Winston Salem Journal, joins us from member station WFDD radio in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Welcome each of you. Thank you for coming.
Mr. JOE DAVIDSON (Editor, Washington Post): Thank you.
Professor NAT IRVIN (Columnist, Winston Salem Journal): Hello, Michel.
MARTIN: And we talked about this at the top of today's program, so I wanted to get your take on the Biden-Obama remarks. And Professor Irvin, big oops, little oops.
Prof. IRVIN: Oh, well, I would say this: I'll go on the record now and say that Joe Biden will not - not only will he not become president of the United States, but he will not receive the president - I mean the Democratic nomination, and he will only have himself to blame.
The problem with Joe Biden is this, is that to run for president requires boring - it's a very boring, tedious kind of thing. You have to tell the same jokes over and over again. You have to tell the same story over and over again, and you have to tell them in front of your staff. The same people have to watch you doing this.
Joe Biden is not made - is not that kind of a person. He likes excitement. He likes to tell a different kind of story. And what happens when you tell a different kind of story, you get off message. And so Joe Biden finds himself off message, and now he is done because he's in a time when we're in the YouTube phenomenon, and I'm afraid that it just does not fit his style. Too bad.
MARTIN: Joe Davidson, we talked on the last segment about how Joe Biden has handled this. What do you think about the way Barack Obama has handled this? I mean, he first said that he didn't take the remark personally, and then he issued a more pointed statement saying, you know, yeah, I'm not personally offended but this is historically inaccurate.
He seemed to have sort of toughen up as, you know, put - and not to over interpret, but perhaps as he saw that this issue gained traction. So what do you think about the way he's handling this?
Mr. DAVIDSON: Well, I think he was correct to point out the historical inaccuracy of Joe Biden's comment, because it is perhaps more of a slap against Jesse Jackson, to Al Sharpton, to Shirley Chisholm, who have run for president before than it is against Barack Obama.
And so I think that his initial statement he perhaps thought was a bit too mild, perhaps a bit too noncommittal on this particular subject which was gaining more and more energy in the press. And so perhaps he felt he had to come out and say something a bit more pointed but still not condemning too harshly his Senate colleague.
MARTIN: Professor Berry.
Professor MARY FRANCES BERRY (History, University of Pennsylvania): I think that Barack Obama did just fine, and all that happened was that somebody in the campaign pulled his coat and said, man, that first statement was too weak. And, you know, he was slamming these people and you need to say something, and so they issued another statement, which is the right thing to do. As far as Senator Biden is concerned, he should never have been running for president in the first place.
The last time he ran, he blew up over the allegations that he had passages from somebody else's speech in his speech, and he in fact admitted it. As I recall, he has tin ear for his own constituency in Wilmington, which has large numbers of African-Americans who have views about race and other things. It shows that he has insensitivity on this whole front. And he meant exactly what he said, all the parsing of what he said and the deconstruction of what he said.
He meant what he said. Here's a black guy who is articulate and is the kind of guy white folks will like and feel comfortable with because of all the places he's been, and that's the kind of black guy he is.
And Jesse and Sharpton, and even Shirley Chisholm - he probably didn't even remember Shirley Chisholm, because he wouldn't remember that; that's the kind of guy Biden is - Jesse, he was thinking, Al Sharpton, he was thinking, you know…
MARTIN: Carol Moseley Braun?
Prof. BERRY: You know, those (unintelligible) would frighten some white people.
MARTIN: Well, how about - but Professor, pick up on that point. Is this - could this be a problem for Senator Obama in the sense that Biden unwittingly tapped into something that may be an issue, which is the more acceptable you are to whites, the less appealing you are to some African-Americans, who wonder that if you're that acceptable to the kind of the white majority, perhaps you really don't have the interest of the black community close to your heart. Is that a problem?
Prof. BERRY: Well, it could be a problem, but it doesn't have to be. There is a suspicion always, a skepticism. And maybe we should look closely at this guy. But I think when they find out what he has done, what his record is, what he's done in Chicago, what he's done with his life and his commitments, that will be OK. It's just people don't know him very well now. It could be a problem, but it doesn't have to be a problem.
