MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Now it's time for a visit to the Beauty Shop. That's where our panel of women commentators and journalists take a fresh cut on the week's news. Sitting in the chairs for a new 'do this week are Bridget Johnson, Washington, D.C., editor of PJ Media. That's a conservative libertarian news and commentary site here in D.C.
In California, we have Jill Monroe, whose blog, "Jocks And Stiletto Jill" dubs itself as ESPN meets "Sex and the City." Actress Nana Mensah is back with us. She's with the breakout web series "An African City," and she joins us from Austin, Texas. And with us from New York, Laura Martinez. She's a freelance journalist and author of the blog, "Mi Blog Es Tu Blog." Welcome, everybody. Thank you for joining us.
NANA MENSAH: Hi.
BRIDGET JOHNSON: Great to be here.
JILL MONROE: Hi.
LAURA MARTINEZ: Happy to be back.
MENSAH: Thank you.
MARTIN: So let's start with the story that has really been kind of all over the news this week - the racist comments made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. And he has now acknowledged that he made those comments. He made them to his girlfriend, V. Stiviano. Well, they're going to cost him. This is NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, speaking on Tuesday.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
ADAM SILVER: Effective immediately, I am banning Mr. Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers organization or the NBA.
MARTIN: All right, Jill, you know I'm going to start with you.
MONROE: (Laughing) Of course.
MARTIN: First of all, just give me your top of the line on this.
MONROE: I think that it's a great move. I know that some people are upset that it took so long because, for example, here in Los Angeles, we've known for quite some time about Donald Sterling and his beliefs. But with the logistics, the lawsuits that have happened with him, most of them settled so legally, there's no, you know - there wasn't really a way for the NBA to step in and take action. When these comments came out, although they were garnered in a sort of undesirable fashion, you had to take action.
The players were upset, the fans were upset, the owners were upset. And I think that I applaud the moves they made. They did as much as they could do with the NBA's extent. And now it's on the owners to take over and make sure that that process continues and he is moved out of the NBA.
MARTIN: Can I just ask you, Jill - you said that this was something that was known to people for a while. Is it that people had just given up on there being any recourse here? Is it - is it...
MONROE: I think so. I - oh, I'm sorry. Go ahead.
MARTIN: No. Go ahead. No, that was my question. Was it a kind of thing where people just felt that there was nothing that they could - they were just going to live with it as long as they had to or...
MONROE: I think that that was it, and I think that the desire was to support the players. And because the Clippers had been bad for so long, it sort of went under the radar for the greater, you know, audience maybe outside of Los Angeles. So you support the players. That's why the players always left.
It was sort of - you stood with them, but maybe the owner wasn't really a part of it. You knew he was the owner, but he wasn't like Jerry Buss or Mark Cuban, where you saw him actively involved with the team. So I think it was easy just to sort of push back and everyone takes the approach - well, you know, we all work with someone that may not share our same views, but it's not really about them.
MARTIN: Interesting. Bridget, what do you think? You're a native of Los Angeles. What's your take on this?
JOHNSON: Yes. I was born down the street from the Great Western Forum. And I have to say, one of my thoughts about this is that, you know, I see all my childhood NBA heroes being paraded across CNN - Kareem and A.C. Green. I'm like, why does it take a racist to bring all of them together like this? But - OK.
MARTIN: That's a good point.
JOHNSON: So we have some...
MARTIN: There are some people who are - I've been looking at some of the comments on your site and other sites and particularly, the conservative sites where people who're objecting saying, you know, he has a right to his personal opinions. He's got a right to his personal views, and, you know, that's it.
JOHNSON: Yeah. And, you know, we have to kind of ask, too, you know, was this an illegal wiretapping? I know there's some question about that or not. People are allowed to be racist jerks in their home. But I think that the problems here is that, first, you have a pattern of behavior. I go back to Elgin Baylor's lawsuit.
And once the cat was out of the bag and this was exposed, you know, what are you going to do? Because it's not like people can just stop patronizing the business. It's not like his employees can just go find a new place to play. So it's not like - that the NBA commissioner was shuffling things around in a traditional business environment.
You know, once this was out of the bag, you know, it was a PR decision that needed to be made. It needed to be made quickly, and I think he did the right thing.
