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Black and White Politics; Romney's Religion; Blood Sacrifice: Test of Religious Tolerance; Leaders Who May Shape the Future for Black America

Aired February 19, 2007 - 20:00   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: And thanks for joining us. Paula has the night off.
Out in the open tonight: Critics say he's too black to be elected president. Others say he isn't black enough. Now Senator Barack Obama is hitting back.

What is so controversial about an award-winning children's book? A single word on the very first page.

And, if you want your neighbor to stop sacrificing animals in his backyard, does it mean you're a religious bigot?

On this Presidents Day, race and presidential politics are out in the open. After weeks of whispered questions about whether Senator Barack Obama is black enough to become America's first black president, he's just come up with an empathetic answer for other critics who say he's too black.



PHILLIPS (voice-over): It looks and sounds like a church revival. But it isn't Sunday, and it isn't church. At an Obama-for- president campaign rally in South Carolina, the issue of race is out in the open.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They always say, you know, he seems qualified, he seems sharp, but -- but, let's face it, a -- a -- a black man named Barack Obama is not going to win.

PHILLIPS: A black member of the South Carolina legislature lamented last week that, if Senator Obama wins the presidential nomination -- quote -- "Every Democrat running on that ticket next year would lose, because he's black and he's top of the ticket."

Here, the senator's response brings down the house.

OBAMA: At every juncture in history, there's been somebody who said we can't.


OBAMA: There's been somebody who said you can't overcome slavery. There's been somebody who said you can't overcome Jim Crow. There's been somebody who said we can't go to the moon. There's been somebody who said we can't do that and we can't do that, so we shouldn't even try.

PHILLIPS: Time will tell if that thunderous "Yes, we can," will silence the doubters, who say he can't be elected because he's black.

But will it also silence other critics, who say the senator can't win because he isn't black enough, that, since his father was African and his mother white, Senator Obama doesn't represent the experience of mainstream black America? Do those critics speak for black Americans today?

REVEREND JESSE JACKSON, FOUNDER, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: No one speaks for everyone. No one would ever refer to a senator as, white senator from X state says or white president says. So, why call me black leader when my blackness is self-evident?

PHILLIPS: And who says a leader even has to be black to win black support?

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I am proud to be a woman.


PHILLIPS: Look who else is campaigning at black universities in South Carolina.

CLINTON: But I'm not running as a woman. I'm running because I believe I'm the most qualified person...


CLINTON: ... to take office in January 2009.


PHILLIPS: Black or white, Democrat or Republican, there seems to be no shortage of qualified voices speaking for or against black Americans.


PHILLIPS: Now, my next guest has been accused of speaking against black Americans and airing dirty laundry in public.

In a recent essay for "Esquire" magazine, John Ridley used the N- word to describe America's black underclass, and said their problems with crime, poverty and broken families are their own fault.

He joins me now.

John, let's get right into it. I want to read something that you wrote: "Let me tell you something about the N-word, constantly in need of a leader, but unable to follow in any direction that's navigated by hard work, self-reliance. So, I say this. It's time for ascended blacks to wish N-word good luck. We need to send the N-word on their way. It's time to celebrate the new black Americans."

What do you think? Is Osama -- is -- is -- is Obama -- boy, that was a terrible slip of the tongue, right?



PHILLIPS: Barack Obama, is he that new leader? Is he the one to take them in the new direction?

RIDLEY: Taking us in a new direction -- first of all, black ascendancy is not something that's new.

As Barack Obama said, we went from slavery, through a failed Reconstruction, through Jim Crow, to where we are today. Ascendancy is -- it comes from anywhere. It's not socioeconomic. It's about where one is born. It's about where one is going.

And for us, as people, it's surprises me that there are those who say Barack Obama is not black enough. I think it's unfortunate that, when you are black, and you actually do all the things that we are supposed to do, coming out of civil rights, that, all of a sudden, we're sellouts or we're not black enough.

So, I say to people who sound like that, fine, think what you want to think, but don't hold the rest of us back, because we want to do more.

PHILLIPS: So, if Obama were elected president, is racism out of business?



RIDLEY: Racism does not disappear. I think that there is a segment of the black community that can no longer go around and say that black -- or America is racist. There will always be, unfortunately, I think, racists in America.

But I do think it would say a lot about where we are and where we have come as people. But you see all this discussion surrounding Obama. Clearly, we have got a long way to go before we get there.

PHILLIPS: So, let me ask you, do you think this division among blacks -- you call it the N-word vs. the new black Americans -- could that actually bring down Obama?


The -- the thing that strikes me as funny is that the media is tripping over itself because not all black people are going to vote for Barack Obama. Where did it say that all black people are some monolithic voting bloc and we're going to vote for each other?

Even going back to the primaries in 2004, Al Sharpton, in the district of Columbia, 70 percent minority, 60 percent black, he finished second to Howard Dean. One in five blacks voted for Al Sharpton in South Carolina. This is not new.

