“I’m not a person who’s trying to be perfect.”
So says actor, comedian, podcaster, and basketball mega-fan Michael Rapaport on this week’s episode of People’s Party with Talib Kweli. Throughout the episode, Kweli and co-host Jasmin Leigh revisit comments made by Rapaport back in 2018 regarding Real Housewives alum Kenya Moore, in which the comedian said the reality star had “ashy ankles” on TV. The moment proved incredibly inflammatory at the time, leading The Root’s Michael Harriot to dub Kweli’s longtime pal “The Worst Type of White Man.”
Given the 20-plus year friendship between Kweli and Rapaport, Kweli uses his platform to open the door for “White Mike” to walk back his two-year-old “ashy ankles” comments in a friendly, convivial atmosphere. Rapaport declines, doubling and tripling down with, “But here’s the thing, Kwe: her ankles were ashy!” When co-host Jasmin Leigh recoils from this, the conversation spins into an ideological debate. Is this an example of a white man, with all the privilege that entails, using a racially charged insult? Is it, as Rapaport contends, a no holds barred version of schoolyard snaps? Could it possibly be both?
In a 2018 episode or Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live, guests Rapaport and Moore engage in a playful round of ribbing that led to the following exchange about Moore’s role in The Real Housewives of Atlanta. I’d encourage you to watch it for yourself but if you’re short on time, it went like this:
“You know that you are on the show, a “villain” right? … You’ve gotten better, but you are a villain.”
“Michael I don’t need you to tell me what I am or am not, I appreciate you for being a fan though, thank you for watching, keep the cable on. A new job would help with that.”
“Oh Kenya please, you wish you were me, Kenya.”
“A middle-aged fat white guy? No, not really.”
Later, about five minutes into WWHL’s “After Show” portion, Rapaport pops off in response to Moore’s insults, “You know I didn’t want to say it on live TV, but Kenya’s feet are ashy as fuck. Them shits are ashy… Pan down to them shits, she can cut glass with them shits.” Moore rolls with the punches, Andy Cohen hides behind his talking points like his entire show isn’t built for making inflammatory moments just like the one we’re watching, and Twitter freaks out.
The People’s Party Discourse
Let’s begin with Rapaport’s take on the comment, which he argues is normal shit-talking in the context of roasting. “When you go, ‘you’re fat, old, and white,’ I’m looking right at your ashy ankles… if you’re talking shit and you say ‘you’re fat’ ‘your ankles are ashy!’ Period. I don’t even understand how that can be taken in any way shape or form as race.” It seems like a fair enough argument, but that facade crumbles when Kweli points out, “When you hear people talk about the word ‘ashy’ is it ever in reference to white people? Never… ”
The resulting conversation lasts for roughly 15 minutes with all sides listening to one another and ceding some ground, but remaining mostly locked into their positions. Rapaport clearly believes that what he said wasn’t racist. He doesn’t take the multiple outs that Talib and Jasmin offer him and also doesn’t deflect, point out his many black famous friends, mention his guest spots on Kweli’s classic album Quality, or even call out the fact that his wife, Kebe Dunn, is black. Instead, he quadruples down on his original argument.
“To me, that has nothing to do with race. If you feel comfortable enough to say to me ‘you’re fat old and white’ on TV. I’m going to say, the only way to diffuse it is to make people laugh and I’m laughing at the fact that you’re actually on TV and you’ve had a glam squad of three people blowing you and tightening you into your dress and you still got ashy feet… this is some overly sensitive shit!”
People’s Party co-host Jasmin Leigh is ready with a response to this.
“When its something that’s only in reference to black people you cannot say that it’s over-sensitive’ if its hurting someone’s feelings or they feel like you’re being racist towards them. It’s not just about what she felt, it’s about what all black woman are going to feel, what all black people are going to feel.” She adds, “What we’re trying to tell you is that calling someone ‘ashy’ is also crossing that line… We were talking about Eddie Murphy’s Raw and how he used to say ‘faggot’ back then, he’s not going to come on tv and call somebody a ‘faggot’ now because once you know better, you’re supposed to do better.”
After several more minutes of back and forth, Rapaport closes the book on the matter. “I hear what you’re saying, but in that moment, in that situation, I don’t regret that at all… I don’t apologize for that, and I don’t apologize for her tone or her intention, or the way it went down.” This is fine for Rapaport to believe, but his opinion on this one, no matter how strongly he believes it, is not the final word. Kweli notes as much, saying, “I’m telling you as your friend, as an expert… I’m letting you know, that the ashy thing — it comes off as racist, absolutely, and I would hope that in life… when it comes to whether or not something is racist, I would hope that you defer to the experts rather than your own experience.”
The biggest takeaway here is clearly that we’re only going to learn from each other by talking things through with a certain level of respect — like Talib, Jasmin and Mike did. Not by retreating to our corners of the internet and making a Twitter hashtag trend. Not by memefying someone. And though Twitter rage cycles never end, conversations and clips of podcasts do. (Though this one is so long that Kweli threatens to rename the episode “The Ashy Feet Show”).
Be sure to check out the full episode above. The Kenya Moore discussion begins at about an hour and fourteen minutes in, and catch more People’s Party with Talib Kweli episodes here.