Guys in the Shop Discuss Obama, Kilpatrick
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin and you are listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. It is time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about the news and whatever is on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shape up this week is freelance writer Jimi Israel, joining him are Civil Rights Attorney and Magazine Editor Arsalan Iftikahar, Political Science Professor, Dr. Lester Spence and Syndicated Columnist Ruben Navarrette. I may jump in from time to time, but for now, take it away, Jimi.
JIMI IZRAEL (Freelance Writer): Thanks Michel. Yo fellas, what's up? Welcome to the shop. How we doing?
RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Syndicated Columnist): Hey Jimi, what is happening?
Dr. LESTER SPENCE (Professor, Political Science): Great man.
ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Civil Rights Attorney, Magazine Editor): Chilling.
IZRAEL: Well, you know what? Senator Barack Obama gave, perhaps the most important speech of his career this week, addressing comments from his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Michel, we've got some tape around here? Is that right?
MICHEL: Sure. You want to hear his - you want to hear -look, it was a 37 minute speech, but if you want to just hear a short clip?
MARTIN: OK. Here you go.
Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): For the men and women of Reverend Wright's generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away, nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends, but it does find voice in the barbershop.
IFTIKHAR: You got that right.
NAVARRETTE: That's what I am talking about. That's what I am talking about, Barack.
IZRAEL: That is right.
IFTIKHAR: Thank you Michel. You know what? You know what? Barack outlined something I've been saying for years. That you know - everybody here knows - that you know, older black people, for better or for worse, are some of the most tolerant people in America, because, you know, they've seen it all and they've been through it all. And they are resentful against young black kids for not knowing, you know, not remembering when you just couldn't pee anywhere you wanted to… ..TEXT: NAVARRETTE: Right.
IFTIKHAR: And they are resentful against white America for not giving them some kind of, you know, some kind of...
MARTIN: Dignity, respect?
IFTIKHAR: Door prize, door prize, or like yes, respect, or props for going through all that. You know what? But Ruben, some people say that this was his most important speech ever, do you agree with that?
NAVARRETTE: I do and I think he hit it right out of the park, but I - before I talk about the speech, just - let me talk about the generational thing for a second, because I have fought that battle in the Latino community, as well, because I've been told for a long time, by Latino baby-boomers and the World War II generation folks, you know, that I haven't had the experience yet, I haven't lived and so just, sort of, sit there and be quiet. And I think that the problem and the retort that I have had to throw back at these folks, is that it is true that you all have had a lot of these experiences, but let's be frank, they've all been bad and because they were bad, you have this anger, and this bitterness, that I, as a young person, would rather do without.
So, I think that is a blessing that Barack Obama has, that Jeremiah Wright does not have. That he doesn't have to carry that burden with him. Now, as to the speech, it was a master stroke. I think that he touched all the bases that he needed to touch. He talked a lot about race, a lot about the Wright controversy, but let me just end with this, I think the significance is the reaction to the speech. I was surprised that a lot of folks out there, including a lot of white commentators, still didn't think that the speech went far enough.
Dr. SPENCE: Yes.
NAVARRETTE: I was so disappointed in the commentators. I just don't think they get it.
Dr. SPENCE: Yes.
IZRAEL: You know what I thought? I thought it was great to see this guy stand up and offer something like an apology and keep his dignity. You know, he didn't sell his friend up the river. He didn't say he was totally wrong. What he said was, you know what, when white people aren't listening, this is some of the stuff that older black people say, good, bad or indifferent. This is my boy, this is my campaign, and let's keep it moving. Now…
MARTIN: I'm sorry Jimi, could I just push back on one thing? That you said...
IZRAEL: Sure, absolutely.
MARTIN: That you said the word, friend, to describe the relationship with Reverend Wright. They don't drink beers and kick it and watch the game.
MARTIN: It is a different relationship and I think I've heard people use the term friend, or he stood with his friend, he didn't want to throw his friend under the bus and …
IZRAEL: No, he is like his father.
MARTIN: Yes. One of the newspapers called this a teachable moment, and I think one of the things that he has reminded us of, is that lot of Americans are secular and they don't understand what it is to have someone with whom you have a profound connection of choice, which is a member of the clergy, but which is, never the less, almost as powerful as blood.
Dr. SPENCE: And also hitting on a point that Ruben made, about the white commentator saying he had - he did not go far enough, you know, if you look at the specter of spiritual advisors and politicians who make apocalyptic and fiery rhetoric, you are going to see the predominance of it being white Republican Christians, and so even right now, Senator John McCain hails as a quote "spiritual guide" Reverend Rod Parsley, an Ohio mega-church pastor who once said that we are at war with Islam. Why do we make the black civil rights lawyer, the black Democratic senator, the black candidate denounce his spiritual adviser on national television and give a big address on race when I don't think that we are even close to hearing anything like that from John McCain or the Republican Party.