I think this phenomenon is just new to the all-white masthead of "The New York Times" or most of the white new directors of media shows. It's not new to black people who spend time talking to other black people.

PHILLIPS: Well, so, let me ask you, then, for example, the civil rights movement, it's seemed, the black community, they were on the same page. They wanted progress. They wanted to move forward. Now it seems that the black community is much more divided.

Do you agree? And -- and is that OK?

RIDLEY: I wouldn't use the word divided. I would use the word diverse. We're diverse.

During the civil rights era, in fact, from slavery on, there were very specific goals, things that we needed to accomplish -- or, I should say, our forbearers and my parents needed to accomplish.

Now, there's so much that we can do, there are questions about where we go. But, when you have a group of white people discussing about where we should go, that's just politics as usual. If black people discuss it, it's airing our dirty laundry in public. Since when is self-reliance or focusing on education dirty laundry? I think that's the problem.

PHILLIPS: John Ridley, thanks so much.


PHILLIPS: Now let's turn to tonight's "Out in the Open" panel, Roland Martin, host of "The Roland S. Martin Show" on WVON Radio in Chicago, defense attorney Lauren Lake, also constitutional lawyer and conservative commentator Mark Smith.

Lauren, what do you think? He says divided vs. diverse. That's interesting.


Well, in many ways, we're both. Sometimes, we're divided on issues. Sometimes, we're very diverse, in terms of the way we feel about candidates. But I do agree with him in this sense. Black people are not having secret meetings, saying everyone is going to vote for Barack Obama.


LAKE: We all have minds of our own. We have belief systems of our own. And -- and -- and what Barack Obama is going to have to do is make sure that his candidacy, his run for presidency, includes issues that are relevant for black Americans. And, so, that's his job to do.

It's, of course -- are we proud? Of course. Who would not be? I'm proud of many African-Americans that have made huge strides in America. But to say that each and every black American is going to vote for him just hands down because he is black, I think that is ridiculous to say.


PHILLIPS: So, Mark, you heard John. John said, this is the white man. This is the news directors.


PHILLIPS: This is the media making a big deal out of this, when this is -- this is getting blown out of proportion.

MARK SMITH, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Well, I think there is a little bit -- an element of it being a media-driven story.

It reminds me -- recently, we had the Super Bowl, where you had two African-American coaches, for the first time in history. And that was, of course, a big media story. But what we have to keep in mind, the real obstacle that Barack Obama faces is actually the legacy of America's so-called first black American president, in the form of Bill Clinton.

Toni Morrison, the great African-American writer, called Bill Clinton the first black president.


SMITH: And, of course -- but the point is, it is -- it has become part and parcel of the American political dialogue.

And Hillary Clinton, of course, is the obvious choice to carry on the legacy of Bill Clinton and...


PHILLIPS: You're not hearing anybody say, well, Hillary, she is not woman enough. She's not white woman enough.


MARTIN: I have to deal with this whole issue of the legacy point.

First of all, black folks don't owe the Clintons anything. And, in fact, the Clintons owe black folks, OK, because it was African- American who saved Bill Clinton's behind when he was getting impeached. So, Senator Clinton has not exhibited, frankly, a track record where she should somehow pick up all that black support.

But this whole notion of Obama, in terms of the issue of blackness, it is a critical issue, because it goes to a thought process. Understand, when Harriet Tubman, when she was leading slaves out of slavery through the underground railroad, she had to pull a gun on some of them, because they wanted to go back to the plantation.

You had folks in the civil rights movement who, at the same time, did not want to end Jim Crow. What you have are some African- Americans today who want to continue picking cotton. That is, they refuse to believe an African-American can do it.

"The Dallas Morning News," an article today, John Wiley Price, the county commissioner he said: We understand politics, and we realize that he can't win the nomination.

And, so, the point is, how can we say to our children, run and succeed, and how can we say, will America ever elect someone, if someone never runs? You have to run to see if we do that.

LAKE: Definitely.

MARTIN: That's why this is a ridiculous conversation.

And for any African-American to question, is he black enough, first of all, he's an African-American, more so than they are.

PHILLIPS: And how do you define that?

LAKE: Yes.

PHILLIPS: How do you define...


PHILLIPS: How do you define black culture?


LAKE: That really gets under my skin...


LAKE: ... because I'm one of those children from an age where both of my children had their Ph.D.s. They're big on education, speech, proper grammar. I have always been told: Oh, you don't sound black. You're not black enough.

That's a bunch of crap. OK, Barack Obama is a black man. OK? And there is no ifs, ands, or but about it.

MARTIN: Married to a black woman with black kids.

LAKE: OK. Thank you so much.

(CROSSTALK) PHILLIPS: So, John Ridley's article makes sense, then.


PHILLIPS: He's sort of dividing it up between lower-class and more educated and saying, that is what...


SMITH: But it's a great question, though, because if you look at George W. Bush's current administration...

MARTIN: What is a great question?