MARTIN: Nana, what do you think? I know that you - the Clippers players went on - after the tape surfaced, the Clippers players went on with a game where they turned their jerseys inside out...
MENSAH: ...Inside out...
MARTIN: ...To make a statement, so...
MENSAH: I mean, what kind of - I mean, honestly, really, what kind of statement is that? I mean, it's interesting what you were saying about employees finding a new place to play. I mean, how much more would we have respected these men, these millionaires, if they had refused to play under this owner?
I mean, if we look at what's actually happening here, Sterling's net worth is $1.9 billion, and this fine of $2.5 million - it's the equivalent of fining somebody with a net worth of $50,000, $65.78. It's a drop in the bucket for Donald Sterling. And he bought the team for $12 million in 1981 and is going to sell it. It's now worth well over $575 million. So it's like...
MARTIN: Darn it, I was going to take up a collection. When you said $12 million, I thought...
MARTIN: Oh, man.
MENSAH: You know...
MENSAH: But, I mean, if you look - if you look at that, like, is this man really being punished? At the end of the day, it's going to result in a windfall for him. And not only that, like, my hugest issue with this, with everything - V. Stiviano and her, you know, thunderously - (Laughing) I mean, unintelligent, you know, remarks on this tape, I mean, there are so many angles. It's so multifaceted.
But the thing that really gets me is the fact that the LA Clippers had an opportunity. They had an opportunity to bench themselves. They should've said, we are not playing for this man. We are not going to sit, you know, we are not - it doesn't matter, our love of the game; we're willing to put that aside. Breaking our contract - we'll put that aside. We are going to sit until action is taken, and we no longer have to play for this man who has, since 2003, you know, I mean, that first lawsuit in 2003 - we have known publicly for 11 years that Donald Sterling is an absolute racist nincompoop.
And yet, somehow it's only now that, you know, you attach a half black, half Mexican - I would call them blaxican (ph), you know - you know, 'cause you attach that to this, and all of a sudden, it's now newsworthy. And that's so disappointing to me, in terms of the American public.
MARTIN: Well, I don't know. You mentioned the tape. So let me just play a little bit of it. And...
(SOUNDBITE OF AUDIO TAPE)
DONALD STERLING: You're supposed to be a delicate white or a delicate Latina girl.
V. STIVIANO: I'm a mixed girl.
STERLING: OK. Well...
STIVIANO: ...And you're in love with me. And I'm black and Mexican, whether you like it or not...
STIVIANO: ...Whether the world accepts it or not.
MARTIN: I don't know. I don't know. She seems pretty bright here, I mean...
MENSAH: But she also - but she also does make comments saying she wishes she could, you know, erase the color of her skin. She, you know - I mean, she's not necessarily, like, the upholding presence for...
MARTIN: Well, I don't know. I mean, well, she's the vehicle by which this information became known. So...
MENSAH: But why did it become known? Why did it become known?
MARTIN: Well, OK. Well, let's hear from - well, let's hear from Laura on this. Laura, do you think about all this?
MARTINEZ: Well, no because - it's very funny because I was just reading a lot of comments, obviously from the - my focus has been on the Mexican part of the equation, which is Stiviano, which, by the way, I've been reading that her real name is Vanessa Perez, and that she has claimed in the past that she changed her name because she feels like being a Perez or a Martinez, like myself, it really puts you, like, in the lower end of - when you live in the U.S. So it's interesting that she picked a so-called Italian kind of name, or it sounds Italian to me.
But what is interesting is also the comments that I've seen from people, like, saying, it is - it is amazing how she would - she would come out as black in the U.S., but in Mexico, probably she would just not even be considered a Mexican. And I've seen some very offending comments about her as well. I do agree with the other panelists that this woman is not very bright. I heard a lot of the tape. And you can tell that she's really playing the guy. And she's really doing her best to have the guy say the things he said.
I am also, I mean, I'm kind of glad that the feminists and the Mexicans have not yet come to her, like, defense. But I think it's been really interesting to watch. I mean, this has brought Latinos, non-Latinos, Mexicans, blacks, whites, together. To me, it's a really interesting phenomenon.
MARTIN: You know what's funny? And Nana, just briefly on this, for people who aren't familiar...
MARTIN: ...With your series. Your character in the show...
MARTIN: ...That you are in, "An African City," which we've covered on this program, and I hope people go back and listen to our conversation. Your character, Sade, is - has - that's her whole deal...