MARTIN: Professor Irvin, I want to asked you if - the same question I asked the earlier panel, which is - is this in a way a potential problem for Democrats on the whole in that it stimulates kind of feelings around the fact that Democrats are so P.C. about race, so sensitive about race that it kind of opens the door for the Republican critique; that they have more of the interest of the whole country at heart, rather than the Democrats who are so factionalized and so interest group-driven, according to kind of the narrative that Republicans sometimes use to criticize Democrats.
Prof. IRVIN: Well, I think, you know, that might be true some of the time. But right now the country as a whole - when you look at polls, 70 to 75 percent of this country is basically concerned about what happens in our foreign policy, specifically with Iraq.
And the other thing is, Michel, it's very early in this whole presidential cycle. I don't know how many days it is, but it, you know, this campaign is forever. I don't necessary - I can understand your point. I just don't think that right now Biden is all that important. I mean, his campaign is not going to go anywhere. Matters of race, ethnicity will be with us always, whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, and that's simply because of the demographic future of this country.
MARTIN: So are we going to be talking about this a year from now? A month from now?
Mr. DAVIDSON: No, I kind of doubt it. I remember, you know, Jesse Jackson reminded us that Jesse Jackson stayed in the race longer than Joe Biden did…
Prof. BERRY: Last year.
Mr. DAVIDSON: …last time. And so I think a year from now this will probably just be political history.
MARTIN: Not to jump (unintelligible) but I kind of wonder as part of the - and Joe, maybe you want to take this - is part of the issue of exactly what Biden said was so irritating for all the reasons we've already discussed this morning, or is part of it because it fits into a narrative. I mean it fits into a bigger narrative that he just doesn't get it or he just can't keep control over what he has to say or…
Prof. IRVIN: Well, you know…
MARTIN: Or is it that mainstream Democrats in general just sort of can't figure out how to deal with this up and coming generation of leaders?
Prof. IRVIN: Well, I do think there's some of that on the larger scale among Democrats - and Republicans as well, for that matter. But as it relates to Biden, this remark did remind me of a comment he made in November. He was speaking to some businessmen in South Carolina. And he said that the only reason his home state of Delaware, which he reminded them was a slave state, fought on the side of North is because the people in Delaware couldn't figure out how to get to the South because there were a couple of states in the way, as he put it.
So what - and some commentators at the time said he was trying to release his inner Bubba, in other words, to appeal to the white voters, in this case in South Carolina, which of course has an important primary in the political process.
And so I think that you can look at it both in this kind of macro level, what it means for Democrats and perhaps the political process as a whole, but also is this just another in a continuing series of comments from Joe Biden in this, you know, in this particular area.
Prof. BERRY: Joe Biden should just shut up.
MARTIN: You're listening to you - I'm sorry. Excuse me, Mary Frances - you're listening to NPR's NEWS & NOTES. I'm Michel Martin.
In case you're just tuning in, with me on today's Roundtable are Joe Davidson, an editor at The Washington Post, Dr. Mary Frances Berry, professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, and Nat Irvin, columnist for the Winston-Salem Journal.
Well, let's move on and talk about the Black Youth Project. And this is a survey that solicited the views of 1,600 teens. They were black, Latino and white in an effort to really get down into the attitudes of African-American youth today.
Here's Lauren Guy, one of the young people interviewed on this day.
Ms. LAUREN GUY (Black Youth Project Participant): The survey was very valuable. It gave black youth a voice. It asked the people who most people are talking about, what they think. We can't talk about black youths without talking to black youths, and I think that's something the leaders of this country tend to try to do and have failed.
MARTIN: Dr. Berry, I know you've had a chance to review some of the findings. And I'm just curious to know which is - what leapt out at you. One of the things that leapt out it me was that black youth, of course as we know, are heavy consumers of rap music.
But majorities find it too violent, too sexual and degrading to black women. Isn't there a contradiction there? You know, kids, they love it but they hate it at the same time.
