MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now, it's time to head into the Beauty Shop. That's where we get a fresh cut on some of the week's news. The ladies are going to weigh in on the president's State of the Union address, and reaction from Capitol Hill and the Tea Party.
We'll also talk about a comprehensive new survey about how black women see themselves and their place in society. This is the first time this has been done in years, if at all - very interesting findings.
And some sad news about the latest Hollywood breakup. Say it ain't so - Seal and Heidi Klum.
With us to talk about these stories are Viviana Hurtado, blogger-in-chief of the website the Wise Latina Club. Shelby Blakely is the journalist coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots; she's been with us before to tell us about doings in the Tea Party. Her group is grassroots organization which supports local Tea Party groups. Danielle Belton is back with us. She's author of the blog the Black Snob; she's also a contributor to Essence magazine. And Krissah Thompson is a national staff writer at the Washington Post. She was one of the writers on that series on black women.
Thank you all so much for joining us.
VIVIANA HURTADO: Oh, thank you.
SHELBY BLAKELY: Thanks for having us, Michel.
DANIELLE BELTON: Thank you.
KRISSAH THOMPSON: Glad to be here.
MARTIN: So we've spent a good part of the program today talking about the State of the Union address and reactions to it. We heard from - a Newsmaker Interview, Valerie Jarrett, key adviser to the president. We heard members of Congress from both sides of the aisle. So - of course, we heard Marilyn's take.
But now, I want to make you part of my TELL ME MORE focus group - if that's OK - and get your thoughts about the State of the Union, and the responses to it. One person we hadn't heard from yet to this point is the former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, who was asked to speak on behalf of the Tea Party. Remember, Michele Bachmann, Minnesota congresswoman, gave the response last year.
Here's just - like, a short clip of Herman Cain, if you didn't hear it - because it came in kind of late. Here it is:
(SOUNDBITE OF TEA PARTY RESPONSE TO STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS)
HERMAN CAIN: With all due respect, Mr. President, some of us are not stupid. The state of the union is not good. We want common-sense solutions. That's how we do it outside of Washington, and we happen to believe that we need more common-sense solutions inside of Washington.
MARTIN: So Shelby, I'm going to go to you first because you're a member of the Tea Party Patriots. Did Herman Cain - did he hit it out of the park for you? Did he convey your concerns?
BLAKELY: Well, there were a lot of similarities between his message and the sentiments we're receiving from the Tea Party. But Herman Cain is not a spokesman for the Tea Party, and neither is Michele Bachmann. Every year, it seems, you've got somebody claiming to speak for the Tea Party when in reality, you don't - you cannot speak for who you do not speak to. And it's not really a concerted effort. Sometimes, you feel like it's being hijacked for some odd reason.
MARTIN: Would you have liked it better if there had been no response from - somebody claiming to speak for the Tea Party? You think that would have been better?
BLAKELY: I think it would have been better if a Tea Party response would have come from someone who works within the Tea Party. Jenny Beth Martin is co-founder of Tea Party Patriots. Mark Meckler, myself, local coordinators, state coordinators from across the country - there are, literally, millions of people in the Tea Party. And I would rather have someone answer who has been putting in the hard work of political activism, as opposed to someone who just finished running for president.
MARTIN: Oh, OK. And just to clarify, Tea Party Express invited Herman Cain and - so for what that's worth. But Shelby, thanks for that.
Viviana, what about you? Of all the speeches that you heard last night, what was the thing that stood out for you?
HURTADO: I think it's interesting that there were a lot of Republican responses. We know that the official response was given by Mitch Daniel, governor of Indiana, and the response in Spanish was given by Kiko Canseco, Texas representative. And what they had in common was really hitting the president hard on his record on unemployment, as well as out-of-control spending - and the whole notion that Washington is broken.
Interestingly, though, the president hit on those same themes. And so the question really is, going forward, whose side is the American people going to take? And what's interesting is, even though for a third year polling, President Obama has low approval ratings - at about 44.5 percent - here's another number that's really interesting to look at.