SMITH: And that is, we have Colin Powell. You have Condoleezza Rice. You have Rod Paige. And, bear in mind, it's kind of -- it gives rise to a greater question. How come, you know, George W. Bush, perhaps, doesn't get the credit he deserves in the African-American community, since he has appointed to the Cabinet prominent African- American leaders?

MARTIN: OK. But -- but -- but, again, the whole notion, in terms of, who is black enough, is -- is...


PHILLIPS: Do you have to have roots in slavery?

MARTIN: For some people...


MARTIN: For some folks, they actually think that.

And, again, they don't even understand their own history, because, if that's the case, one of the most celebrated black leaders is Minister Farrakhan. His folks are actually immigrants.

If you look at Malcolm X, his ancestors are immigrants. If you look at Marcus Garvey, people lift him up as a liberator -- his folks, immigrants. So, anybody who understands that, they need to understand their history.

This is a significant issue because, again, Senator Obama, first of all, is elected. He's a United States senator. So, if you were proud of him as a U.S. senator, all of a sudden, to question whether he is black enough is absolute nonsense. And, trust me, when Halle Berry won an Oscar, those same black folks criticizing were happy to see the sister win, even though her momma is white.

PHILLIPS: We're going to...


PHILLIPS: We're going to talk more.


PHILLIPS: I know. We have...


PHILLIPS: We have a lot more to discuss.

You three, stay with me, OK?


PHILLIPS: We have got a lot more to talk about, obviously. Stay with us.

On this Presidents Day, at least 10 of the 18 would-be presidents are busy campaigning. But only one of them is being called names because of his faith. You have got to see our next report. Religious intolerance comes out in the open.

And later: a children's book that some librarians want to ban. See why it's already getting yanked off the shelves.


PHILLIPS: Out in the open now: religion and presidential politics.

Presidents Day, it's just another campaign day for 10 of the 18 people who want to be president. One of them is Republican Mitt Romney. He's a Mormon. And, this weekend, campaigning in Florida, Romney learned exactly what he's up against with some voters who disagree with his faith.

Carol Costello has the story.


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A Florida retirement center -- a heckler hurls insults at presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I want my testimony to read that I voted for a man who stands for the lord Jesus Christ.

And you, sir, you're a pretender. You do not know the lord. You are a Mormon.

COSTELLO: It's something Romney has heard before. His easy response won him a standing ovation.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One of the great things about this great land is, we have people of different faiths and different persuasions. And I'm convinced that the nation -- that the nation does need -- the nation does need to have people of different faiths, but we need to have a person of faith lead the country. COSTELLO: But Romney's faith will dog him. Although there are nearly six million Mormons in the United States, many Americans are confused about Mormonism.

The HBO show "Big Love" doesn't help. It's a show about a man with three wives who lives in Utah. Many viewers assume this polygamist family is Mormon, but the Mormon church outlawed polygamy more than a century ago.

Perhaps the more nagging question is about what the Mormons believe about the bible and Jesus Christ.

MICHAEL PURDY, MEDIA RELATIONS, THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS: We believe in God, the eternal father, his son, Jesus Christ, and in the holy ghost. Jesus Christ is at the center of our worship, and we believe he is the son of God and the savior and redeemer of the world.

COSTELLO: Still, the Mormon belief in Christianity is different. They reject traditional Christian beliefs about the holy trinity. For example, they feel God was a person, as well as Jesus.

Some evangelicals call Mormons a Christian cult. Romney tried to change minds by inviting evangelicals to his home for some Mormon 101. He hopes the questions and the heckling will eventually go away.

ROMNEY: I don't think faith will become a factor in the final analysis. But it may become an issue people talk about early on. But, ultimately, they put aside those differences and focus on the capabilities of the individual candidates, their vision, their aspirations, where they would take America, and why they're running.

COSTELLO (on camera): I talked with Romney's campaign, who told me the comments about Romney's religion were the roughest yet. As for who won, well, they told me Romney got the standing ovation.

Carol Costello, CNN, New York.


PHILLIPS: Let's bring our "Out in the Open" panel back in, radio host Roland Martin, defense attorney Lauren Lake, plus constitutional lawyer and conservative commentator Mark Smith.

Mark, do we care if he's Mormon or not? He says: Hey, I'm not running for pastor in chief.

SMITH: I think that's right. We -- he is running for commander in chief, not pastor in chief. And that's a great line. And I think it's true.

At the end of the day, Republican voters are going to have to ask themselves, do they want -- you know, do they want a Mitt Romney, who, although a Mormon, is a social conservative, as best we can tell, on the issues, or they do want to go with a John McCain, who is a loose cannon and sort of unreliable on tons of issues that are important to conservative, or a Rudy Giuliani, whose personal life, with three -- you know, three wives, and his pro-choice issues, and his support of gay marriage?

And this is going to be a question of what Republican primary voters think. And, at the end of the day, I think what you will see is, they will be very sympathetic to Mitt Romney's social conservative views, even though, at the end of the day, he's a Mormon.

