CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:
I'm Celeste Headlee and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. It is time, yet again, for our weekly visit to the Barbershop. The guys are going to talk about what's in the news, what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week, writer and culture critic Jimi Izrael. He joins us from Chicago. Also in the Windy City, Arsalan Iftikhar. He's senior editor of The Islamic Monthly and founder of TheMuslimGuy.com And then we've got Johns Hopkins political science professor Lester Spence who joins us from Ann Arbor. And then here in our D.C. studio, NPR editor Ammad Omar. Jimi, take it away.
JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks. C. Headlee, in the house. Hey, fellas, welcome to the shop. How we doing?
ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey,
LESTER SPENCE: What up, dawg?
IFTIKHAR: What's poppin'?
AMMAD OMAR, BYLINE: Hey.
IZRAEL: Hey, yo. My dude. You're in the shop.
IZRAEL: What's good, man?
OMAR: Yeah, man. I'm usually that guy behind the scenes sweeping up the hair. But I figured I'd get a little fade today. Give me a number two all over, please, and try to hide that bald spot for me, Jimi.
IZRAEL: Yeah, I was going to say, bro...
IFTIKHAR: ...Good luck with that...
IZRAEL: ...I don't know that you got enough hair for a fade. You know, let's just get things started. Former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. had his day in court this week, and, well, it wasn't pretty. He and his wife Sandi will serve prison terms for using campaign money for personal expenses - like Michael Jackson's hats. Seriously, Celeste?
HEADLEE: That's right. Well, Jesse Jackson Jr. was sentenced to 30 months in prison and then a year for his wife Sandi. The judge decided against probation despite pleas from friends and his father - civil rights leader Jesse Jackson Sr. Listeners might remember that Jackson Jr. was treated for bipolar disorder a little over a year ago. And here's what his father had to say after the ruling about his son's illness.
(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)
JACKSON SR.: Jesse's been very sick. This time a year ago, I really thought we may have lost him. I think he's strong enough now to accept the challenges put before him by the judge. But this has been...
IZRAEL: Oh. Very, very, very sad. Thanks, Celeste. You know, thank God, Millie's still touring. But, you know, Tito can't find work and, of course, Michael's gone. Is this the end of the Jackson legacy? Arsalan, you know, Jr., you know, he represents for your hometown of Chicago. Could he come back from this?
IFTIKHAR: I think he actually can. And I think the reason has less to do with him and the charges that he was found guilty of, and more about the second congressional district here in Illinois, which represents the south suburbs, which is a, you know, heavily, heavily democratic congressional district. A Republican has no chance of winning. And, you know, I think that because of the Jackson legacy, I think once he gets out of prison after 30 months, he actually might have a chance to, you know, reinvent himself and run for office again.
IZRAEL: I totally concur. I mean, I've been a Chicagoan for a minute, you know, and his name really carries a lot of weight here. It looms heavily. You know, now I think the bigger question is, can he have any national political relevance? I think that boat has sailed. You know, I think he's going to go the way of, like, Marion Berry, you know, 'cause his constituents are loyal in that same way, you know. But I don't think he has any hope of ever having any national relevance. Professor Spence, what do you think?
SPENCE: Well, I think a few things...
SPENCE: ...One is, I think that his name carries weight, but what's a bit more important is where he stands on the political spectrum. We need people who have his politics, and given that there aren't that many who are on the liberal, the far - to the left end of the spectrum, I think he has legs. But there are a couple of things that are really interesting about the case, real quickly. I find it really - there's - privilege works in a couple of complicated ways here. So on one hand, Jackson and his wife get staggered terms. That is, Jackson's going to serve 30 months and then I believe his wife is going to serve 30 months after that, so they can have somebody take care of the kids, right. I find that interesting in that, it's hard for us to imagine a working-class husband and wife team getting the same type of sentence.
But secondly, it seems like there are a number of political officials, including Jesse Jackson Jr., Sheila Dixon from Baltimore, Kwame Kilpatrick from Detroit, who are getting convicted for basically old-school graft, while there are other public officials, like Cory Booker, who's running for Senate, who can basically give their public school system to Facebook - basically, get a multi-million dollar company given to them. Booker had a multi-million dollar company given to him, and he actually tried to hide it from disclosure. So there's a number of things going on that are as important, if not more important, than whether Jesse Jackson Jr. can run again and when.
