MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
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 shape-up this week are writer Jimi Izrael, with us from Cleveland, Arsalan Iftikhar, senior editor of The Islamic Monthly, with us from Chicago. Here in Washington D.C., contributing editor for The Root, Corey Dade. Also here in D.C., TELL ME MORE editor Ammad Omar. Take it away, Jimi.
JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas. Welcome to the shop, how we doing?
AMMAD OMAR, BYLINE: What up?
ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey. What's happening?
IZRAEL: All right, well, you know, let's get ready to rumble. OK, nobody's that excited.
MARTIN: That was very good...
IZRAEL: Am I the only person...
MARTIN: That was very exciting.
IZRAEL: ...Excited about George Zimmerman and rapper DMX? They're reportedly in talks to box each other next month. David Feldman, the owner of celebrity boxing - you might remember, you know, the Tonya Harding and Screech matches - I got quote fingers up. He said he's got 15,000 requests from people who wanted to see them go - see DMX go against the former neighborhood watchman. Here's what DMX had to say about the possible fight. Drop that tape.
(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)
DMX: Well, I was challenged - was challenged. And then, I still haven't really decided whether I was going to do it. But if I did do it, the money that - whatever money was supposed to go to him would have to go to charity.
IZRAEL: No, he's - thank you for that. He's kidding. He needs the money. He needs something to keep him out of trouble too. You know, I'm actually OK with this. I mean, accused murderer Sam Sheppard here in Cleveland - he was accused of the murder of his wife in the '50s - he went on to a prolific, prolific career as a professional wrestler. So if he can do it, I don't know why Zimmerman can't. I tell you, this is still America last I checked. Corey Dade, where are you on this, bro?
MARTIN: Wanting you to reach through the mic.
COREY DADE: You know, I...
MARTIN: Do violence to you.
DADE: Man, you know...
IZRAEL: Good luck with that.
DADE: Put it like this, Zimmerman won't be able to bring a gun into the ring, so, you know, and with DMX in his current state, you know, he might act a fool up in there, up in there. You know, I had to get that in, I couldn't help it. I'm sorry.
IZRAEL: That was great, you know.
DADE: But, you know, the - you know, this is so interesting. I mean, Zimmerman, you know, his post-trial life has gone down the road of the O.J. Simpson road to perdition at this point. You know, you think about O.J.'s acquittal back in 1995 and his life subsequently after his bad acts, his questionable decisions - basically in the court of public opinion, he got convicted of that prior crime in retrospect. And at this point, with Zimmerman, every move he makes now, he is undoing any credibility that he built among his supporters.
At the end of the day, you know, I don't have a position on whether or not the fight should happen. I think it is - you know, it sends a terrible message about this society in that, you know, someone who can be in - you know, the perpetrator of that kind of violence against an unarmed boy could actually profit from it. And that's a thing that just strikes me as scary.
IZRAEL: Yo, Ammad, you know, any chances this fight won't be fixed?
OMAR: I don't know. The promoter Damon Feldman has been accused of fixing matches in the past and he hasn't completely denied that. Side note though - I probably would pay to watch a Corey Dade versus Jimi Izrael celebrity boxing match.
IFTIKHAR: Sign me up for that.
OMAR: It could be something. We'll talk to Damon about that after the show maybe. But, you know, it's funny, I kind of have changed my mind on this. When I first saw it I was like, oh, that could be very entertaining. And then, you know, I heard from Michael Skolnik - who was supposed to be here today - and he basically pointed out that this guy has gotten all of his fame from killing a kid.
DADE: That's right.
OMAR: And we're now going to make him a celebrity out of that? It just seems extremely tasteless and I'm kind of on that wagon now where, yeah, probably won't watch that. And DMX, I think he's got to channel that DMX at the end of "Belly," you know, where he comes all nonviolent and righteous. He's got to - he's got to remember that.
MARTIN: You know, the other part about this that gets me is part of Zimmerman's defense was that he - well, one of the defense witnesses argued that part of the reason he was in fear of his life is that he was a terrible boxer.
OMAR: That's right.
MARTIN: I mean, his trainer testified that he was on a scale of 1 to 10, a 5.
OMAR: . Point 5.
MARTIN: He called him...
OMAR: A .5.
MARTIN: ...A .5, I'm sorry. A .5. He...
OMAR: He wouldn't even let him spar.
MARTIN: He said that he was physically soft and fat - you know, quoting from his testimony. So how is it that all of a sudden, this is a person who was in fear of his life, so he had to shoot a person who was unarmed - but now he's going to box for money...
OMAR: And why is he...
MARTIN: ...This is part of the problem that I have.
