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Did Dallas Mavericks Owner Drop The Ball On Sterling Controversy?


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, founder of themuslimguy.com, is with us from Chicago. In New York City, Kevin Williamson, roving correspondent at the National Review. And here in Washington, D.C., Paul Butler, law professor at Georgetown University. Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thank you, Michel. K-Dub, what's up man?

KEVIN WILLIAMSON: Well, happy World Turtle Day.

IZRAEL: Guess what day it is? It's shop day. Welcome to the shop, how we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey. What's happening?

WILLIAMSON: Woof, woof.

IZRAEL: My apologies to Chris Sullivan, the actual voice of the Geico camel. Let's get it rocking. All right, so as it turns out, Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban stirred things up this week with his comments about the whole Donald Sterling controversy. He didn't exactly defend the Clippers owner for making racist remarks, but he did say this. Drop that tape, please.


MARK CUBAN: I mean, we're all prejudice in one way or the other. If I see a black kid in a hoodie and it's late at night, I'm walking to the other side of the street. And if on that side of the street there's a guy that has tattoos all over his face - white guy, bald head, I'm walking back to the other side of the street.

IZRAEL: Wowzers. Cuban did tweet an apology to the family of Trayvon Martin because the whole black kid in a hoodie comment, but otherwise, he stood by his words. You know, I'm OK with Cuban. He - we couldn't - I wouldn't eat ribs with him, but, I mean, I'm OK with him...

MARTIN: Yes you would, 'cause he'd be buying.

IZRAEL: I would not. I would not. I only eat ribs with one man - #CharlesRamsey. It's like this here, you know, at least he's being honest about his biases. You know, we all need to step outside of our comfort zone to deal with some of these prejudices. K-Dub, how about you? Not to put you on the spot or anything but go ahead.

WILLIAMSON: Well, first of all, when he's talking about being afraid of walking down the street and seeing a white guy with a shaved head and tattoos - I'm coming after you.

MARTIN: I was going to say, that would be you, right? That would be K-Dub.

IZRAEL: Oh, snap.

MARTIN: It's true.

WILLIAMSON: This is sort of such a sad pat me on the head for being an enlightened guy sort of, you know, outburst. I mean, this sort of near universality of prejudice, which I think everyone acknowledges to some extent, doesn't tell us anything at all about this particular case with Sterling and what the NBA should do about it. So, it's just, you know, Cuban out there saying, you know, look at me, I'm an enlightened guy, love me.

IZRAEL: Yeah, you're probably right about that. Paul Butler, step up, man. What about your biases, man? Not to put you on blast - but maybe.


PAUL BUTLER: Maybe yeah because everybody has prejudices. And, you know, if I were a billionaire like Mark Cuban, I might even say what mine are, but I tried to work on them. You can actually go online, just Google implicit bias and you can take a test to see, you know, stuff that's inside your head that you don't even know about.

You know, when I'm driving and somebody cuts me off, sometimes things come out. I don't like it, but it's real.

IZRAEL: I love it.

BUTLER: So, you know, it's real, man. So I'm glad that Mark Cuban put it out there. I'm not a Mark Cuban fan, but it took courage to say what he said.

IZRAEL: Paul Butler with the great pivot off the question. A-Train - Arsalan Iftikhar - come with it. What are your biases, bro?

IFTIKHAR: Well, first of all, you know, I don't think Mark Cuban has to walk anywhere in his life. I mean, he could take his Gulfstream private jet from his bathroom to his kitchen, so I think that that needs to be said. But I do applaud him for, you know, acknowledging the fact that we do all have unconscious biases. And, you know, it's something that, you know, in my work as a diversity consultant with corporations and organizations, we talk about.

My only issue, of course, was with his hoodie reference. I love hoodies, I'm actually wearing a hoodie under my sport coat right now. And I think that that triggered people to the Trayvon Martin incident. We all remember Geraldo Rivera when he, you know, first brought the hoodie into the national limelight.

And I think that for some people in America, myself included, it was a raw nerve. And it struck a nerve in that a hoodie is an inanimate object, you know, like a roller coaster. A roller coaster is neither fun nor scary, and a hoodie is also an inanimate object - it's the context within which it's used.