IZRAEL: All right. Ammad Omar, you covered Chicago politics - him and his wife Sandi. What do you think? Can she make a comeback, if not him?
OMAR: Yeah, Jimi, I had the pleasure of covering politics in Chicago for, you know, plenty of time. I saw...
IZRAEL: ...That's a heck of a beat, bro.
OMAR: ...I saw the last two governors both get hauled off to federal prison - George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich. Interestingly enough, the guy who proceeded Jesse Jackson Jr. in that second district was Mel Reynolds. He also had to resign when he got convicted of multiple felonies down there. He tried to run again, because you can run for Congress if you're convicted of a felony. But speaking of Sandi, there have been so many Chicago alderman, which is what they call a city councilman over there, so many of them have been hauled off to prison that they put in a rule saying you can't be an alderman if you have a felony on your record. So she's going to have to step up the game and run for Congress or something. She can't run for governor either. Similar thing, they made a new law for that that convicts can't become governor...
HEADLEE: ...You can't run for alderman, but you can be a Congress person.
OMAR: ...Exactly. So, you know, she can't get back on the counsel, but she'll have to do something else if she wants to get back in the game.
HEADLEE: You're listening to our weekly Barbershop roundtable. We're joined by culture critic Jimi Izrael, commentator Arsalan Iftikhar, political science professor Lester Spence, and journalist Ammad Omar. Back to you, Jimi.
IZRAEL: Thank you so much. Let's move things overseas to Egypt. The Arab Spring in 2001 has turned into a kind of an enraged summer. Hundreds of people have been killed this week. President Obama, he weighed in on the turmoil yesterday. We got a clip, right, Celeste?
HEADLEE: We do. The military has been cracking down on ousted president Mohamed Morsi supporters. President Obama took a break from his vacation on Martha's Vineyard to speak on the topic yesterday.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The United States strongly condemns the steps that have been taken by Egypt's interim government and security forces. We deplore violence against civilians. We support universal rights essential to human dignity, including the right to peaceful protest.
IZRAEL: How nice of him to come off the porch, drinking his mint julep, to comment on world politics. Thank you for that, Celeste. All right, Arsalan. This is your wheelhouse. What do you make of all this going on in Egypt?
IFTIKHAR: You know, it's pretty bad. You know, we've heard that over 580 people have been killed in the last couple days. I actually had a friend of mine whose brother was one of the 580 people killed by...
IZRAEL: ...Oh, my. Oh, my...
IFTIKHAR: ...Egyptian military forces. So this is really - this is quite real as to what's going on. It's been a long time since I've seen a country where the military has killed nearly a thousand of their own people in a day. And, you know, this is all sort of at the behest of General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi who is the current commander-in-chief of the Egyptian military. Things have gotten so bad that Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei - the former Nobel Peace prizewinner - stepped down after only one month in the office. What's really interesting to note is that the American government still will not call it a military coup. And the reason is that if we call it a coup under American law, that would require us to freeze the 1.3 billion dollars in military aid that we're giving. You know, we recently said that we're going to, you know, cancel some military exercises, which is purely symbolic. But, you know, in many parts of the Middle East, America's role has become a laughing stock.
IZRAEL: You know, it wasn't my intention to make light of what's going on in Egypt, because that's really quite serious. But also, not for nothing, it's the pangs of democracy, Ammad - and thank you, Arsalan. I mean, really, that's what I see. I mean, I think all students of history see that you really got to fight for your right to a democratic party. You know, 'cause everybody - see, to my mind, everybody wants this to happen in a very romantic, Twitter kind of microwave way, and that's not how democracies happen. They don't happen overnight. I really believe the U.S. should leave it alone. That's just my thought. Ammad, check in.
