Kareem Abdul-Jabbar called for further government spending as a solution to racial inequality on MSNBC's Morning Joe on Tuesday. Princeton Professor Eddie Glaude, Jr. asked the basketball great, "How do we muster the courage to look the ugliness of what we are squarely in the face?" Abdul-Jabbar replied, "I think...people don't want to reach in their pockets. This is going to be expensive...and people try to avoid that — especially politicians. They don't want to tell their constituents that...taxes are a necessary evil if we're going to have the society that we want." [video below]
Midway through the interview segment on the athlete turned Time columnist's new book, Glaude, Jr. played up that "Black Lives Matter, bringing pressure, interrupting...business as usual in this country." He wondered, "How will this text help us...respond to the current crisis around race, or the latest disaster around race in this country?" Abdul-Jabbar responded, in part, by emphasizing that "we have to understand each other and get along in a way that enables us to move forward. And that requires listening to the other side and finding common ground."
The NBC legend's stance has a change in tone from what he said in December 2013. During an appearance on Charlie Rose's PBS show, Abdul-Jabbar claimed that the United States was "moving backwards" in the area of race, due to "some of the Supreme Court decisions and all this effort to suppress minority voters."
The Princeton academic asked his "ugliness" question near the end of the interview: "It seems that we're running deficits of courage to do the work that you're calling for. How do we muster the courage to look the ugliness of what we are squarely in the face?" The liberal guest, whose role model is the far-left musician Paul Robeson, responded with his tax solution.
Earlier in the segment, host Joe Scarborough pointed out that Abdul-Jabbar has "a pretty tough truth to tell on racism; and specifically, on ending racism. You say it's just not going to happen. Let's lower expectations." The Time columnist asserted that "we have to understand just what human nature is all about; and how it is common for — no matter who you are or what your color is, people who don't look exactly like you cause you to feel a need for caution and stuff. And that's something we always have to overcome."
The full transcript of the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar interview from the August 23, 2016 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
WILLIE GEIST: Well, we are very excited about this, because joining us now: the NBA's all-time leading scorer, six-time MVP, hall-of-famer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — all that, though, prologued this morning, because he's now a best-selling author and columnist for Time magazine. He's out today with a new book called, 'Writings on the Wall: Searching For A New Equality Beyond Black and White.'
JOE SCARBOROUGH (off-camera): And Eddie [Glaude, Jr.] is beyond himself—
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Eddie! I have never seen him!
GEIST: We'll ask a question; and then, step aside for Eddie. He's a huge fan—
BRZEZINSKI: (laughs) I don't think he can get words out—
GEIST: Kareem opens the book writing about the importance of the Constitution. He writes — quote, 'Too often, people who are all puffed up on their own ideals of patriotism propose actions that are contrary to what the country stands for in an effort to codify their personal beliefs as law. There are America's greatest threats. The genius of the Constitution is that it was written by men who acknowledged their own frailities and biases.'
Kareem, good morning; congratulations on the book—
KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR, COLUMNIST, TIME: Good morning! Thank you—
GEIST: You say you wrote this book because you want to reopen a discussion about what it means to be American. What do you mean by that?
ABDUL-JABBAR: Well, I think we have to get back to understanding what the Founding Fathers were all about. They realized that everybody had an opinion, and everybody was entitled to their opinion. But they had to agree on some facts; and then, work from that point on to figure out a way to put our country together and keep it together. So, this — this whole process requires that we talk to each other with respect and an open mind; because until you understand me, how are we going to come to find common ground and talk about some things?
SCARBOROUGH (on-camera): And you also talk about how you wanted to write a book of hope with concrete solutions. And you — you have a — you have a pretty tough truth to tell on racism; and specifically, on ending racism. You say it's just not going to happen. Let's lower expectations. Explain that.
ABDUL-JABBAR: Well, we have to understand just what human nature is all about; and how it is common for — no matter who you are or what your color is, people who don't look exactly like you cause you to feel a need for caution and stuff. And that's something we always have to overcome — and plus, the cultural differences. So, understanding that will enable us, maybe, to — to slow down a little bit and listen to what's being said, instead of reacting to our own fears, because fear is — it kills all rational thought.
EDDIE GLAUDE JR., CHAIR, DEPT. OF AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDIES AT PRINCETON: So this book drops in this particularly interesting moment. Milwaukee explodes—
GLAUDE JR.: Right? The police officer who killed Philando Castile was just recently hired — he's back on the job again. Black Lives Matter, bringing pressure, interrupting — right? — business as usual in this country. How will this text help us understand what we've said on this show — a nation that's on edge — how will it help us respond to the current crisis around race, or the latest disaster around race in this country?
ABDUL-JABBAR: I think it's going to help us insofar as — we can understand that the people that were all involved in this are our fellow citizens. And we have to live together. It's not like we're going to move to Canada or South America some place. We live here. We have to understand each other and get along in a way that enables us to move forward. And that — that requires listening to the other side and finding common ground.
SCARBOROUGH: What are the causes of inequality? You go into it. What did you find — the causes of inequality?
ABDUL-JABBAR: I think just the whole history of our country that put certain segments of American society behind — black Americans are way behind economically because they were not allowed to earn money for so long and then, after the Civil War, they still were repressed and kept in a subservient position. And this has led to chronic poverty, and poverty itself is — is a huge burden that black Americans have struggled with for so long.
So, we have a lot of work to do. That's one of the things that Dr. [Martin Luther] King said — you know, before he died. We have a huge list of things that still need to be done before we get to the point where America is functioning for everybody.
GEIST: Kareem, as somebody who spent most of his life as a social activist, go back to the '68 Olympics that — that you boycotted — what do you make of the role athletes are starting to play now? It feels to me anyway — high-profile athletes more and more stepping into these conversations. You have LeBron James coming out [and] talking about Black Lives Matter. Carmelo Anthony — after they won the gold medal, I thought was an amazing moment — in an interview, broke down crying, not just because he'd won a gold medal — but he said our country has big problems, but we got to get unified. Did you see a risk in your life, in your career, to being the guy who would step forward and do that?
ABDUL-JABBAR: There were risks involved, but I think I accomplished a lot more than I risked—
ABDUL-JABBAR: You know, I think just by raising awareness and letting people know that these issues mean a lot, and they have long-term implications for — for what's going to happen in our country. We have to knowledge that, and work hard not to let the bad things happen. Mr. [George] Santayana, you know, who said that those who do not understand history are condemned to repeating it — he was absolutely on — on point there. And we have to remember that, because history is the best tool that we have for avoiding the bad mistakes that have been made in the past.
GLAUDE JR.: It seems that we're running deficits of courage to do the work that you're calling for. How do we muster the courage to look the ugliness of what we are squarely in the face?
ABDUL-JABBAR: I think courage is an issue; but I think also people don't — don't want to reach in their pockets. This is going to be expensive. It's going to cost a lot, and people try to avoid that — especially politicians — they don't want to tell their constituents that (unintelligible), taxes are a necessary evil if we're going to have the society that we want. And I think that — that is a big issue that people kind of dance around.
BRZEZINSKI: The book is 'Writings on the Wall: Searching For A New Equality Beyond Black and White.' Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, thank you.