Bear in mind that, you know, obviously, John F. Kennedy had to overcome this, the Catholic question. And he did it just fine. And, also, it's not a -- a new issue, like Joe Lieberman, who ran, of course, for the vice president with Al Gore, an election that was very close. He seemed to have no problems, the fact that he was Jewish, and -- and winning plenty of votes in -- in 2000.

PHILLIPS: President Bush makes it very clear he's a strong Christian, and it has played a part in gay marriage, in faith-based initiatives, in stem cell research.

So, do we care that he's Mormon?

MARTIN: Look, I have been a journalist for 16 years. And what you're seeing is a first.

We saw these stories when Joe Lieberman was a vice presidential candidate. We saw these stories when Pat Robertson ran, whether or not an ordained minister should run for president. And we saw the same thing with Reverend Jackson. And, so, we have seen this. We have seen the question, is Obama black enough?

And, so, it is a first. And, so, it is going to be examined. People are going to examine his faith. The same thing happened when Harry Reid became majority leader of the Senate. He also is Mormon. And, so, the topic was actually discussed as well. Should it be discussed? Yes, because people need to understand more about the Mormon faith, as opposed to simply what they see on an HBO show.


LAKE: Exactly.


PHILLIPS: A lot of people think Mormons still have 10 wives.


LAKE: Well, yes.

PHILLIPS: Research shows, to this day...

LAKE: I mean, and -- and -- and...

PHILLIPS: ... people think...

LAKE: ... there are some inherent beliefs with the Mormon faith. And there are some things he is going to have to overcome...


LAKE: ... because of his association.

I mean, this is a religion that, up until almost 1970s, where a black person couldn't even be ordained as a minister in that religion.

In addition, there's also a belief in that faith, a prior belief, before this revelation came, that black people were going to be servants in heaven, or in the afterlife, as well. There's some serious racist beliefs that he has to overcome, because they're just not that far off.

And, so, I'm just saying to him, it's kind of a welcome-to-the- club moment -- moment. There's...


PHILLIPS: ... Barack Obama...

LAKE: Well...

PHILLIPS: ... and all the stereotypes about, is he black enough?

LAKE: What I'm saying is, he's dealing with a stigma, just like Hillary will deal her woman-ness, Barack will deal his blackness. And he's going to have to deal with his Mormon-ness.

Welcome to the club, in terms of having to overcome something that the American people will associate their own stereotypes, misconceptions, or their own beliefs about a certain thing.


LAKE: Welcome to the club.

MARTIN: And, keep in mind, in the last presidential campaign, Senator John Kerry had to deal with his views on certain issues...

LAKE: Exactly.

MARTIN: ... in him being a Catholic.

So, you had some Catholic priests who would not give him communion as a result of his stance on gay rights and abortion. So, was his faith a part of the campaign? Yes.

He is running for president. What Mitt Romney must understand is, everything that is a part of his life is going to be examined, his faith, his family, his politics. This is what happens when you run for commander in chief.


PHILLIPS: Can he win?


SMITH: Oh, absolutely. There's no doubt.

Bear in mind that where the sort of the anti-Mormon vote may play a role are in certain red states, where you a heavy evangelical influence.

MARTIN: Certain red states?

SMITH: And...

MARTIN: The South.

SMITH: You can say the South, whatever you want.


MARTIN: He doesn't win in the South, he doesn't win the nomination.

SMITH: But the point is this.


SMITH: But the point is this, that, at the end of the day, you're going to have -- those voters are going to have to make a choice. And the alternatives to Mitt Romney may not be all that good for social conservatives either way.

So, either way, you know, they are going to have to make a difficult choice, if the three candidates who seem to be the front- runners remain the front-runners as we get into the primary season.

PHILLIPS: So, is he a viable candidate?

LAKE: Well, at this point, sure he is. I mean, I'm not saying that, you know, it's a wrap for him. But the polls show that, I mean, almost a quarter of Americans are saying that: Just because he's a Mormon, I'm not voting for him.

And what I find interesting is not just the way it will affect his candidacy. What I find interesting is that, as we talk about race and discrimination and notions in America -- on this show, especially, which I love -- it's amazing how that can affect not only people of color, but other people of different faiths.

And I think that's why it's important to talk about it, because it's real. We're not making this up.

LAKE: If...


LAKE: If a quarter of Americans, before he opens his mouth, says, "He's a Mormon, and I'm not voting for him," you know, a lot of them don't know anything about being a Mormon.


MARTIN: He has to deal with it.

LAKE: He has to deal with it.

PHILLIPS: Now that I know that we're all keeping it real, we're going to continue.

MARTIN: Kyra, it's simple. He is a viable candidate. Bottom line, he's a governor. And our last, what, three out of four presidents, they were actually governors. And, so, it's a reality. He is a viable candidate.

PHILLIPS: We're not finished yet. We have more subject matter to talk about, all right?


PHILLIPS: We have got a lot more ahead.

Some parents and librarians say an award-winning children's book should be pulled off the shelf, all because of one word. Out in the open, the author explains why she used it.

Later: backyard animal sacrifice. Just how far does freedom of religion go?