OMAR: Yeah, well, it's tough to, you know, fight for democracy when the people you're fighting against is the army who has all the money. And, you know, the U.S. has been condemning the army for what they've done the last couple days, but they still are providing 1.5 billion dollars in aid, roughly, as Arsalan mentioned. And that whole bit - what I'm seeing is kind of a split between the U.S.'s strategic thinking in the region, because the Egyptian army has been such a strong ally to the U.S. for so long. There's the long-standing peace treaty with Israel, the Egyptian army lets American ships pass through the Suez Canal in an expedited manner, so they can get over to Afghanistan pretty quickly.
So that's the strategic thinking for standing by the Egyptian army. At the same time, the U.S. says a lot of things about democracy and, you know, rule of law, and, you know, as Arsalan said, I've spoken to a lot of people from the Arab world in the last couple of days, and they say this kind of split is really straining the credibility, you know, just really quickly. First off, Secretary of State John Kerry came out and said, the military did not take over to the best of our judgment. And, you know, they did.
OMAR: Everyone knows that. And then, after that was kind of ridiculed by everybody - as his kind of Orwellian comment, just flying in the face of logic. The press secretaries and the State Department and the White House have first said that, you know, we have determined that we don't have to determine whether this was a coup. And then they've said that it's not in our strategic interest to determine if it's a coup, because it was a coup. And they say, as long as we don't say it, then we can keep the money flowing. And people in Egypt say, you know, that's a tacit endorsement of what's going on.
HEADLEE: Let's bring things back to the U.S., and maybe take a trip to the rodeo. There was a skit at the Missouri State Fair - many people have heard about this. It got a lot of people upset. A clown - a rodeo clown has been banned from performing forever - for life - because people were disgusted that he wore an - he didn't just wear an Obama mask, but they called out, do you want to see a bull run over Obama. And now the Missouri chapter of the NAACP has asked for a federal investigation for the Department of Justice. Meanwhile, the clown says this was not racist, he's just an entertainer. What do you think, Jimi? Are we getting too overwrought about this?
IZRAEL: Of course we are because this is America, and the NAACP needs something constructive to do. Like, this level of grandstanding is ridiculous. This is a guy performing a service. This is all well within the tradition of political satire that goes way, way back in this country. Really sad to see this kind of stuff when it happens. Ammad, what do you think? It's just a bunch of people, you know, looking for a tempest in the teapot if you ask me.
OMAR: Well, I'm going to stay editor on you, Jimi. I have not been able to speak first-hand with the clown, so I can't determine what was truly in his heart of hearts. I'm in Washington, so I feel as if I should work in the clown question bro statement.
IZRAEL: Got it.
OMAR: But, you know, just after talking about Egypt and that sort of place, that's one of the things that I like about America...
IZRAEL: ...Yeah. Yeah.
OMAR: That we don't get thrown in the gulag for doing stuff like that. This guy might have been a clown in many ways, but, you know, I almost feel we're making national news of it, which we're doing right now.
IFTIKHAR: Yeah, you, know I actually lived in Missouri for seven years for both college and law school - Wash U stand up. And here, I think what's interesting for me is, had this been done after 9/11 where a rodeo clown wore a George W. Bush mask, we might see that clown in Guantanamo Bay after that happened. And I think that, you know, there are - you know, I don't necessarily think that, you know, it was racialist in its execution, but I think that it was in poor taste. As we all know, there was a great op-ed by a president of a clown association on CNN.com.
IZRAEL: There's a clown association?
HEADLEE: Hey, guys, this is a professional job requiring skills...
HEADLEE: ...Have some respect.
IFTIKHAR: And what's interesting, what she pointed out...
IZRAEL: ...They got a union?
IFTIKHAR: ...What she pointed out, though, is really interesting to me, was the fact that as a clown, your job is to make the joke on yourself, right. And here, the clown was not making the joke on him or herself. They were doing it at the expense of someone else.
IZRAEL: Whatever. Lester - but thank you for that, Arsalan. I appreciate that. Lester, I wonder if the clown should run for Senate like all the rest of the clowns?
SPENCE: So as someone who was a professor at Washington University in St. Louis - so I used to live in Missouri, too - I think that it's just a bad look on Missouri politics. And as far as whether it was racist or not, I'm just going to quote from Perry Beam, who actually was there - this isn't a Republican Missouri State Fair. It was cruel, it was disturbing. I'm still sick to my stomach over it. I'm standing here with a mixed-race family. My wife's from Taiwan and so was the student. His family was hosting. I've never seen anything so blatantly racist in my life. The central question is, should something like that be funded by state money?