ABC News has people who surveyed approval of Congress at 13 percent, and congressional Republicans at 21 percent. And so we're in an election year. We saw that this State of the Union is President Obama making that first-pitch effort. And he's out in battleground states the next three days, to sell it. The question is: Will the American people - going to buy it? And they are going to buy a vision; is it going to be his?
MARTIN: Danielle, what about you - what do you think?
BELTON: Well, I feel like it's such a huge contrast. I mean, you have President Obama, who's, you know, who's very positive, very patriotic, you know, even talking about the military success as kind of State of the Union; and you've got the Republican responses, which have all been hype and pretty much on the negative - about how bad things are, and how bad the economy is. It's such an interesting contrast, considering that people want things to get better, they want to hear solutions how to get things better, but the only person who actually believes the government can actually do something about making things better is the president. The Republicans are all pretty much running on a platform that government can't fix things; all our salvation is in capitalism and the free market.
MARTIN: You know what was funny, though, that - I don't know if any of you saw the interview with - that Brian Williams, of NBC News, did with Mitt Romney last night, the sort-of, kind-of leader of the field of the Republican presidential candidates. And he said that Obama stole his ideas. So which is it?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: I mean, which is it?
BELTON: Well, I mean, if he stole his ideas, next week he won't like those ideas, then, because that's pretty much been the pattern...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
BELTON: ...when Obama co-ops a former Republican idea. All of a sudden, they don't own it anymore.
MARTIN: Well, Krissah, I'm not going to ask you to weigh in and give an opinion on this, because I know you're a field reporter.
And if you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. We're having our visit to the Beauty Shop, where we get a fresh cut on issues in the news. And we're joined by Danielle Belton of the Black Snob blog - that's who was speaking just now - Viviana Hurtado of the Wise Latina Club.com, Shelby Blakely of the Tea Party Patriots.
And now, we're going to hear from Krissah Thompson - because you worked on this very interesting series done in conjunction between the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation. They conducted this extensive, nationwide survey of black women's views. Krissah, I don't remember - I can't remember a comprehensive project like this. Can you?
THOMPSON: No. And we...
MARTIN: What motivated it?
THOMPSON: We - six years ago, we did a similar project on black men. It was called "Being a Black Man." And that really bubbled up in the newsroom. There were men who remembered a decade prior - we had had the Million Man March and, you know, President Obama at that time, he was in the Senate and, you know, folks were talking about him as a potential presidential candidate - and so the idea of really taking a look at where black men were in America. And a similar feeling has come up about black women. We have books looking at the image of black women in society; conversations have organically been taking place. And it just felt like the right time.
MARTIN: To add some rigor to that conversation.
MARTIN: Some of the findings - I don't know what struck you; I'll just read some of them for folks who haven't had a chance to check out this series yet. Forty percent of the black women surveyed say getting married is very important, but that compares with 55 percent of white women. This finding was among those - a number that showed some real differences in the outlook and experiences of black women, according to the poll.
Here are some others. More than a fifth of black women say that being wealthy is very important, compared with one in 20 white women. And 67 percent of black women describe themselves as having high self-esteem, compared with 43 percent of white women. But also, a significant number of black women say that they experience a lot of stress and have trouble paying their bills, even though they feel really positive overall about their lives.
So Krissah, I'm interested - what stood out for you, as a person who looked at all of this?
THOMPSON: There was one figure that really struck me, and it was the - we asked the question: How important is being very successful in your career? And for black women, overall, I think something like 68 percent said that being successful in their careers - were very important. And then when you looked at black women under the age of 35, 98 percent said it was very important. And that contrasted with white women, who we also oversampled, and it was something like 15 percentage points less important. So when you think about that figure and sort of what that means, I really wanted to probe what our ideas of success are today.
MARTIN: Danielle, what did you think? That's your crowd.