PHILLIPS: Out in the open tonight: Public libraries and school libraries all over the country banning an award-winning children's book.

"The Higher Power of Lucky" is the story of a 10-year-old orphan named Lucky who lives in a California desert town -- nothing controversial in that, except for one little word on the first page of the book. Lucky overhears a conversation about a rattlesnake that bites a dog on the scrotum. And that word has lit up debate among the librarians and school officials all over the U.S. about whether the target audience of 9- to 12-year-olds should be allowed to read the word "scrotum."

The author, Susan Patron, who also happens to be a librarian, she joins me live now.

So, Susan, why use the word?

SUSAN PATRON, AUTHOR, "THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY": Hi, Kyra. Well, it's a body part. It's a part on a dog. And that is where the rattlesnake bit the dog.

PHILLIPS: If you think about it, every since we were kids, our parents have always used slang expressions for privates. There I go again -- private body parts. (LAUGHTER)

PHILLIPS: I can't even say the word.

Why is that? Why is it so taboo?

PATRON: There -- there seems to be a fear of naming body parts.

But kids, I think, are wired, hardwired, to be curious and to find out. And they're going to find out. So, if it's used responsibly, and if people explain what it means, I think it's a nonissue.

PHILLIPS: Let me read to you some reader response from an article posted on "Publishers Weekly" about your book.

"Discussion of genitalia in a book intended for 9- or 10-year-old children is obviously the product of a sick mind" -- pretty harsh words from Ari out Los Angeles.

What do you think about those types of comments?

PATRON: Well, I think it shows that person is afraid, is fearful of -- of talking openly with children about -- you know, half the population have scrotums. And it's -- it betrays their own discomfort with the word.

PHILLIPS: Should children be able to read whatever books they want, regardless of the language?

PATRON: I think that libraries should make books available to children, and that parents should be very aware of what their kids are reading.

Parents should read books first, if they're concerned, which is a good thing to be. And parent -- and children should have access, especially to major award-winning books.

PHILLIPS: This book received the highest award for children's literature. Are you surprised that -- that this is happening? Do you think it's just because you won the award?

PATRON: I think yes. There are many, many words in children's books that might surprise people, and have been for many years, including other Newbery books. I think it comes up because it's on the first page.

PHILLIPS: Are we becoming too politically correct?

PATRON: Well, I think it's -- yes.

PHILLIPS: Bottom line, yes?


PHILLIPS: I'm curious to see what your next book will be, and the next words you're going to choose.

Susan Patron, thanks for your time.

PATRON: Thank you, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Out in the open next: the bizarre rituals of an obscure religion. See what happens when animal sacrifice meets the health department.

Later: A black leader of tomorrow, he is making history and making waves on Capitol Hill.


PHILLIPS: "Out in the Open" in this half hour, black leaders of tomorrow and the problems they're facing today.

Also, lights, cameras, and some say racism.

We look behind the scenes in Hollywood.

And at the top of the hour on "LARRY KING LIVE," an exclusive interview with the woman who says she's the widow of singer James Brown.

A battle over religion in a Dallas suburb is "Out in the Open "tonight. And I want to give you a heads up. The next report has some really graphic images you may find tough to watch.

By some estimates, four million people practice Santeria in the United States. It's an ancient African-Caribbean religion and it requires believers to sacrifice animals. And that's the problem in Euless, Texas. Slaughtering animals in homes there is against the law.

Tonight, Ed Lavandera takes us inside the world of Santeria and one man's fight to be free to practice his beliefs.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): An animal sacrifice and a rare glimpse into the world of Santeria, a world in which the killing of chickens, goats and roosters is considered to be a spiritual offering and crucial to the religion. Those who practice Santeria are often forced to defend it.

JOSE MERCED, SANTERIA PRIEST: We don't kill children, we don't drink blood, we don't kill dogs, we don't kill cats. We just lead a normal life. Those are domestic animals.

LAVANDERA: Jose Merced is a Santero who lives a quiet life in this suburban house in Euless, Texas. But suburbia and Santeria clashed last year when Merced was hosting this ceremony to initiate a new member at his House and Euless police and animal control showed up at the door. MERCED: One of the things that they told me is, "You are not allowed to slaughter or do any animal sacrifices here." (INAUDIBLE) this was three.

LAVANDERA: They threatened to arrest Merced and fine him.

MERCED: I do feel harassed in a way, intimidated.

LAVANDERA: But Merced fired back, filing a federal discrimination suit against the city of Euless. He said he's protected by a Supreme Court ruling allowing him to practice his religion.

MERCED: See, I don't want to feel like I have to hide or be underground practicing a religion when this is a land of religion freedom.

LAVANDERA: The city refused to back down, citing an ordinance designed to protect the public health, protect property values, and promote the morals and general welfare of the city. It's been on the books for 30 years, and they say it wasn't meant to prohibit religion.

MICK MCKAMIE, CITY OF EULESS ATTORNEY: I challenge you to find a city that does not severely restrict the killing of animals within their community.