IZRAEL: OK, yeah. I mean, I'll take that.
IZRAEL: All right. Well, you know what, let's move on. The jury's still out on the Obama clown offense, but there's not as much room for debate on the Harriet Tubman video that's making its way around the Internet. Celeste, I don't want to get in trouble for explaining this, so you the one. Go for it.
HEADLEE: All right. The YouTube channel, All Def Digital, had a comedy skit. It's since been taken down. You see Harriet Tubman and a another slave making a sex tape of Harriet with her master and then trying to use it for blackmail to free the slaves. Here's a clip.
(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, HARRIET TUBMAN SEX TAPE)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #1: This is how it's going to go.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: Don't mistake my sexual desire for weakness. I will not be spoken to like that by a common slave.
ACTRESS #1: Well, Master, I've got what you white folks like to call leverage, and I'm 'a be telling everybody about your negro love, including Mary.
HEADLEE: That is the most PG part of the video that we could excerpt...
HEADLEE: Many people were offended. The person apologizing for this is hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, because he's behind the YouTube channel. He says he received a not very happy call from, again, the NAACP. Jimi, what do you think?
IZRAEL: Thank you. Because obviously, they stay up 24-hours a day, the NAACP, looking for reasons to be ticked off about nothing. Because - thank you, Celeste - because this sex tape, this video, like, again, was just satire. It wasn't right, but it's OK. You know, and for me, as the resident creative in the shop, you know, evoking Harriet Tubman I think was the misstep. But...
OMAR: ...You think?
IZRAEL: ...But also this - no, no.
HEADLEE: We've got about...
OMAR: And the sex tape part also.
HEADLEE: You guys are going to have to stop arguing 'cause we only have about a minute and a half left.
IZRAEL: Hold on, let me get this out. No, the whole bit wasn't a misstep. I think the problem is that the notion that all interracial relationships during slavery times were either endless love or rape is just categorically wrong. Men pair with men in jail strictly for favors and protection. I think it's safe to assume that black slaves of either gender may have paired with white slave owners, back in the day, for the same reason. Now, again, whether or not that's a punch line, I don't know.
HEADLEE: All right.
IZRAEL: But I saw the video. It's not right, but it's OK.
HEADLEE: Let me get a brief reaction from the rest of you three. Lester, your take?
SPENCE: I think what was deep to me was that Russell Simmons had to actually be told why it was wrong, right. That he didn't see it immediately. It should've jumped out immediately. And only after protests was he like, oh, my bad. I think it was a bad....
HEADLEE: ...Arsalan, Russell Simmons says he just does not, by policy, sensor comedians. What do you think?
IFTIKHAR: Nothing but love for Uncle Russ, but I think that this video wins the rid-dunk-ulous award of the week.
IFTIKHAR: Hands down.
OMAR: Yeah, I think I probably would get in trouble at NPR for just talking about this. So how about we move on to the next topic, Celeste.
HEADLEE: Well, the next topic is ending.
OMAR: All right.
IZRAEL: Alrighty, then.
HEADLEE: That is the Barbershop for the day. We had with us, Jimi Izrael writer and culture critic. He's also adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College. He joined us from NPR's member stationed WBEZ in Chicago. Also there in Chicago, Arsalan Iftikhar, founder of TheMuslimGuy.com, senior editor for Islamic Monthly. Lester Spence is a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University, but he joined us from WUOM in Ann Arbor. Go Blue.
SPENCE: Yes, ma'am.
HEADLEE: And in our Washington, D.C. studio, one of NPR's finest editors. Did you write that in there?
OMAR: One of?
HEADLEE: Ammad Omar. Thanks guys.
OMAR: Yes, thank you.
SPENCE: Go Blue.
IFTIKHAR: Go Blue for me, too.
HEADLEE: Remember, if you cannot get enough Barbershop buzz on the radio, look for our Barbershop podcast. It's in the iTunes store or at NPR.org. That is our program for today. I'm Celeste Headlee. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. And we'll talk more on Monday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.