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So What If Quarterback RGIII Is 'Not Really' Black?


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now 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 a shapeup this week are writer and culture critic Jimi Izrael. He joins us in our Washington D.C. studios along with civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar. In New York City we have Michael Skolnik back with us, he is the editor-in-chief of Global Grind, that's a news and entertainment site. And new to the shop, Timothy Johnson, he's founder and president of the Frederick Douglass Foundation. That's a public policy organization that focuses on limited government. He's with us from Atlanta. Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas, welcome to the shop. How we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.

MICHAEL SKOLNIK: What's going on? What's going on?

IZRAEL: Mike Skolnik. My dude, how you doing?

SKOLNIK: I'm doing - you know, I've got to say that after that NRA press conference I'm fired up. That press conference was pitiful.


IZRAEL: Timothy Johnson, T.J. Thanks so much for joining us.


IZRAEL: Welcome.

JOHNSON: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it. I'm looking forward to hearing it. I didn't hear the NRA press conference so I'm interested in the conversation that's going to take place.

IZRAEL: All right. Well, let's get it started. People around the country observed a moment of silence this morning to remember the victims of last week's shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Right, Michel?

MARTIN: Yes. And since then I think many people do know this, that the president has pledged to put all the powers of his office into addressing gun violence. And I just want to play a short clip for people who may have missed it. This is from the president's press conference on Wednesday.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The fact that we can't prevent every act of violence doesn't mean we can't steadily reduce the violence and prevent the very worst violence.

IZRAEL: Wow. Thanks, Michel. Obama appointed Vice President Joe Biden to oversee a gun violence taskforce. He says he's wants, quote, "concrete proposals no later than January."

MARTIN: And can I just jump in? To that point on the press conference that Michael was referring to, the NRA had a press conference earlier today and he said that - the executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre - this is a name many people might know - said the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

And their specific proposal, along with criticizing the media they say for allowing violent culture to come into children's homes, their specific proposal is that there should be armed security in schools.


MARTIN: So there you go.

IZRAEL: Oh, man. Well, if you guys were on the taskforce, what would be item number one on your list for ending gun violence? Timothy Johnson. T.J. First in, man.

JOHNSON: Well, you know, as we've been talking about this - and obviously there are a lot of different issues that pertain, especially for what just took place in Connecticut, and so my prayers go out to everyone and I appreciate what took place this morning with the moment of silence - but, look. We've got to really be serious about this gun violence issue.

And it goes more than just talking about schools. When you take a look at the number of films that are shown every day in the theaters, violence is something that's just part of our culture. And so I think it really just starts at home. We've got to start with the education process.

We can have all the gun control that you want. The president can make all the promises he wants, but at the end of the day it's an individual issue and it's going to be down to the local level. And so I think we really just got to go back home and just start with the basics of getting people not so caught up in the violence, because violence is very attractive to too many people. And I think that's what's happening. Many of these incidents that have taken place this year alone, you can trace them back to other things that have happened in the media. And I'm not talking about the media as far as the news, but I'm talking about movies and things like that that highlight and glorify violence. And we've just got to change that culture.

IZRAEL: Michael Skolnik, in your article this week you listed seven proposals for reducing what you called the culture of violence. Which one would make the biggest difference?

SKOLNIK: Well, I think in all due respect to my man, T.J., you know, American movies get exported across the world.

IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

SKOLNIK: And other countries don't have the same problem that we have. So I think, you know, cars cause a lot of accidents but we have speed limits for those cars because we know folks can't drive too fast. So I certainly would look to the government to make some changes. They've got to reinstate the assault weapons ban. That has to be priority number one. These weapons of war have no business of being on the street. This gentleman who shot up and killed 20 beautiful children and six courageous adults had no business whatsoever having access to a gun that's used in war.

IZRAEL: A-train.

IFTIKHAR: Well, first, I think it's important to, you know, like Michael said, to keep some international context in mind. You know, if you combine the populations of Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, and Australia, you'd get roughly the population of the United States.

We, on average, have about 35,000 gun deaths a year. They have a combined total of 112. Since 1996, when Australia and the United Kingdom both imposed gun control, Australia has had zero mass shootings. The United Kingdom has had one in the last 16 years. We in 2012 have had 16 alone this year.

As Michael said, the 1994 assault weapons ban, which banned the sale of high-capacity magazines, like the one that Adam Lanza used, you know, if that were still in effect today Adam Lanza might have had to reload three times before he was able to cause this carnage. You know, some of these guns, even though we don't sell fully automatic weapons, you know, we sell semi-automatic weapons with things like the Slide Fire, which sell for $299 on the Internet, basically makes it a fully automatic weapon like an M-16 basically something you wouldn't get onto you reach level 10 of "Halo 4."