NAVARETTE: I can tell you. I can tell you.
IFTIKHAR: I see a double standard here.
NAVARETTE: I'll tell you what. I have learned a lot in the last several days. Not about Barack Obama, or even about Jeremiah Wright. I have learned a lot about this country and about other people and the whole of society. And listen to me now. There are not enough couches in America, there are not enough psychiatrists in America to help white folks unpack all the baggage that they are carrying around.
Dr. SPENCE: That's a good point.
NAVARETTE: About how black people have been treated in this country.
Dr. SPENCE: You're right.
IFTIKHAR: That's right, absolutely.
NAVARETTE: That's why when they see Jeremiah Wright, they freak out. They go around through life waiting for the next eruption of the angry black man.
Dr. SPENCE: Yeah.
NAVARETTE: And so when they don't find it, they make it happen, as if they're waiting for Bill Cosby to somehow morph into H. Rap Brown.
MARTIN: Can I just say something to your point? I saw a cartoon that - where it had Wright in the pulpit going, "Kill whitey." And there was a picture of Obama with a bag over his head saying, I don't hear it, I'm not here, that kind of thing. He never said anything like that. I mean, the church has 70 - and let me just say one word about Reverend Wright. Reverend Wright - one of the reasons he's revered is that he was one of the first African-American ministers of note to speak up about sexism, about homophobia.
In the black church, they have some 70 ministries in that church who minister to all kinds of people. It's a predominantly white denomination to which he belongs. So if you were preaching a message of racial hatred, do you really think that he would be sanctioned by a predominantly white denomination? He's a fully credentialed, ordained minister of the United Church of Christ. He's not some fringe wacko.
MARTIN: So, I guess, my point is that people are entitled to decide that they don't like it, that they think it's inappropriate, un-American, un-Christian. They are entitled to decide that. But I don't think that they are entitled to hear, "Kill whitey" in something like that.
Dr. SPENCE: And there's a move. So there's a move Pat Buchanan makes in reaction to the speech.
IZRAEL: OK, L-Spence, tell us.
Dr. SPENCE: Right after the speech is given where he said, well, you know, all this racial hatred, this hatred against white people when what Wright talked about was a criticism of the government, right? So the only way that move works, is if he thinks the government and white people are equivalent. Right? That's the type of leap that Wright made both explicitly and implicitly, since we've been here, right? Where it's like, you hear government. We all live here. I vote. I pay taxes. But when he criticizes America, he's criticizing white people? Right?
NAVARETTE: I'm glad this is happening in one regard.
IZRAEL: Hold on, hold on. Go ahead R, you get the last word.
NAVARETTE: I'm glad this is happening. Don't forget, in the last about 10 years or so, Pat Buchanan's been making his money trying to scare folks because you should be scared of immigrants.
Dr. SPENCE: That's right!
NAVARETTE: But don't forget, back in the '80s, people like Buchanan, and others, were scared of black folks because black folks were coming in and taking all these jobs and all these university spots because of affirmative action.
Dr. SPENCE: Yep, and Obama brought that up.
NAVARETTE: And so we can get all tied up. We can get all tied up in how Latinos and African-Americans should go at loggerheads together. But the message out there for the Jo Madisons and the other folks out there who, I think, toe this line, and sometimes play that nativist rap, is that the same folks who have a problem with Latinos and African-Americans , they're afraid of the angry black man...
Dr. SPENCE: That's right.
NAVARETTE: They're afraid of the immigrant. They're afraid of the Muslim. They're just afraid.
IZRAEL: Ok, well let's take a turn...
MARTIN: I think Ruben should go to seminary.
Dr. SPENCE: Ruben?
MARTIN: I think that Ruben should go to seminary.
IZRAEL: Ruben was waxing poetic today baby!
MARTIN: Keep preaching!
IZRAEL: And I would slap his head if he were here right now.
MARTIN: (Unintelligible) Lester Spence and Arsalan Iftikhar.
IZRAEL: Let us take a turn to D-Town, where, yo, the voices in Detroit are getting louder and louder L-Spence, yo! Now the city council wants Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick to resign behind his infidelity scandal being called "Text Gate." Now, you know what, Dr. Spence, I know that you are a native D-Towner. Do you admire him for standing his ground, or do you think it's time that he stepped away from the office?
Dr. SPENCE: So this gets right back to the Obama thing. People in places like Detroit saw to elect black mayors. They didn't seek to just elect them to get the stuff that government does. What they thought that black mayors would do is usher in a different mode of government. They were bringing this new, black government, which would be very different from anything we've seen. And what Mayor Kilpatrick did was he violated that. He used the state to actually fire a black employee to save himself. And that violates every standard of blackness that Obama tried to speak to in his speech, that I try to live to on a daily - that we all try to live to on a daily.