LAVANDERA (on camera): If people have problems practicing their faith, are you the guy they call if they have problems somewhere?

ERNEST PICHARDO, SANTERIA PRIEST: Most of the time. I'm the one who gets the e-mail or phone call for help.

LAVANDERA (voice over): Ernesto Pichardo is a Santerian priest who lives in Miami and got Merced's call for help. That's because Pichardo won a Supreme Court ruling in 1993 that Santeria leaders say gives them the right to sacrifice animals, despite what city ordinances might say.

We talked with him and one of the city's many botanicas, where Santeros can purchase religious relics and, yes, even live animals for sacrifice.

PICHARDO: What they city of Euless is saying is, as a government, they can pick and choose which religion can be practiced in your private home and in what private matter.

MCKAMIE: The city's not in the business of evaluating religious practices. They're in the business of protecting the public health.

LAVANDERA: While he waits for the courts to take up the case, Jose Merced says he'll continue to practice his religion no matter how startling or shocking it might appear.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, Miami.

(END VIDEOTAPE) PHILLIPS: Jose Merced's battle is far from over. The latest move in that dispute, the city of Euless is a federal jury to dismiss Merced's complaint. The city says making an exception for him would force the city to favor religion over secular law.

We're celebrating Black History Month by bringing the black leaders of tomorrow "Out in the Open."

Next, a freshman congressman who has already made history.

And as Oscar week builds to a climax, we go looking for hidden racism behind the scenes in Hollywood.


PHILLIPS: Tonight we begin a weeklong special series to celebrate Black History Month, and it's part of CNN's look at conflicts and controversies affecting minority groups in the U.S. called "Uncovering America." We're asking questions about race and intolerance and how they affect our lives.

"Out in the Open" tonight, leaders who just may shape the future for black America. Among them, a new congressman from Minnesota.

Paula recently spent some time with him.


PAULA ZAHN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): He won his seat after pushing for environmental and health =care reform and campaigning against the war in Iraq. In January, this Democrat from Minnesota became the first Muslim to serve in the U.S. Congress. And when he carried a Quran, not a bible, to his swearing in ceremony, he sparked a national debate about religious diversity in politics.

A father of four who represents one of the most economically, racially and demographically diverse districts in Minnesota, he is Congressman Keith Ellison, a future leader for the new black America.

(on camera): Congressman Ellison, good to see you. Thanks so much for joining us.

REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: Great to be here. How are you doing?

ZAHN: I'm doing great. And congratulations to you.

ELLISON: Thank you.

ZAHN: Congressman, could you characterize for us today what you think is the state of white-black relations in this country?

ELLISON: Well, certainly they're improving. The relationship is a very long and historic one.

There's a lot of work to be done. There's no -- there's no doubting that. But I think it's equally important to mention that due to the hard work of people for civil and human rights access and inclusion, both black, white, Latino, Asian, people of all descriptions, we have seen progress over the last 40 years.

ZAHN: What is one critical thing, in your mind, that white Americans don't understand about black Americans?

ELLISON: The impact and the legacy of Jim Crow discrimination and slavery. You cannot have a whole group of people go through that experience and not have there be residual effects, scars from that experience.

I mean, Jim Crow was traumatizing. It's generationally traumatizing. And I think that in the minds of some white Americans, they feel like, hey, you know, we've passed civil rights laws. We've done our good part on this. Get over it.

ZAHN: Congressman, what do you think is the greatest threat to black youth today?

ELLISON: I think the greatest threat is joblessness and lack of economic opportunity. I think that's the biggest problem.

I think that economic prosperity, a good job, a chance to get a house, education, you know, it can -- it can make your life better. And I don't think we can get around that.

I would specifically disagree with people who think the biggest threat to black youth is rap music or something like that. I think that it really has to be the materiality so many young people are facing.

ZAHN: Congressman, we appreciate your time and we wish you luck as you forge ahead on so many important issues down there.

ELLISON: Thanks a lot, Paula.


PHILLIPS: And one more thing you should know about Congressman Keith Ellison. He serves on the House Judiciary Committee.

Now let's take a "BizBreak."


PHILLIPS: "LARRY KING LIVE" coming up in just a few minutes.

Larry, who will be with you tonight?

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Hi, Kyra. Nice seeing you with us.

Coming up, an exclusive. The woman who calls herself James Brown's widow. Her first interview since she was finally let back into the house she says they shared. Plus, inside Britney Spears' extreme makeover with the man who tattooed her after she had shaved her bald head.

Others will be aboard, too. And listener e-mails and phone calls, all at the top of the hour -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right. Thanks, Larry. We'll see you at 9:00.

KING: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: Well, the Oscars are coming, but some critics say this year's nominations don't tell the true story about minorities in Hollywood. We're going to bring you the full story "Out in the Open" next.


PHILLIPS: The Academy Awards are on Sunday, just six days from now. And tonight we're bringing Hollywood "Out in the Open," because five of the 20 acting nominations belong to African-American stars. That seems to show that diversity is gaining ground in Hollywood, but some say all those nominations are misleading because racism is still there.