DADE: Two words.
OMAR: And also - but also why is he singling out, wanting to fight a black guy? He specifically started targeting black male rappers as his opponents. Why them? What is it with him and black guys? What does he have to prove?
MARTIN: As - after saying that his - the other aspect of his defense advanced in the public sphere by his brother is that, oh, he's not a racist, he has black friends. And so, again, we have to ask kind of what is this?
OMAR: And he also said Trayvon's fists were deadly weapons, if I recall correctly. And now, we're in a boxing ring.
MARTIN: Arsalan, what do you have to say about this, Arsalan?
IFTIKHAR: Yeah, I mean this certainly gets the redonkulous award of the week for me. I mean, here you have two knuckleheads who are essentially profiting, you know, whether monetarily or just by sheer celebrity off of Trayvon Martin's death. I mean, imagine getting famous for shooting and killing a black teenager. I mean, to me this is completely absurd and, you know, it doesn't matter that Zimmerman says that, you know, if he says that all of his money will go to charity - I mean, which one, the NRA?
IFTIKHAR: You know, this is something that I think is, like Corey and Ammad have said, is sort of endemic of our American society today. And it's something that I think should not be condoned by anyone.
MARTIN: Can I ask Jimi - you said you don't have a problem with it. And why is that? I mean, I'm not saying...
MARTIN: ...You should, I'm just curious - is it because you feel that people are free to ignore it? Or is it that...
IZRAEL: That's right. Yeah.
MARTIN: ...You feel like people have a right to earn a living however they do?
IZRAEL: Yeah, you could ignore. You can acknowledge it. You can do what you want. I mean, 'cause the fact of the matter is, you know, I'm - I mean, Zimmerman needs a gig. He can't work anywhere. You know, DMX needs a gig, he can't work anywhere. And like I said, this is America. You got to hustle, you got to come up with some way to put food on the table. And I'm not...
MARTIN: Well, why couldn't other people refuse to participate? Take the air out of it? Why couldn't they just say, you know what, no we're not...
IZRAEL: I'm OK with that.
MARTIN: ...Going to - we're not going to give you a platform for your - for whatever this is you're working through. Like, just what Corey was saying, he seems to be specifically targeting black male rappers and what if they all just said no?
IZRAEL: What if? I'm OK with...
DADE: DMX needs a paycheck.
IZRAEL: That's exactly right. Let DMX earn his paycheck. If that's what he wants to do - because, I mean, the truth to tell, I would probably give odds to DMX because he's a little lighter on his feet, you know. And so he may take Zimmerman down in three - at the end of three. But, hey, man, it's still America. So let people earn.
MARTIN: You know, I wonder if this in some weird way - and I think, you know what, we've already given this like maybe five minutes more than it needed to - I mean, you know, just to be honest about it. But I kind of wonder in some weird ways - is this Zimmerman's kind of way of providing catharsis for everybody. I mean, he knows he's going to get beat. So is the idea of sort of providing...
MARTIN: ...This kind of catharsis.
OMAR: ...'Cause he's that selfless, yeah.
MARTIN: No, but - or, it's a very complex mental makeup, wouldn't you say?
MARTIN: Perhaps, perhaps not.
IZRAEL: But having said all of that, if Zimmerman has any squabbles at all - if he has any boxing training at all, he's going to take DMX down 'cause he's got him by at least 75 pounds, if he has him by about ounce.
MARTIN: OK, all right, I think we've given this enough time so let's move on. This is our weekly Barbershop roundtable. We're joined by writer Jimi Izrael, commentator Arsalan Iftikhar, journalists Corey Dade and Ammad Omar. Back to you, Jimi.
IZRAEL: All right, thanks Michel. You know, fans like me were excited to see the "Seinfeld" gang return in a Super Bowl commercial last week. But this week, some of Jerry Seinfeld's comments about diversity in comedy had people kind of scratching their heads. Michel, we've got a clip, yup?
MARTIN: Yes, we do. In an interview with BuzzFeed Brews, Seinfeld was asked about criticism that his show, "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee," features mostly white men and this is what he said.
(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)
JERRY SEINFELD: Funny is the world that I live in and I have no interest in gender or race or anything like that, but everyone else is kind of - with their little calculating - is this the exact right mix? To me, it's anti-comedy. It's more about PC nonsense than are you making us laugh or not?
MARTIN: All right, so.
MARTIN: So what do other people think about this?
IZRAEL: Well, somebody check in. I mean, Corey, you want a piece of this?