Prof. BERRY: Yeah. What they're telling us is that, yes, they love the music but they do understand all the critiques about it and they do understand that it does do all these things in terms of demeaning women, that they got that message. They still like it. They would like the music if it were changed and they even liked the parts that are not like that. So that stuck out.
But the other thing that stuck out from me was, in the first place, black youth seem to believe clearly, that race and discrimination are still major problems for African-Americans. And that this happens at the same time that you have white students who they encounter in school and where they are who don't believe that race is a problem and even do silly things to insult black people.
The other thing that struck me was that black youth believe that there should be sex education and condom use and that they practice safer sex. And that correlates with the idea that the black teenage pregnancy rate has been going down now for about 10, 15 years, and at a higher rate than the white teen pregnancy rate.
So I found this all very illuminating, especially when you compare what black youth think with what Latino and white youth think, and the fact that all youth are together as we go through this racial experience in the world. So I found it very illuminating.
MARTIN: Professor Irvin? What jumped out at you?
Prof. IRVIN: Well, Mary captured one aspect that which is - well, let me just - let me summarize it this way. A very strong sense of self-determination recognizing the challenges rest still remain with us when it comes to the role of that race plays in society.
I thought that the very strong message, and I've seen this in other surveys as well, the young black people are beginning to become concerned about their image, not only as it is projected through these images that we see through the videos, but how these images projecting the image of black people worldwide.
So there's some concern there. And also, too, it represents an opportunity, I think, for the entertainment industry and for other educational institutions to be able to address this issue by creating new images, new sounds; new opportunities for education.
You know, the fact is, half of black America, more than half of black America actually born since 1964 - the civil rights, passage of the civil rights movement - legislation. And that in fact, as we move forward, the - we're going to have more and more of black Americans haven't been born since 1974, 1975. So we're recreating who we're going to be in the future, and it represents an opportunity to build on some real strength, I think.
MARTIN: Joe Davidson, I was struck by what a high opinion these kids had about the political process. There is, you know, a large majority of youth believe that they can make a difference by participating in politics. Seventy-nine percent of black and white youth and 77 percent of Latino youth said they felt that way.
And they also talked about - so the sense of efficacy they had around using their spending to support things they support, though large numbers of kids said that they've participated in what they call a boycott in the last 12 months, saying they've, you know, specifically chosen to purchase certain products because they liked a company's social or political values.
So on the one hand, it seems like they had a real sort of sense of efficacy. On the other hand, they were, the kids were really down on their quality of their education, felt that they were not getting the education that they deserve. That they - you know, how do you put all that together, Joe Davidson?
Mr. DAVIDSON: Well, I think that it tells us that perhaps some of these kids are doing much more thinking than we realize. I think we tend to lump the hip-hop generation and the teens, today's teens, into, like just the category of folks who like gangster rap and things like this. And I think that we think we talk a lot about kids. We write a lot about them; we read a lot about them. But sometimes, I don't think we would actually talk to them. We don't actually listen to them. And consequently, we may not actually know them.
One thing I found interesting - this is a bit of a sign when I was trying to look up some material on this - I came across a story about this study in today's Turkish daily news. And so it tells me that people around the world are interested in what black youth think and perhaps, those of us in this country need to get a better idea of exactly what's on their minds.
MARTIN: I think it is an important study. We're actually going to talk about it on the program on Monday. We have just a couple of minutes left, and I apologize in advance, but it is two days from the Super Bowl, I'm sorry. I have to talk about the Super Bowl and -
Prof. IRVIN: Absolutely -
Prof. BERRY: Are you having a Super Bowl party, Michel?
MARTIN: You know, I am. I'm sorry.
Prof. BERRY: Okay.
MARTIN: I really am. Are you coming?
Mr. DAVIDSON: So are we.
Prof. BERRY: Now I am, now that I know.
MARTIN: So this is a good opportunity to help us plan the menu. You know that tailgating has been banned from the Super Bowl for the last five years as a security precaution in the wake of 9-11. But I think we should have our own fantasy tailgate. So what's on the menu, Dr. Berry, for your fantasy tailgate.