So if I as a brown man or a white man were wearing a hoodie, Mark Cuban wouldn't cross the street. But he said if a black kid was wearing a hoodie, he was crossing the street - he would cross the street. And so I think it's these triggers that we have to talk about in our unconscious biases and the content and the context of the biases that we have that's really important.

MARTIN: So do you think he did the right - are you glad he spoke up or not? Are you thinking - because Kevin is saying this is bogus, this is just kind of love, you know, love my dog situation where he's kind of fishing for approval which is not really his. What are you saying?

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, as a basketball fan, you know, Mark Cuban has, you know, never met a television camera that he didn't like. You know, let's be honest with that. And I think he was mentioning an uncomfortable truth in light of the Donald Sterling situation. I think sadly now he is going to be the story, and Donald Sterling will sort of be relegated to the back burners.

MARTIN: Let me just - one thing though, I want to talk about what - this whole implicit bias question. I mean, I think, Paul, you brought that up. For people who are interested in digging into this more, the Post has something on this today.

Anthony Greenwald is professor of psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle and he's a co-author of "Blindspot: Hidden Biases Of Good People." He's been studying this for 20 years and he's got something called the implicit association test. And people can take this test online if they want to. And millions of people have taken it so far. And he says that what Cuban is saying is true. He's found in his research that about 75 percent of white Americans and almost exactly the same percentage of Asian Americans have something called - something that they call an automatic white preference in the test that compares white and black faces. And a higher proportion have an automatic young preference and a lot of people have gender stereotypes and associate women less with careers than men and women less with science.

And so I guess the point is that there is a lot of that in a lot of us. And so the question is - the question then becomes, I think, what have you acted upon it? And what are you going to do about it once you recognize it in yourself? And are those implicit biases affecting other people's life chances? And I think that's the question - which is where it goes back to, you know, Donald Sterling. I mean, is there some evidence that Mark Cuban has acted on these biases in a way that has redounded to the detriment of people in his sphere? And is he addressing that? That's kind of where I'd like to go with it. It's not - so you have your feelings, but what are you doing about it is the question? If it's hurting someone - that's what my question would be.

So, all right, anyway - do you want to go? OK, I've just stunned you into silence.


WILLIAMSON: You know, I'm just surprised the number's only 75 percent.

MARTIN: You think?

WILLIAMSON: I would think it'd be more like 97 percent.

IZRAEL: Maybe...

MARTIN: Why do you say that though? No, Kevin - why?

WILLIAMSON: Simply because stereotypes and prejudice about things like sex and ethnicity and religion and other sorts of demographic features are just, you know, darn near universal. And not just in the United States, I mean, it's true in Mexico, it's true in India, it's true in Japan, it's true in China. It just seems to be a naturally occurring part of the human psyche.

MARTIN: Except that you can train yourself - lots of things are natural occurring, which is what education is about and manners and things of...

WILLIAMSON: Well, yeah. And certainly you want to try to teach people to be better than they are, but the number of things that people have biases about, of course, isn't limited to demographic features. We have all sorts of biases about, you know, the way the world works. We have false ideas about Bryan Caplan from George Mason University - wrote a wonderful book called "The Myth Of The Rational Voter" about sort of documentably false ideas people have about the way the world works and how they act on it through politics. So, I mean, there is one of those things.

And as much as I personally aspire to be a sort of, you know, Spock-type character, most people don't have the time or the inclination to try to rationally think through every aspect of their lives. I mean, that's the reason that prejudices really develop as a form of social shorthand even though defective as they are, as a way of not having to think through from the beginning, every situation you come in to.

MARTIN: Sure, and it certainly doesn't help when media act as a feedback loop to represent - you know, to replicate people's false ideas. That certainly doesn't help, does it now? So...


MARTIN: Well, OK. Go ahead, Jimi. Do your thing.

IZRAEL: Well, Michel, speaking of the way the world works, there's a new term being thrown about. It's called trigger warning. I don't know what that's about.

MARTIN: Yes you do.

IZRAEL: I've heard it in the hood, but I haven't heard it on the radio. I mean, it's a term being tossed about college campuses. You know, the idea's for professors to warn students if text books, lectures or pastry or other class materials cover issues that may upset or offend them.