MARTIN: ...Is relationships she - that's...
MENSAH: She and V. have a lot in common.
MARTIN: That how she lives.
MENSAH: It's true. It's how she lives.
MARTIN: That's her whole deal. So I don't know if you, just based on your acting, your embodiment of this role, want to give us some insight into how V. is making it work?
MENSAH: Well, that's a - I'm really glad that you brought that up because the thing is, is that, you know, Sade, my character on "An African City," she also, you know, went to Georgetown undergrad and went to Harvard Business School, and she has her own career. She takes supplemental income from her, you know, wealthy, you know, dating her - the men in her life.
But if you look at V. Stiviano, I mean, I think something that nobody's talking about that I would just love to point out on this show, is the fact that she's being sued by Sterling's wife, Rochelle Stein Sterling. She's being sued for $1.8 million. V. Stiviano does not have $1.8 million. But she will after the fact that she leaked this tape to TMZ...
MENSAH: You know, like, that's a motivation that I think nobody's necessarily, you know, talking about.
MARTINEZ: I wanted to just say something...
MARTIN: Go ahead, Laura.
MARTINEZ: No. No. Real quick, just picking up on that - the story that I read - it, like, she uses a lot of - she's using two hashtags on her Instagrams, Stiviano. One was #RandomHouse and the other was #SimonandSchuster. So that was very interesting 'cause I think she's really preparing herself...
MENSAH: Giving up for a book deal.
MARTINEZ: ...Trying to sell a book.
MONROE: I - well, yeah...
MARTIN: Go ahead, Jill.
MONROE: I have some clarity in this...
MONROE: ...Because Donald Sterling bought her a condo worth $1.8 million, well, not a condo, a duplex in the Los Angeles area. She also worked for his charity organization, sounds like a role that he just put her in to sort of supplement that income, and he's given her four cars.
She's also good friends with Karrine Steffans, who wrote "Confessions of a Video Vixen." So there's a lot going on there with that. She obviously had ulterior motives, and his wife was concerned that she was sort of milking him, taking advantage of him in her situation.
MARTIN: Well, but that's one of the reasons I brought it up and one of the things I find fascinating is I think that there's been a lot of news about this whole phenomenon overseas, you know, with people with - who have incredible wealth in some of the rising economies, like in China and Russia and in countries in Africa, were having these outside relationships where these women are very heavily supported, but somehow we seem to think that this doesn't go on in the United States. Hello?
MONROE: ...Especially in the sports community...
MARTIN: Can I just point this out? Yes, Jill.
MONROE: ...It's something that happens quite a bit...
MENSAH: ...All the time...
MONROE: ...In the sports community all the time. And to be fair and to be honest, the wife knew. They - she was - has been involved...
MENSAH: ...They have an agreement.
MONROE: ...With him for four years. It seems like they had some sort of agreement. And maybe when the gifts started getting a bit more extravagant or this property, which she says was actually something that was supposed to be part of their holdings and not to be given as a gift, that's where the problem started. And I feel like...
MARTIN: Well, yeah. Well, I don't know if they had an agreement. See the thing is we never really know what's going on in these kinds of relationships. I mean, the fact of the matter is...
MARTIN: ...The more wealth you have, the more ability you have to hide it and to distribute it in ways that other people can't track. So, you know, so who knows, you know. All we do know - and we don't even know that she leaked this tape. All we do know is that now that we know what we know...
MARTIN: ...And what it changes about what we - I don't know. It's just - I just think it's kind of important to kind of point out to people that these relationships where people are maintaining - these very wealthy men are maintaining these relationships with women for whatever reason, are not exclusive to the developing world. That's all I kind of wanted to say about that.
MARTINEZ: Oh, gosh.
MARTIN: So anyway, you're listening to the Beauty Shop roundtable. If you've just joined it, our guests are Bridget Johnson of PJ Media, bloggers, Jill Monroe and Laura Martinez and actress Nana Mensah.
So I don't know, we wanted to spend a minute talking about an important international story. Unfortunately again, we've kind of done the same thing that I think a lot of people want to or feel very badly about, which is that, did you know that, you know, more than 200 girls were kidnapped from their boarding school in northern Nigeria? The suspects are members of this militant Islamic group, Boko Haram. And reports are surfacing that these girls are being forced into marriages with members of the group. And, Bridget...