BELTON: Well, I really - it really fell into line with what I already kind of believe and think, and conversations that I've had with my peers - where I feel like black women are reacting to a reality, an economic reality that we've always dealt with. You know, my grandmothers both - on both sides had to work. My great-grandmothers had to work. And so the message that my mom and me and my sisters got was: You cannot depend on a man to take care of you. Even if you get a husband, there's a good chance that he might be unemployed, he might not be able to get a high wage-earning job. You need to be just as educated. You need to succeed in order to take care of yourself and any potential children you might have. And a lot of black women, regardless of their educational background, have gotten that same message. Therefore, you see that overemphasis on their careers, as opposed to whether or not they'll get married.
MARTIN: Do you see it is overemphasis?
BELTON: Well, I don't think it's a - I think it's a good emphasis, I mean, to be honest. I mean, I think it's a good thing for women to take stock in themselves, and to value themselves, and to find self-worth in their careers and their communities.
MARTIN: Shelby, how does that strike you? I'm interested in your take on it.
BLAKELY: Well, I have to agree with both Danielle and Viviana; that black women are reacting to a reality. And the black community, for quite a few decades now, has had to deal with large amounts of poverty, and that's just a natural reaction to it.
Right now, in this country, one out of every seven people are on food stamps, and that's a reality that everyone has to adjust to and accommodate for. So I think it's a very good thing that they are paying attention to their surroundings, and understanding that no one is coming to save them, and that they are taking charge and taking action. I think it's a great thing.
MARTIN: But doesn't it kind of defy the stereotypes, though, that people are sitting around waiting for somebody to save them?
BLAKELY: Well, when it comes to the sheer number of people in this country that are dependent on the federal government, that get a check from the federal government, it's absolutely staggering. The - I believe...
MARTIN: But most of those people aren't black, though, right? I mean...
BLAKELY: There's - you know what? There's - I believe there's a higher percentage of black people who are - who do receive some sort of entitlement check. But the reality isn't different. If you are receiving a check from the government, you are most likely...
MARTIN: To be older.
BLAKELY: ...around the poverty level.
MARTIN: No. Well, I mean, I think that most - the largest entitlement programs, as we know, are geared toward the elderly. So I think that that's a fact. And it is also true - just to clarify this for people who don't know - that the largest percentage of people who receive food stamps in this country, overwhelmingly, are white. In fact, African-Americans are far less likely to receive food stamps than other groups, even though there's a larger percentage of black people who are poor. So I just think it's important to clarify those.
Viviana, you haven't weighed on this. That was Krissah Thompson who was talking earlier, who worked on this series. Viviana, your thoughts about this?
HURTADO: I thought it was interesting that Krissah's article - wrote that for a lot of young, black women, they were looking at the trails that people like Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey blazed, and that they - that was giving them inspiration to really reach for the stars. And I thought it was interesting that Michelle Obama, to Gayle King on CBS, spoke about the weight of this stereotype, this label of being an angry black woman. And so it's interesting to see that even though there's incredible advances, there still is a lot of - I guess molds that black women, and all women of color, are still breaking.
And I just wanted to say, as well, that I'm looking forward to a similar study in the Latino community because Latina women, as well, are weighed down by a lot of cultural low expectations, as well as low societal expectations. And so I don't see a lot of the women in the media, besides hot tamales or maids. And of course, we know that there are a real multiplicity of Latina women, particularly the U.S.-born. They're becoming more educated; they're more career-focused. They're leading their families and their household incomes.
MARTIN: And we certainly heard from one of those people this morning, Loretta Sanchez, a member of Congress, who is nobody's - she might be hot, but she's nobody's tamale, right? So...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: You know, the survey did talk a lot about love and marriage, too, which is interesting. But, you know, in the celebrity kind of relationship news, there's the news that supermodel Heidi Klum and singer Seal are breaking up after - what, seven or eight years of marriage. And, you know, this is just one of those things that - it's just a bummer. I'm sorry, it's just a bummer. Just because you don't see - you know, they, unlike some people, don't seem to be playing their relationship out in the media except that, you know, they do do a lot of red carpets - as you might imagine, since she is in fashion. And then you hear that Aretha Franklin has called off her engagement. So I don't know. Danielle, what does that - does that bum you out to hear this, or you just don't care?