We asked entertainment correspondent Brooke Anderson to find out just how much things have changed for blacks in Hollywood.


WILL SMITH, ACTOR, "THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS": You've got a dream, you've got to protect it.

BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Will Smith protected and fulfilled his dream. His Oscar nomination for "The Pursuit of Happyness" is the latest in a long list of accomplishments as an actor in Hollywood.

SMITH: Don't ever let somebody tell you you can't do something.

ANDERSON: Smith is among five black actors nominated for Academy Awards this year. And the musical "Dreamgirls," with its nearly all- black cast, got the most nominations of any film.

SAMUEL L. JACKSON, OSCAR NOMINEE, 1995: They are just great, great, great roles and great films that happen to have people of color in them. I mean, it's not long overdue. It's just the fact that those were the films that were very good this year.

ANDERSON: But for every high-profile award-winning African- American star, like Samuel L. Jackson, Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry or Forest Whitaker, there are countless other black actors toiling away in obscurity, hoping to get their break in an industry criticized for discriminating against actors of color.

RUSSELL ROBINSON, UCLA SCHOOL OF LAW: African-Americans still are sort of at the back of the bus in many ways, when it comes to Hollywood.

ANDERSON: UCLA law professor Dr. Russell Robinson recently conducted a survey of casting announcements, and found that only up to 8 percent of all roles are written specifically for black actors.

ROBINSON: It's this sort of unthinking assumption that white has to be the choice, that the central character has to be a white man. That is, I think, sort of the - the most pervasive explanation for the discrimination that we see.

ANDERSON: A look at, a popular Web site actors use to get casting announcement, doesn't disprove Robinson's finding. Caucasian, Caucasian, Caucasian, white or Hispanic, white or Hispanic. Caucasian, African-American, Caucasian.

This particular description calls for an African-American drug dealer with a tooth gap and devious look in his eyes.

ROBINSON: There's some really cruel choices that actors have to make. If they want to work, they have to demean themselves and demean their identities.

ANDERSON: Actor and director Harry Lennix, who stars in the new film "Stomp the Yard," says he has to fight against being stereotypes.

HARRY LENNIX, ACTOR/DIRECTOR: I had terrible rows last year with, you know, big Hollywood executive producers who tried to put a character I was playing on television in a really demeaning light. And I would not do it.

I think we all have the power of "no."

ANDERSON: It isn't just black actors who are underrepresented in Hollywood. Of the more 13,000 members of the Director's Guild of America, fewer than 5 percent are African-Americans.

One reason, Robinson asserts, why more blacks aren't featured in front of the camera.

ROBINSON: The various people that are deciding in terms of casting are -- are - are people that are mostly white men. And so it's not surprising that they would sort of replicate their identities in the casting process.

LEONARDO DICAPRIO, ACTOR: Look at me. I'm your (INAUDIBLE) black people. Without me, you're just another black man in Africa, all right?

ROBINSON: Even in movies that are about Africa, like "Blood Diamond," you know, where it's about Africa, but it starred a white man, you know? And the black characters are just sort of there to help the white man develop in some way.

ANDERSON: Film critic Elvis Mitchell says the tide may really turn when African-Americans are recognized for their work behind the character. ELVIS MITCHELL, FILM CRITIC: It's great that African-Americans have been nominated. But I've often said that, you know, when we start an African-American director nominated, or an African-American screenwriter nominated and win, that's when we see there's been a real shift in this.

FOREST WHITAKER, ACTOR: Together, we make this country better!

ANDERSON: Oscar nominee Forest Whitaker is hopeful and feels progress is being made.

WHITAKER: There's, like, so many people working. It doesn't mean that there's still not some difficulty. But there's people behind the camera, director. There's people, like, producing. There's people, like - there's - there's many stars.

ANDERSON: Casting director Twinkie Byrd agrees, and says the black film community has the power to change things.

TWINKIE BYRD, CASTING DIRECTOR: They have to write and stop sitting around and waiting for people to write for us. We have stories to tell; let's tell them. What are we waiting for?

We have money to pool together. We - we have - we have people to pull together. We have resources. Let's utilize them.

SMITH: You want something, go get it. Period.

ANDERSON: Brooke Anderson, CNN, Hollywood


PHILLIPS: Time to turn this over to our "Out in the Open" panel -- radio host Roland Martin; defense attorney Lauren Lake; conservative commentator and constitutional lawyer, Mark Smith.

What do you think? Is Hollywood still typecasting the black actor?

MARTIN: Of course it is. When you take away the top roles, you're not going to see films with lots of me. You also remove those things, we have largely black casts, whether it's "Akeelah and the Bee," whether it is "Dreamgirls," how often that you see African- Americans represented on the big screen.

The point of that piece was, don't just simply put us in a few roles. Let's see us across a wide variety of films. That was the overwhelming focus of the piece.

PHILLIPS: So how do you define wide variety of films?