Prof. BERRY: Buffalo chicken wings.
MARTIN: Okay. That's a classic. A classic. The conservative side of Dr. Berry is coming out. Joe Davidson, what's on the menu for your fantasy tailgate?
Mr. DAVIDSON: Fresh, moist German chocolate cake.
Prof. BERRY: Wow.
Prof. IRVIN: Are you kidding me? I'm having it (unintelligible).
MARTIN: What (unintelligible) you made it to the very broad category.
Prof. IRVIN: I've got to tell you, pork ribs.
MARTIN: Professor Irvin, we need to focus. Okay.
Prof. IRVIN: Oh, pork ribs, smoked.
Prof. BERRY: Wow. Okay.
Prof. IRVIN: Absolutely.
Prof. BERRY: But what kind of sauce - is it the mustard-based? The tomato-based? The (unintelligible)?
Prof. IRVIN: Oh, no, I have my own original - no, I have my own original sauce which I obviously can't share here, because I, you know. (Unintelligible) it here. You all are welcome.
MARTIN: But you don't have side dishes here. I'm not hearing any side dishes.
Prof. IRVIN: Oh, sure - potato salad.
MARTIN: What about the (unintelligible)
Prof. IRVIN: The potato salad.
Prof. IRVIN: Baked beans - all this - corn on the cob. All the stuff you're supposed to have.
Prof. IRVIN: And you're trying to raise your cholesterol.
MARTIN: Okay, Dr. Berry. The side dishes - help us out.
Prof. BERRY: Colored greens.
Prof. IRVIN: Yeah. Colored greens.
MARTIN: What - can you share your recipe, or is it another one of these copyrighted -
Prof. BERRY: Hog jowls. You don't know what hog jowls are.
Mr. DAVIDSON: (Unintelligible) tell this, you don't know about (unintelligible)
MARTIN: Oh, I'm a smoked turkey girl, so you can't, you know, I have to move into the -
Mr. DAVIDSON: You know, I like smoked turkey and greens.
MARTIN: - smoked turkey scenario.
Mr. DAVIDSON: You know, smoked turkey can really do (unintelligible) the greens, you know.
Prof. BERRY: Yeah, it's good.
Prof. IRVIN: Absolutely.
MARTIN: I just - I'm sorry, can I reveal that I can put my foot in some greens? I don't want to brag, but - (unintelligible) and calorie intake, I do - I'm sorry, I feel I have to share it with you, I have a stellar pancake recipe. Okay, I can't let you go without understanding which team you're pulling for. Dr. Berry?
Prof. BERRY: The Tennessee Titans.
Prof. IRVIN: Well, that can be kind of difficult.
MARTIN: That's very - okay.
Prof. IRVIN: Yeah.
MARTIN: I know that everyone's probably - we can all say if we predict that the team with the African-American coach is going to win…
Prof. BERRY: Right, that'll be great.
MARTIN: - because both coaches are African - Dr. Berry, I'm going to take you aside and share some football knowledge…
Prof. BERRY: Okay.
MARTIN: Joe Davidson, who are you rooting for - Bears or…
Mr. DAVIDSON: The Colts.
Mr. DAVIDSON: Mainly because I want Tony Dungee to win, because he's been around for so long, and I think it's his turn.
MARTIN: Nat Irvin?
Prof. IRVIN: I'm with Joe - Tony Dungee, I love Lovie, but Tony's been there long; and I'm with him, I want him to pull through.
MARTIN: Okay. Nat Irvin, columnist for The Winston-Salem Journal. He joined us from member station WFTD Radio in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Looking for those ribs. Also with us, Mary Frances Berry, Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania. And Joe Davidson, an editor at The Washington Post, joining us from Studio 3-A in Washington. Thank you all so much for joining us.
Mr. DAVIDSON: Thank you.
Prof. IRVIN: Thank you.
Mr. DAVIDSON: Bye-bye.
(Soundbite of music)
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