BELTON: Oh, this, you know, it reminds me that no matter your economic status or your celebrity status, you still have to deal with people one-on-one, like everyone else does. So you still fall in love. You still deal with all the negatives and the positives that come with that love. And so just us looking on the outside - this couple is wonderful, beautiful, and looks gorgeous and perfect. But they still probably had all the same problems we all have with our partners, and it just became overwhelming for them.
MARTIN: Oh, you just have too much common sense. I'm sorry.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: Shelby, what about you? Were you clutching your pearls when you heard this news?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
BLAKELY: Well, honestly, it's happening more and more, and it's happening so often that marriage now is defined as: Will you be my soul mate for the next five to 10 years? And after that, all bets are off. But, I mean, there's four kids involved in this mess, and they're going to have to figure out how to, you know, split households and share time between parents.
And I think the kids really get forgotten and lost in this idea that we've grown apart, or we've fallen out of love. I mean, these are real people, and there's going to be real injury, no matter how amicable a split up is.
MARTIN: I hear you. Do you think - and it is worth mentioning - those children are very young. In fact, one is - only - the youngest is only 2. Shelby, do you think - and Viviana, you might want to weigh in on this as well - do you think that celebrities are leading or following on this?
BLAKELY: I think they're leading, because they do have more lavish lifestyles. They do have more luxurious lifestyles. I mean, we hear reports in Europe, and even in this country, where people are getting divorced, but they're still living in the same house because they can't afford to split up households. But that's not normally true in the celebrity realm. And so I think because their lives are more luxurious and they don't have to deal with things like going to the grocery store or paying a light bill, that they tend to indulge their desires a little bit more. And one of those desires might just be a hotter-looking lady that hasn't had as many kids.
MARTIN: Well, ooh.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: I'm sorry. I don't think it gets much hotter than Heidi. Sorry. I don't know.
BELTON: That's what I was thinking.
MARTIN: Krissah, you know, in the survey, though, did the woman you talked to talk a lot about their desires for a partnership, some sort of a committed partnership?
THOMPSON: In follow-up interviews, they did. And the emphasis on career versus marriage - which we did see some dichotomy with - has to do with what you feel like you can control. And black women in the survey felt like, you know what? I can't do anything about finding a mate, so I'm going to pour my energy and resources where I can.
MARTIN: And do they feel OK with that? Or were they sad about it or...
THOMPSON: In a yes-or-no survey, you can't get at that. In follow-up interviews, there did seem to be some sense of loss. But also, they're very satisfied with their lives.
MARTIN: Viviana, a final thought from you about this. You know, I'm also kind of sad about Aretha, but I'm still hoping that things will work out for her in the end - if for no other reason than I know she'll have a fabulous hat. But...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
HURTADO: Indeed. I just wanted to say that there is no bigger proponent of marriage than me. My parents celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary January 2nd. My brother's been married for 12 years; my sister's been married for six years. I am the exception to the rule, only because I haven't found Mr. Right. And why does this matter, what I'm saying? Because when Aretha decided that she was just going to cool things off right now, I couldn't help but think she was just saying, hold on a second. And what I really realized was how uncomfortable it made the rest of us, society. Maybe we want a really big wedding, but maybe the real R-E-S-P-E-C-T for women is to allow them the option.
MARTIN: Hold on - OK.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: That's too much common sense. Well, we have to go out on a little Aretha. Here's her song, "Since You've Been Gone," although R-E-S-P-E-C-T is always a good one.
MARTIN: Joining us - that's right - Viviana Hurtado is blogger-in-chief of the website the Wise Latina Club. Krissah Thompson is a national staff writer for the Washington Post. Danielle Belton is behind the pop culture and politics blog the Black Snob. They were all here in Washington, D.C. Shelby Blakely is the journalist coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots. She joined us from NPR member station WABE in Atlanta. Ladies, thank you all.
BELTON: Thank you.
HURTADO: Thank you.
THOMPSON: Thank, you.
BLAKELY: Thanks, Michel.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SINCE YOU'VE BEEN GONE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.