You know, Paul Butler, you and I both teach on college campuses - and maybe a few others of you. A-Train, you're doing DePaul. My man, pop that collar. Yo, well what - K - but Paul, you're up first. What do you think? I mean, do you support the whole trigger warning thing?

BUTLER: I think it's important to be sensitive to the ways that some student - some materials can be sensitive for students. I deal with this issue in my criminal law class when I teach rape law. So I know I have students in the class who have been victims as well as students who may have been falsely accused about doing things that they didn't do. So I do something like a trigger warning. And I also remember what it was like when I was in high school and we read "Huckleberry Finn," and it was a mainly white class where I was one of the few African-Americans. And students in discussing the book would say the N-word over and over, kind of putting it in my face. So I don't think it's being overly politically correct to understand that there's some very emotional, even traumatic issues for students that come up in the classroom.

MARTIN: What do you do? Do you say, I recognize this will be difficult for some of you so - what? You just need to know this or what do you do?


MARTIN: They can't opt out of it, though, right? If you're going to take criminal law, you have to at some point talk about it, right?

BUTLER: You do. So sometimes I tell students - 'cause I call on students at random, we use the Socratic method in law school so you don't know in advance whether you're going to get called on - so I tell students, if this is a particularly difficult subject, come during office hours and we can talk about it. Sometimes I'll have victims say that they don't want to be called on, and other times I'll see - I'll have victims say, I do want to be called on. This is something that I want to engage in the classroom because it happened to me and this is another way of processing at.

MARTIN: It shows that there's no one-size-fits-all in this. Well, what about other folks? I mean, I don't know. Arsalan, you're teaching now. What do you think about this?

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, when I read the story, I immediately thought of movie trailers, right? I thought of the Motion Picture Association of America. And when you get the movie rating system - now when you see the green band trailers, they'll tell you if there's, you know, graphic nudity, strong sexual content, prolific drug use. And I think that, you know, if you're dealing with literature that deals with, you know, hot-button issues like race or incest or, you know, racist terms, I don't think it's necessarily inherently a bad thing to be able to, you know, highlight that beforehand so that people know going in what sort of material they'll be reading. I think that, again, I think it's no different than the Motion Picture Association of America in their rating system.

MARTIN: Kevin, I think has a different view of this.

WILLIAMSON: Yeah, well, you know we were talking about biases - we were talking about biases earlier. In addition to my bias against people involved in professional sports and diversity consultants, I hate college students. And I say this as a guy who taught college for a while.

You know, when I was a kid, we were protesting against warning labels on things like rap albums and rock and roll records. And now we have kids out there who are demanding warning labels because they are too soft to handle a poem.

You know, I'm telling you if you're going to college and you're actually trying to get yourself literary education and you feel like you need a warning label before you read "Finnegans Wake" or "Ulysses," you're doing the wrong thing with your life. You should be out doing something else. Because if you can't handle a novel without a warning label, you can't handle Mark Twain without a warning label, there's something intellectually defective about you and you should just stop trying to pursue a literary education.

MARTIN: Would it be too terrible, though, to say - I mean, we do this on this program in part because we feel like you might be a captive audience, right? You might just be - you might be driving along or you might be sitting there in carpool and then something comes along that you - we say, here's something coming up - might not be for you. Is that wrong?

WILLIAMSON: Good Lord, life sucks. Get a helmet, grow up.

IZRAEL: Nice. Thank you, professor K-Dub.

MARTIN: Is there anything that pushes your buttons, Kevin, that would hurt you if somebody just hit you over the head with it without warning? Is there anything...

WILLIAMSON: There's all sort things that push my buttons. I mean, listen to what I have to say every day and what I write about. My buttons are getting pushed all the time. If my buttons weren't getting pushed, I wouldn't get out of bed in the morning. But so what? That's, you know, that's what happens. It's living life in a free society with lots of different kinds of people with lots of different ideas.

IZRAEL: Also, Michel...

BUTLER: But if you're trying to teach people - if you're trying to teach people, you have to be sensitive to where students are. And again, if you want them to get the lesson, you know, you got to be sensitive in the way you teach it. Again, I don't think it's being too sensitive - it's the real world.