IZRAEL: Wait a second, bro.
Dr. SPENCE: It's not right, so he should step down.
IZRAEL: Wait a second. All that black ra ra. Sorry, yo, you know, it would be different if he was doing a decent job. I could see him maybe standing his ground and...
Dr. SPENCE: That's right.
IZRAEL: To some degree I admire it but we - isn't D-Town spinning around the toilet bowl right about now?
Dr. SPENCE: If he was a black Eliot Spitzer...
IZRAEL: And he's throwing money away.
Dr. SPENCE: If he was a black Eliot Spitzer, I'd be like, you know what, he's fighting a good fight.
IFTIKHAR: But Les, with Eliot Spitzer...
Dr. SPENCE: He's not a black Eliot Spitzer.
IZRAEL: Go ahead A-Train.
IFTIKHAR: But Les, with Eliot Spitzer he's like, I did it, I got caught, I'm out. Kwame had a seven-to-one vote of no confidence in the Detroit City Council. I mean, nobody in the city wants him there any more because they don't think that he could be an effective mayor. And I think it's time for him to say, I'm out.
NAVARETTE: Let's not push this too far. Kwame is not like Frederick Douglas here. I mean - it's more like Frederick's of Hollywood. It's more like, you know...
IFTIKHAR: Oh, Ruben's on a roll today.
NAVARETTE: It's true. I'm telling you. I mean, let's not get all high and mighty. This is why you are in trouble, pal. And I think what's interesting about, in watching this, I was thinking back to Spitzer. What is it about a certain politician that decides they can ride out the storm? That they are going to come out better the other end. They are going to survive this like a Marion Barry might or like a Bill Clinton might, as opposed to Eliot Spitzer who throws in the towel.
MARTIN: That's a good question.
NAVARETTE: Kwame seems to be saying gravitas, longevity. Stick it out.
IZRAEL: Well, Spitzer's kind of self-made. You can look at Spitzer - you can look at Spitzer and see he's not - he's a soft body. He's not built for this.
NAVARETTE: I could see him riding - I could see Kwame riding this out.
IZRAEL: No, no. Well, check this out. Speaking in New York, yeah, what's up with Paterson coming right up and telling you, yeah, me and my wife had our thing, you know?
NAVARETTE: Too much information.
IZRAEL: I stepped away to the Days Inn and she did her thing, while we had a soft patch in our relationship. What's up with him being so forthcoming? Was that a good move or was that just TMI? Which was it? OK, L-Spence, you tell me, which was it?
Dr. SPENCE: It was a good move. Because the thing is, he's going to have to run again.
MARTIN: It's kind of like a Magic Johnson.
IZRAEL: See, I told you he wasn't that blind.
MARTIN: You remember? It was like a Magic Johnson move, you know. Remember when Magic was about to be outed for being HIV positive back when a lot of people didn't know about it. And he said, you know, I'm going to tell my story myself. I'm not going to wait to have it be told.
IZRAEL: You know what, I mean, that's really a rough job. Whenever you hold office, man, you know, I wrote a piece, and I said, you know what, holding office is a tough gig. I don't know, I think maybe, you know, an elected official might need a little someone on the side. You know, well, I might not be the guy to ask. You know!
MARTIN: No, you aren't!
IZRAEL: Yo, the R, do you want the last word on this?
MARTIN: Someone, shut his mike. Shut his mike off, please.
Dr. SPENCE: Just don't pay for it with state money. Use your own.
NAVARETTE: It's a little complicated with Paterson because Paterson, you know, in essence, he not just outed himself, but he outed the woman he had the affair with.
Dr. SPENCE: His wife.
NAVARETTE: And apparently, her husband didn't know this.
IFTIKHAR: Oh, snap.
NAVARETTE: And so they show up with, like, cameras, television cameras to the guy's house. And he's, like, throwing stuff...
IFTIKHAR: That sucks.
IZRAEL: Ladies and gentlemen, that is a player's violation.
NAVARETTE: Now Paterson better, you know, forgive the expression, watch his back.
IFTIKHAR: It was a player's violation. It was definitely a player's violation.
IZRAEL: Yo, that was a player's violation.
Dr. SPENCE: That hurts.
IZRAEL: I must throw flag on that play.
IFTIKHAR: That's a party foul.
IZRAEL: Do not try that at home. All right, let's keep it moving. Look to the newsstands, the cover of the latest Vogue Magazine features Cleveland Cavalier, my boy, while LeBron James is raising some eyebrows in the black community because some people say it leans toward the worst stereotypes about young black men, or black men period. Because this has got, kind of, this King Kong motif where he's holding - who's that woman?