And it's really interesting for people to talk about violent games and violence in TVs but, you know, when Canadians and Australians and British and Japanese and French people can watch, you know, violent movies and, you know, play violent video games they still don't seem to have the same level of homicides that we do. Does that mean that Americans are more homicidal by nature?

MARTIN: But...

IZRAEL: Well, you know, the...

MARTIN: Go ahead.

IZRAEL: The National Rifle Association, they've been quiet up to this point about the Sandy Hook thing. But now they had a press conference this morning, and here's a clip.

WAYNE LAPIERRE: Politicians pass laws for gun free school zones. They issue press releases bragging about them. They post signs advertising them. And in dong so they tell every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.

IZRAEL: That's Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president and CEO of the NRA. The event was interrupted, of course, by a protester. Somebody wanted to chime in. Quickly.

MARTIN: Well, to that end though Jimi, why don't you tell us what you mean? Why don't you address the basic question? His argument is that the answer to, just as we would say with the First Amendment, the answer to hate speech is more speech. Their argument is the answer to lethal illegal violence is more guns. The answer to people misusing guns is more people with guns, more, you know, stand up people with guns. What's your thought about that?

IZRAEL: Well, my friend the police officer agrees with that. And my grandfather, he kept several guns in the house. Me personally, I have children, I don't want guns in the house but I respect people's freedom to own them. And I don't, I'm conflicted. I'm really conflicted because in this day and age it's kind of like spy versus spy. I mean if you don't have a gun then the guy, you know, that just stepped on your foot or the guy that, you know, you just offended probably does and it's like what you do then? You know, I'm pretty good with my hands but I can't dodge or deflect bullets.

MARTIN: Arsalan, what do you think?

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know...

MARTIN: Go ahead, Arsalan.

IFTIKHAR: Most people don't know that there are currently over 300 million guns currently in circulation in the United States of America today. Meaning that we can give one gun to every man, woman and baby in this country today. You know, we've heard Republicans double down since the tragedy and say that, you know, we should have teachers packing heat in the classroom, that, you know...

IZRAEL: Yeah, that's a problem.

IFTIKHAR: We had a libertarian writer for The Atlantic, Megan McArdle, who said that we should teach our children to bum rush. You know, you know, what the deuce are we talking about here when we talk about, you know, the answer to guns is more guns? You know, we've heard this tired canard over and over ad nausea that guns don't kill people, people kill people. Well, you know what? It's people with guns that kill people, children.

SKOLNIK: That's right.

IZRAEL: You know what? It's what, I mean guns find guns. If you carry a gun you're going to meet somebody with a gun.

SKOLNIK: But if I could...

MARTIN: We'll accept some more thoughts, Michael.

SKOLNIK: If I could just jump in here, I think that it's disrespectful for what the NRA said this morning, especially to the teachers who lost their lives, one of which was from my hometown in Katonah, New York, Anne Marie Murphy, who courageously tried to stop this man.

If you look at what happened at the Empire State Building shooting this summer, two NYPD officers tried to shoot a man and they missed nine times and shot innocent people...


SKOLNIK: So there is no evidence that if you have a gun in a school you can actually stop a guy with an AR 15 assault weapon.

MARTIN: Well, my only thing that I, you know, I would say about that is, you know, the NRA was saying that it was disrespectful for the president to come out and say what he said at the memorial service on Sunday with his proposal. So I mean at some point I don't know...

JOHNSON: Well, this is Tim. My question...

MARTIN: ...how are you supposed to talk about this if you can't talk about it? That's my only point. Tim Johnson?

JOHNSON: Yeah. This, my question is, what is the government going to do? I mean at the end of the day the guy that wants the gun will get the gun. And so we can sit there and come up with all these policies and we can say we're going to double down and we're going to do all the rest of that, but at the end of the day you all know just as I know, if I want to get a gun right now, I can go out in the street and get a gun.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, but you...

SKOLNIK: Well, let's change that...


IFTIKHAR: You can ban high-capacity magazines.

JOHNSON: But how do you change that?

IFTIKHAR: Ban high-capacity magazines like they did in the 1994 assault weapons ban. You can have mandatory buyback programs. You can do a lot of stuff to get, you know these...

JOHNSON: And what would that do for Columbine? What will that do for Chicago when you see all these lives lost?

MARTIN: But that doesn't make sense to me. I mean we can go - people say we can go to the moon. We have a rover on Mars...

JOHNSON: Exactly.

MARTIN: Why can't we try to figure that? I don't understand what you're saying. We're Americans. We figure stuff out.

JOHNSON: But, yeah, but my question is we have all these killings in Chicago. What are we doing about all the killings that took place in Chicago this year?