DADE: I mean, he has a point. I mean, funny is a number one goal for any comedian. You know, comedy reflects a comedian's life experiences or their worldview. You know, Seinfeld is a rich, white Jewish guy from New York. You know, racial and ethnic diversity has never been central to his professional life. So why are we going to put that on him? Everyone doesn't have to be a race warrior or a gender warrior. He's certainly not doing the opposite. He's certainly not denigrating women. He's certainly not denigrating people of other races. But, you know, the truth is, you know, Seinfeld's good friend Chris Rock - he has built his entire career off of drawing distinctions between people of different races, people of different cultures. He delves into and stews in that whole racial comedy. So for every Seinfeld who doesn't want to touch it, we got a Chris Rock, so fine.
IZRAEL: And not...
IFTIKHAR: Well, this...
IZRAEL: Go ahead Arsalan.
IFTIKHAR: Well, I was going to push back a little on what Corey said. You know, it kind of reminds me - Jerry Seinfeld's clearly speaking from a - from his privileged place as a white heterosexual man.
OMAR: That's right.
IFTIKHAR: And, you know, it is easy to scoff at diversity when you're a white male who's in the dominant demographic in virtually every workforce in America. And it reminds me of this concept of unconscious bias, which was penned by diversity expert Howard Ross, which basically says that, you know, we're not necessarily all racists or homophobes or misogynists, but we have these unconscious biases that come into play. And I think if you look at Seinfeld's show, it was a lily-white show that was supposed to represent New York City. I mean, I think the only recurring character of color that I can remember was Babu Bhatt, the Pakistani restaurateur, who was actually played by an Israeli of Iraqi descent. And as the famous comedian Louis C.K. once said, I'm a white man, you can't even hurt my feelings. And so...
IFTIKHAR: ...We have to understand there are a lot of these underlying dominant narratives that are being personified by Seinfeld in his privileged place.
DADE: I agree.
IZRAEL: Can I jump in here? Can I jump in here...
MARTIN: Yeah, go ahead.
IZRAEL: ...As the resident creative. You know, diversity...
MARTIN: Oh, excuse us.
IZRAEL: ...Listen. No disrespect to anybody, but diversity is really only relevant if it serves a story purpose. So, I mean, look, on "Welcome Back, Carter - Kotter," yeah, it had - it was relevant to the story purpose. It was relevant to the storyline. In "Seinfeld' it's less so. And actually, what he's telling you by not including people in his - in the world of "Seinfeld" - he's telling you about the characters and how myopic and self-centered they are.
IZRAEL: So that actually speaks to the story in some very important ways - that they live in a New York where people of color or people of - with diverse sexual backgrounds or whatever, they don't exist unless they're useful in some way.
MARTIN: OK, but the way he responded to it sounds to me kind of defensive. It's like, this is PC nonsense. I mean, he's at a point in his career where he could perhaps - I think part of what people are saying - you could afford to give a leg up to people and an opportunity to showcase their work. I mean, look at the Leno - you know, Jay Leno had his last show, you know, last night. And one of the people that he brought on - as his last week of shows, he was bringing on the people who were important to him. And some of the people who were important - that were important to him were people like Arsenio Hall, who sub-hosted for him and gave him a platform. And there were also young performers who he - showcased as children. And he brought a lot of them back. I mean, part of it is sort of giving other people an opportunity to shine. And I do have to point out that, look, "Saturday Night Live" executive producer Lorne Michaels is said to be kind of the man behind modern comedy. There's been a lot of conversation about the lack of diversity on "Saturday Night Live" up to this point. Now he's going to be behind, you know, Jimmy Fallon show taking over "The Tonight Show." He's going to be behind Seth Meyers' show - formerly of "Saturday Night Live" taking over Fallon - I think part of what people are reacting to here is saying, OK, when do other people give other people a chance to shine? To showcase?
IZRAEL: Well, real - real talk. You guys are hitting against Jerry - Jerry Seinfeld, but he tours with George Wallace and Mario Joyner, his best friends. And they open for him. So real talk.
MARTIN: But he could have said that, right? Why didn't he say that?
IZRAEL: He gives opportunities. Because it's not his job to say that. He doesn't owe anybody an explanation for what - how he does his show.
MARTIN: Then don't answer the question.
DADE: But I think - but I don't think that's Seinfeld's purpose. I think to Jimi's point is there's purposefulness - I mean, "Saturday Night Live," Jimmy Fallon, Jay Leno, those are shows for broad consumption. They are meant to reflect a broader swath of America. So they have, to me, a greater responsibility. Seinfeld as a private, single comedian, he doesn't have that role.
MARTIN: Jimi - I'm sorry, Ammad wanted to get in on this.