IFTIKHAR: Gisele Bundchen.
MARTIN: Gisele Bundchen.
IZRAEL: Yeah, he's holding her like Fay Wray style. You know, with his mouth open and a ball in one hand and her in the other. You know, who's getting played here? L-Spence?
Dr. SPENCE: I saw the image as soon as you all told me you were all going to roll with this, and I was like, oh, yeah, King Kong. That's exactly what it looks like. King Kong.
IFTIKHAR: I must say, the very easy analogy that I made right when I saw it, was Gisele Bundchen is dating New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. If Tom Brady and Gisele were on the cover of vogue, would Tom Brady be making that little face that LeBron was? They probably would be sipping champagne on a yacht.
IZRAEL: He would be in a suit.
IFTIKHAR: He would be in a suit. I'm sorry.
MARTIN: It is interesting. I mean, he is the first African-American male ever on the cover of Vogue.
NAVARETTE: American Vogue.
MARTIN: Which Jimi knows because he has a subscription. And...
IZRAEL: You play the dozens today.
Dr. SPENCE: And they make him into King Kong!
MARTIN: And so, yeah, so there's that piece. On the other hand, Ruben, you were going to say something, I think. What were you going to say? Like, oversensitive, chill?
NAVARETTE: I wasn't going to say that because I think it's LeBron James. I mean, a lot of it has to do with his own prominence, and the fact that he's this successful. If it was Michael Jordan or anybody else, I'd feel the same way.
MARTIN: Yeah, but why can't he wear a suit? It's a fashion magazine.
IFTIKHAR: If he was Tom Brady, again, would Tom Brady be in that same pose as LeBron James?
NAVARETTE: I don't know. I don't know about Tom Brady. Brady wouldn't be on the cover because he lost the Super Bowl.
IZRAEL: You see, the problem is, you all think magazines and media and art directors are in the business of beatifying people but they're in the business to sell magazines. And we're all talking about it. And you can't find a copy on the newsstands, so mission accomplished.
MARTIN: But media, but these kinds of images aren't just the property of the people who are engaged in - they send a message, they - you know, it's just, it goes back to everything else that's an image. Like blackface. I'm not saying that this is blackface, but I'm saying it isn't just the people who care about it, are not the only people who are in it.
NAVARETTE: I think there's a lot of daylight. I hear you. I think there's a lot of daylight between this media cover, or this magazine cover, and the little black Sambo. There's a lot of daylight there between those two examples.
NAVARETTE: I don't think it's that bad.
Dr. SPENCE: But you're talking about the beginning of the 21st century versus the beginning of the 20th. The question was, was it racist? I'm not going to go give no protest about it, but it was racist. LeBron James could have been in a suit and would have sold as many copies because he's still a...
IFTIKHAR: Because he's still LeBron.
Dr. SPENCE: They made the choice to put the most incendiary inflammatory image they could imagine on the cover of that magazine so they would move some copies.
NAVARETTE: But the notion of King Kong is like one of awesome power and dominance. I mean, that's the image they are trying to put away. This guy, you know, is running the world. This guy's on top of the world.
IFTIKHAR: Would Tom Brady...?
MARTIN: Can I just say that I don't - do I agree that it's the most incendiary? That's his work clothes.
Dr. SPENCE: Michel, I meant relatively, because there are other images inside. I happen to have a copy of that particular Vogue. There are other images...
NAVARETTE: In the bathroom.
IZRAEL: There are other images inside. There are other images that they might be equally or more suitable for it. I mean, there are classier images, is what I'm suggesting, you know. But the art department decided to put those images, that particular image on the cover because it would move magazines and start controversy, and that's what happened. So mission accomplished. This is the business we live in. Welcome to 1985. You know what? I...
Dr. SPENCE: I like that.
IZRAEL: You know what? I think that's a wrap!
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: All right.
IZRAEL: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for coming to the Barbershop, but I've got to pass it back to the lady of the house, Michel Martin.
MARTIN: Well, thank you Jimi, and happy holidays to everybody for those who are celebrating holidays this weekend. Jimi Izrael joined us from WFSU in Tallahassee, Florida, where he's a freelance reporter and writes for the root.com. Ruben Navarette writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and CNN.com and he joined us from KSDS in San Diego. Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney and a contributing editor for Islamica Magazine. He joined us from our studios here in Washington. And Doctor Lester Spence is an assistant professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University. He joined us from WEAA in Baltimore. Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us in the shop today.
NAVARETTE: Thank you Michel.
IFTIKHAR: Thank you.
Dr. SPENCE: Thanks for having us, root to the cues (ph).
IZRAEL: Yup yup.
MARTIN: And that's our program for today.
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