LAKE: Well, I think there's more than just doing a black movie. What you found, like, with "Ray," or with "Dreamgirls," these are movies about African-American musicians, which is also relevant.

PHILLIPS: "Dreamgirls" almost making $120 million. It's doing pretty well. It's drawing in whites, blacks.

LAKE: And you know what's so important about that is that shows that white people, mainstream America, will go see movies with African-Americans in them. And hopefully this is a wake-up call to many of the studios that don't create a lot of roles in their movies for African-Americans. That this will show them that, yes, mainstream America will come see African-Americans in great movies. And it's just that simple.

But is it over? Just because we made a little progress doesn't mean it's over. Every time -- every time certain things happen, you know, we get five nominations, now it's over, everybody. No, it's not over. We have made progress. Let's see what happens in two years.

MARTIN: Right. Right.

ZAHN: Mark?

SMITH: I think we have to keep in mind that, first of all, I don't think there's any suggestion that there's any kind of overt racial discrimination in Hollywood, which historically has always embraced sort of the most liberal causes and the most social activism of any industry practically in America.

What's really going on in Hollywood, though, is what's epidemic is Hollywood, is nepotism. That there's long history in Hollywood of basically casting friends and family members of people who are already established.

So, until there's more and more African-Americans established in the different areas of Hollywood, whether it be in front of the cameras or behind the cameras, it's still going to be a while until you see more African-Americans in both.

LAKE: That's a good point...

SMITH: Nepotism is very powerful.

LAKE: ... but that nepotism translates directly into institutional racism, which is not overt, but covert. And that does translate in that business.

PHILLIPS: All right. Let's go back to TV.

OK, remember "Sanford and Son," "Good Times"? Black actors were saying, OK, why do we have to be typecast like this? So then you had "The Cosby Show." Then the black community said, he is just to white. Now he's playing...

MARTIN: I think, first of all, when we use the phrase "what the black community said," it's an inaccurate statement. There were individuals within the African-American community who felt that way, but there was a significant number who disagreed.

And so what it boils down to is balance. And that is, what are the variety of roles that we're seeing on television? That's really what the issue is.

When you're able to see African-Americans on "CSI Miami," "CSI New York, "Law & Order," on "Ugly Betty," on a variety of shows, then you're able to say we've certainly come a long way. But we have a small amount of roles.

But again, that's in front of the screen. When you go behind the cameras, there is not a single African-American in Hollywood that can actually (INAUDIBLE). Luckily, Bob Johnson just announced that he was launching his own movie studio. And so he will be the first African- American who will determine movies that get made.

He has the green light. That is critical.

PHILLIPS: So unless you're an Oprah Winfrey, with tons of money, you have no power in Hollywood?


LAKE: Well, if you look at Tyler Perry, he is beginning to make huge waves in Hollywood with his movies that he's doing with African- American...

MARTIN: But he controls it.

LAKE: I was just about to say, African-American family-based movies that he controls. And I think what Mr. Cosby tried to do, Bill Cosby, back in the day, and what he did, let's say, is he gave us a visual example of African-American family life that was happening.

That family he showed was very much like my own and people that I know. Now, maybe it was very different than other people.

What's so funny?

SMITH: I'm trying to explain...

LAKE: I was going to say, I know he's not laughing at "The Cosby Show," because...


SMITH: Look, we have to keep in mind that what the real color that drives Hollywood is not black or white. It's green. It's what puts fannies in the theater seats. That's what drives decisions in Hollywood.


MARTIN: No, no, no. That's not true. That's not true.

SMITH: When you have a Michael Jordan, who is able to, like, essentially, you k now, take NBA basketball to the next level, when you have successful black athletes...

MARTIN: That's not true. SMITH: It absolutely is true.

MARTIN: Because we have had...

SMITH: Forest Whitaker, Denzel Washington, all tremendous, huge stars...


MARTIN: Mark, what you have in that case are African-Americans who are able to leverage their on-screen presence to be able to get what they want behind the scenes. For instance, "Antwone Fisher." Denzel Washington was the executive producer of that film.

The only way that film could have gotten made is if he actually starred in it. So even though he had the power to say, I want to get it done, he had to actually be in it for it to actually happen. That's part of the problem.

A great story, but still should have been told. When this says about money, you have great movies that are being made and making money in the U.S., but the studios say you can't make money worldwide. So that was about money.

PHILLIPS: We've got to keep making money. We've got to keep making money because we've got to get to the next show.

Thank you, guys.

Mark, Lauren, Roland, always a pleasure.

MARTIN: Appreciate it.

LAKE: Thank you.

SMITH: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: We're minutes away from the top of the hour and "LARRY KING LIVE." Tonight, the woman who says she's James Brown's widow speaks out for the first time since she was allowed back inside their home.


PHILLIPS: Well, that's all for tonight.

We've been bringing "Out in the Open" racist parties thrown by college students, kids dressing up as racial stereotypes. A new version of the racist party. This time, the theme is south of the border. You won't believe how they're dressing up.

Tune in tomorrow. We're going to bring it all "Out in the Open."

"LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.


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