OMAR: Just the one little thing that was interesting to me, I'm kind of favoring - I'm falling on Corey's side over here where it doesn't really bother me that much. And I think one of the things that was different with this and the whole issue that happened with "Saturday Night Live" was that Kenan from "Saturday Night Live" came out and said, you know, there aren't any funny black women and that's why they're not on the show. Seinfeld didn't say that. He's like, I just don't really think about that. And that's been his MO his whole time and it's been pretty funny, I like "Seinfeld," so I'm all right with it, I think.
DADE: And also "SNL" makes - they bend over backwards to try to do comedy that brings in people of color and they do it poorly.
MARTIN: Sure, as long as they're being demeaning...
MARTIN: ...You know, as long as they're perpetuating every stereotype that you...
MARTIN: ...Have of both men and women as being oversexed, unintelligent.
DADE: Right. So that puts them on the hook to do it better.
MARTIN: And of course - and every time you talk about they say, oh, see, you've got a chip on your shoulder, great. So it kind of works, it's a feedback loop, right?
MARTIN: So anybody - anytime anybody gets mad about it, they go, oh, you're so mad. How convenient. So, that was supposed to be funny, but it wasn't.
IZRAEL: I left that one alone.
MARTIN: I know, right? All right, well, let's keep - let me just point out - you know, black people aren't the only people who have complained about this. You know, there's a - kind of another person who's kind of been weighing in on this, Felix Sanchez is a person who brought attention to the lack of diversity in the Kennedy Center Honors who's also kind of been speaking about "Saturday Night Live" too - who hasn't had a Hispanic lead character since Horatio Sanz left. So we'll see. You know, we'll see. One more thing I wanted to talk about, you know that the drugstore giant CVS says that they're skipping the smokes? The chain is going to phase out selling tobacco products by next October. You know, I think we have a diverse panel here - smokers and non-smokers. I just have to ask people what they think about this. Arsalan, I think you're in the S-column.
IFTIKHAR: Yeah, you know, being a smoker - bad habit, I know - I think it's totally understandable what CVS is doing. I mean, you know, they want to, you know, perpetuate, you know, an image of health and wellness. Where - I don't want to give them full props on this yet because, you know, they still sell beer and alcohol in their pharmacies as well. And so...
MARTIN: They do?
IFTIKHAR: ...I think - yeah they do.
OMAR: Not everywhere.
IFTIKHAR: Not everywhere, but they do...
MARTIN: And the cough syrup? I didn't know that they - so they do some places? OK.
IFTIKHAR: You can get a 12 pack of Miller Light in the freezers. And so I think that, you know, this is a good step, I can understand why they do it. But, you know, if they really want to do health and wellness, I think that they need to remove alcohol as well.
MARTIN: Corey, what do you think? You're in the N-column - the non-smoker column.
DADE: I'm in the non-smoker column, but my view of it doesn't have anything to do with whether or not I'm a smoker. I think this is - this is good brand management. CVS has gone whole hog into being a pharmacy and a health provider with their medical clinics, with Obamacare ramping up - they're all in. So, you know, they can't be true to their brand if they're selling cigarettes. Now, you know, alcohol notwithstanding. So I think the other part is, this isn't exactly the biggest sacrifice on the part of CVS. You know, cigarette sales account for about 1 percent - 1 and a half percent of their hundred and twenty-three billion annual revenue last year. So I think what's interesting is what this makes other competitors do - Walgreens for example, this week they just announced an effort to get into a smoking cessation program. So I think this is actually a good story of a company, a major company, putting its money where its mouth is.
MARTIN: Anybody else?
OMAR: I think that it's just kind of weird that there are cigarettes in a pharmacy. It's one of those things that I think 10...
DADE: How about that?
OMAR: ...Years from now you'll be like, what? Did they have them at the hospital?
MARTIN: But then the weird question is, are they going to sell weed for medicinal purposes?
MARTIN: That's the question I have. Anybody? All right.
DADE: Maybe in Colorado.
MARTIN: OK, all right. So Jimi Izrael's a writer and adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College. You can find his blog at JimiIzrael.com. He was with us from NPR member station, WCPN in Cleveland. Arsalan Iftikhar is founder of TheMuslimGuy.com and Senior Editor Islamic Monthly with us from WBEZ in Chicago. Corey Dade is a contributing editor for The Root. That's an online publication that focuses on issues of particular interest to African-Americans with us in D.C. Along with TELL ME MORE editor Ammad Omar. Thank you all so much.
OMAR: Thank you.
DADE: Yes sir.
MARTIN: And remember, if you can't get enough Barbershop buzz on the radio, look for our Barbershop podcast in the iTunes Store or at NPR.org. That's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Let's talk more on Monday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.