SKOLNIK: Let's double down and invest in violence intervention and prevention programs like Cease Fire, like Man Up, like I Love My Life? Let's put money into those programs so we can stop young people thinking they need to pick up a gun.

IFTIKHAR: And mental health. Mental health.

JOHNSON: And which goes back to my initial point of educating people and taking it back to the Ground Foundation. What we do is we talk about the government coming and saving all the problems and the government cannot save problems when it's an individual personal responsibility. That's what we have to teach.

SKOLNIK: But who are the 99...

JOHNSON: We don't teach responsibility.


JOHNSON: We don't teach ownership of individuals anymore.

MARTIN: Let me...

SKOLNIK: But who are the 99,000 police officers the NRA proposes to hire? Those would be government people.

MARTIN: All right. Well...

JOHNSON: So government people at a local level.

MARTIN: All right, well, let's move on because there's obviously more to talk about. I'm thinking we'll be talking about this again.

We are having our weekly Barbershop roundtable with writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, Timothy Johnson from the Frederick Douglass Foundation, that's a conservative foundation, and commentator Michael Skolnik with Global Grind.

Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. We're going to lighten it up a bit and talk about sports. And, you know, an injury kept Redskins' quarterback Robert Griffey(ph), III, that's RGIII, off the field last week.

MARTIN: Griffin, not Griffey. You're thinking about Ken Griffey. And he's old school. That's so sad

IZRAEL: I'm thinking about Ken.

JOHNSON: Right. Right. Griffey Jr. Come on, man.

SKOLNIK: Come on, man. RGIII.

IZRAEL: I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

SKOLNIK: Come on, Jimi. Get your shape up.

IZRAEL: I'm sorry. Right. Right. Right.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. Hand your man card over.

MARTIN: That's it.

IZRAEL: Nevertheless...

MARTIN: Speaking of - Mm-hmm.

IZRAEL: He was - RGIII was in the headlines.

IFTIKHAR: Yes he was.

IZRAEL: But he wasn't in the headlines for playing. He was in the headlines because sports commentator Rob Parker said this about him on ESPN.

ROB PARKER: Is he a brother or is he a cornball brother?

SKIP BAYLESS: Which means?

CARI CHAMPION: What does that mean?

BAYLESS: Yeah. Explain that.

PARKER: Well, he's not really. OK, he's black, he kind of does the thing. But he's not really down with the cause. He's not one of us. He's kind of black, but he's not really like the guy you really want to hang out with...



IZRAEL: Parker also questioned RGIII's quote/unquote "black card" because he has a white fiance and is rumored to be Republican. Parker was suspended for 30 days and has since apologized.

But A-Train, Arsalan Iftikhar?

IFTIKHAR: Yes, sir?

IZRAEL: You know, as our number one sports fan, what do you make of all this?

IFTIKHAR: You know, first of all it must be said that Robert Griffin III is gangster. Like what the dude has done on the field this year has been amazing. Now, we have to keep in mind that Rob Parker's comments were actually made on ESPN's show "First Take," which is actually notorious for being very controversial with host Skip Bayless and things like that. But, you know, I'm kind of, I'm sick and tired of, you know, conversations like the one with RGIII, you know, whether President Obama was black enough, you know, whether he embraced the black agenda. You know, we need to stop, you know, being the moral judges of who is black enough or Jewish enough or who's Muslim enough or who's white enough. You know, let the man's work on the field, let his play in his professional realm, you know, dictate who he is and how successful he is going to be.

IZRAEL: Hm. That's interesting. Timothy Johnson, you're black and Republican. What do you think?


SKOLNIK: A double whammy.

JOHNSON: I appreciate that, brother.

IZRAEL: Here come the (unintelligible), brother. Be careful. Go ahead.

JOHNSON: Right. Right. Well, I actually agree with my friend from just speaking. I have an issue with anybody that wants to say that because one chooses to be with somebody outside their race that they're questionable. But, you know, I've been called everything but a child of God in my walk in this Republican Party. And so, I always find it interesting because then I have to pull out my black card and say well, I'm Greek and I'm this and I'm that and I'm that. Does that still mean that I'm not black enough? So, I think it's always interesting - and again, as it was stated, I think that RG should be judged on what he does on the football field. That's what we look at him to do.

IZRAEL: You know what?

MARTIN: But can I...

IZRAEL: Can I say this very quick?

MARTIN: Go ahead.

IZRAEL: You know, writer Frantz Fanon would say, you know, that black people really aren't in any position to judge their blackness. I mean Frantz Fanon would say probably that white people determine our blackness. You know, it isn't how black people feel about themselves, it's about how white people feel about us. So I don't know, I think Parker's observation, I think he was a little light on the credential end. You know, he doesn't - we have that conversation intra-racially about who is black and who is not. But in a societal arena, you know, we're not really in the position to say how black we are.