WILLIAMSON: Especially if you want to teach them sort of difficult ideas about things like literature and history and politics, you need to be insensitive to them. You need to run over their little prejudices and their little preferences and their little sentimentality and all the emotional crap they grew up with, and hit them with what's actually going on. Hit them with the material, and if they're not ready for it, so much the better. Actually, sometimes that produces a good reaction in someone.

BUTLER: Yeah, I mean, it's tough love. It doesn't always work in the classroom 'cause I'll have students crying, students wanting to leave the classroom. And, you know, obviously they're not going to get this lesson if they're not present either physically or emotionally.

WILLIAMSON: I always looked forward to making my students cry, but maybe that's just me.

MARTIN: Good Lord, it's you.


IZRAEL: I do want - can I say this one point?

MARTIN: Yes you may, quickly.

IZRAEL: I do believe that college is about challenging students with new ideas that maybe may hurt them. I believe that. And I think that's the point.

MARTIN: OK, well, that's why we have different views on it. It's good to hear. It's good to hear. It's interesting. OK, we have a couple of minutes here. From politically correct campuses to politically correct fashion - I'm not sure I even like that phrase. But Levi's CEO, Chip Bergh, says people should conserve water by washing their jeans less often. He says he's setting the example. Here's a clip of him explaining this at a sustainability conference.


CHIP BERGH: These are one of my favorite jeans. These jeans are maybe a year old and these have yet to see a washing machine. I know that sounds totally disgusting.


BERGH: I know it does, but believe me, it can be done. You can spot clean it, you can air dry it, and it's fine. I have yet to get a skin disease or anything else. It works.

MARTIN: Or a date, because...


MARTIN: I'm sorry, I just have to ask the guys 'cause we had a lively conversation around this at our conference table. And, like, all the women started moving back from the table when - so anyway, Paul, I'll ask you first.

BUTLER: I would never wash my jeans. My jeans are way too expensive to wash. I get them dry cleaned.

MARTIN: OK. That's bougie if there ever was. All right, Kevin what about you?

BUTLER: You calling me bougie?

MARTIN: Kind of, yeah.

WILLIAMSON: Dang, he just stole my line. I actually buy fairly fancy jeans, too, and they have to be dry cleaned as well.

MARTIN: They have to be dry cleaned?

WILLIAMSON: Although, actually I send all of my stuff out for that because I'm a touch too lazy to do it myself.

IFTIKHAR: Tough life you guys live there.

MARTIN: That's right, you're bougie, too. Arsalan, what about you? To wash or not to wash those jeans?

IFTIKHAR: Well, for me it's interesting. I don't wash my jeans very often for a different reason - is that I'm 6'4" with about four feet of legs. And so every time I wash my jeans, the length shrinks and ultimately they'll turn out to look like Steve Urkel high waters. And so, you know, I have to make sure that I get like 36 length jeans because of my height. So I don't wash my jeans very often because of the fact that they'll shrink in length.

MARTIN: You just throw them out when they're dirty, right? Buy more.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, 'cause I buy $20 jeans from Old Navy.

MARTIN: OK, Jimi, what about you?

IZRAEL: Yo, I know if this cat walked in my house with some year old jeans that he hadn't washed smelling like fried chicken and kitty litter, that'll be a fight. That will be a fight straight up. But personally, I wear Levis 550s, they get washed after every wear. And that's the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, I like it.

MARTIN: All right, OK. Again, a diversity of views. I like it.

Jimi Izrael is a writer. You can find his blog at jimiizrael.com. Kevin Williamson is a roving correspondent with the National Review. He's with us from NPR member station, WGVU which is in Grand Rapids, Mich. Paul Butler's a law professor at Georgetown. Arsalan Iftikhar's founder of themuslimguy.com and an adjunct professor of religious studies at DePaul University. Paul was here with me in Washington, D.C. Arsalan, where are you?

IFTIKHAR: Chicago.

MARTIN: You're in Chicago, member station WBEZ. Thanks for joining us.


WILLIAMSON: Pretty sure I'm not in Michigan.

MARTIN: All right.


MARTIN: And remember, if you can't get enough Barbershop buzz on the radio, look for our Barbershop podcast. That's in the iTunes Store or at npr.org. That's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and 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.