MARTIN: One of the reasons I wanted to bring this up is that you are very involved with reporting on a lot of these international stories that sometimes don't get as much attention. And you just have to contrast - I'm not into competitive suffering. But I just have to point out that, at a time, there's been tremendous attention devoted to the South Korean ferry disaster that cost, like, 300 people their lives, and of course the missing Malaysian airliner. And these 200 girls, young girls, are somehow out there. We don't seem to know as much about it. And I just wonder, what's your take on why that is?
JOHNSON: It's very disturbing because these 200 or so girls are essentially the canaries in the coal mine right now for international terrorism. Boko Haram has been stoking its alliance with Al-Qaida. In 2012, we learned from U.S. Africa Command that they were training with other Al-Qaida groups in an Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb controlled area the size of Texas. And we found out at a hearing last year where - it was barely attended - but we heard from Boko Haram survivors - people who had been shot in the face. And we had a State Department official saying there we don't know the size of the group.
And so now, you know, what we have is an indication that Nigeria does not have control over this growing threat. We have these girls being shuttled off through - over Lake Chad. We have tons of - I was looking through Nigerian media reports last night, and villagers - scores of them - saying, you know, we saw the girls in a convoy. We saw the girls in canoes being taken across Lake Chad. We know that the Boko Haram members were paying 2,000 Nigerian dollars each to marry these girls. And this is an absolute travesty, and it's not unprecedented.
MARTIN: I wanted to ask Laura - since Twitter has focused - Twitter has been focusing on this issue with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.
MARTIN: And as a blogger, I'm just wondering, are you seeing - do you feel that this is a situation where, you know, social media can be a force here? Or is this, again, showing the limits of social media?
MARTINEZ: I think it's a little bit of both. But it is true that when I first went to look for more information, I found tons of things. And there's actually two hashtags. There is #BringBackOurDaughters - or #WhereAreOurDaughters. And then it was #BringBackOurGirls. I think one of the things that were - actually started on Twitter was a march that is taking place - or took place today, which was the Million Women March. I don't believe they gather a million people, but I think this is something positive. I mean, it speaks well of what you can do in social media. Of course, social media or Twitter are not going to bring these girls back.
MARTINEZ: But the fact that you can raise awareness, and you can get people finding out about these stories that otherwise they wouldn't, I think it's pretty important.
MARTIN: Well, we're going to end on a happier note. We only have about a minute left. We're talking about actress Lupita Nyong'o being named the most beautiful person...
MARTIN: ...In the world by People Magazine. A lot of people are calling it a milestone that a dark-skinned African woman was recognized in this way. And so, Nana, as an actress who's also in the same field with African roots, I wanted to ask if her recognition means something special to you.
MENSAH: It is - it does mean something very special to me. And I am incredibly, you know, proud that she's African and all of those wonderful things. I would love for her next - I think the thing is, is that right now she's got, you know, contracts with Miu Miu and Lancome. What those contracts are going to afford her is an ability to make - be very selective about what her subsequent roles are. And she is somebody who became - who came to prominence for playing a slave.
And this is a conversation that we've continually had in terms of, you know, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, coming to prominence playing maids. Like, I would be so happy if, you know, there was a role coming up for Zooey Deschanel, and they cast Lupita instead moving forward, you know, in a small independent film or something along those lines. I think that what it means is that we can start breaking down the color barrier, and instead of having a film with a black female lead, having that be a black film, let it just be a film. And so I'm - that's what I'm so hopeful for.
MARTIN: OK. Well, You're all my most beautiful people.
MARTINEZ: I just want to add real quick that we Latinos have adopted her because her name is Lupita.
MARTIN: OK. All right.
MENSAH: She's Mexican, that's right.
MARTIN: Well, we - I'm going to find some way to adopt her too, just 'cause I think she's so fabulous. Bridget Johnson, Nana Mensah, Laura Martinez and oh, my gosh, who am I forgetting?
MONROE: Jill Monroe.
MARTIN: Jill Monroe. Sorry, Jill. We give you your love. Thank you so much for joining us.
JOHNSON: Thanks, Michel.
MARTINEZ: Thank you.
MONROE: Thank you.
MENSAH: Thank you.
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