MARTIN: Well, to that end though, you know, one of the other interesting news items this week is Congressman Tim Scott of South Carolina a freshman congressman - well, just reelected, actually. And he's now been elevated to fill the seat in the South Carolina - the United States Senate vacated by Jim DeMint, who is retiring to go to the Heritage Foundation, and he is an African-American Republican, declined to join the Black Caucus. Nobody's pulled his black card yet saying oh, you're not black.

But one of the things that I was interested in in this whole question about RGIII, is why is it any different from Republicans calling another Republican a RINO, which is Republican in name only? In name only? Why is it, I mean it's obviously it would hurt my feelings if somebody said that about me. It would hurt your feelings. But isn't there some elements of political speech involved here where you're saying, I don't identify with this person? And is that really beyond the boundaries of - it may be mean - but is it beyond the boundaries of discourse to say, I don't identify with this person because I don't think he identifies with me, particularly in the way people commodify their identity. I mean there's, you know, there's Tiger Woods whose first ad as a professional was for American Express, talking about golf courses where he could not play. And yet, then he wants to say well, I'm not really black. And so why is it really that wrong for somebody to say, I don't identify with this person because I don't think he identifies with me?

And the final point I would make on this is, you know, Robert Griffin plays for a team whose very name offends...


IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: ...hundreds of thousands of people every day.

SKOLNIK: Yeah. Word.



MARTIN: And I don't see anybody getting suspended over the fact that the name of that team is offensive to many, many hundreds of thousands of people who feel that it's ethnically offensive...

IFTIKHAR: Preach. Preach.

MARTIN: ...and of other people. And so I guess I don't understand it. So where is the line here? Nobody is suspending anybody over that. So...

SKOLNIK: This is Mikey Mike in New York.

MARTIN: Go ahead, Mike.

SKOLNIK: If I could just jump in there for a minute.

IZRAEL: I don't see why not.

SKOLNIK: Yeah. I feel like there is the difference for me at least, you know, RGIII, I'm a Giants fan so I don't like RGIII no matter what color skin he has.


SKOLNIK: But my thing on Tim Scott is, you know, Tim Scott was the co-chair of Strom Thurmond's final Senate reelection campaign in 1996. Right? So for me as a white guy, for a black person to actually stand up for Strom Thurmond, who was part of the KKK, he's fighting against what is good for black America. And I can certainly understand why black people would look at Tim Scott and say, what you doing for our community or are you even part of our community anymore?

JOHNSON: Oh. Oh. Oh. As many...

MARTIN: Well, he can decide what's not good for black - go ahead, Tim.

JOHNSON: ...as many people that stood up for Robert Byrd when he died, blacks that stood up for Robert Byrd, I mean we can go with the same rule on that, so we can have one rule for Tim Scott and another rule for black people that stood up for Robert Byrd when he died.

IFTIKHAR: Well, Robert Byrd denounced...

IZRAEL: Good point, Timothy.

IFTIKHAR: No, Robert Byrd denounced his KKK membership.

JOHNSON: Well, so did Strom Thurmond. So did Strom Thurmond.

SKOLNIK: Not the way Robert Byrd did.

JOHNSON: So did Strom Thurmond.

MARTIN: Well, Strom Thurmond had a really complicated history, as we know. I mean he was a person who was a strong supporter of HBCU.

IFTIKHAR: Segregationist.

MARTIN: He was a strong segregationist who was also a strong supporter of the HBCUs. A very interesting, you know, history both within his state and without his state.

Well, you know what? Before we go, I just wanted to say goodbye to all of you because I understand that, according to the Mayan calendar, the world was going to end tonight. So I just want to tell you all I love you all. If it doesn't happen, I'll see you, you know, next week, so.

IFTIKHAR: Likewise.


MARTIN: Jimi Izrael is a writer and culture critic. He's an adjunct professor of film and social media. He was here in our D.C. studio. Also in Washington, Arsalan Iftikhar, civil rights attorney and founder of themuslimguy.com. Timothy Johnson is the founder and president of the Frederick Douglass Foundation. That's a public policy organization focusing on limited government. He joined us from member station WCLK in Atlanta. With us from NPR's bureau in New York, Michael Skolnik, editor-in-chief of globalgrind.com.

Thank you all so much.


SKOLNIK: Fellas, the good.

JOHNSON: Happy holidays.

IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

MARTIN: And remember, if you can't get enough Barbershop buzz on the radio, look for our new Barbershop podcast. That's in the iTunes store or at NPR.org. And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Celeste Headley will talk more with you on Monday. Until I return, happy holidays. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.