So far as I am concerned, this whole Imus episode is simply a case of our chickens coming home to roost. We've allowed that language, that attitude towards women for so long, and things have gotten so bad, so utterly crass and misogynistic within urban culture, that we have forfeited the right to be outraged by someone parroting that sensibility. Firing Don Imus doesn’t address the problem, doesn’t engage the problem, doesn’t fix the problem. It’s cheap, it’s easy. As for the Rutgers players themselves, the quiet dignity they display is, likely, the most damming condemnation of all for Imus. Hate just tears down—Imus and us. Forgiveness transforms. It elevates and makes new.
Leave Don Imus alone. CBS announced Thursday that it has fired
Don Imus from his radio program, following a week of uproar over
the radio host's derogatory comments about the Rutgers women's
basketball team. “There has been much discussion of the effect
language like this has on our young people, particularly young
women of color trying to make their way in this society,” CBS
President and Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves said in
announcing the decision. One of those discussions took place at
noon today with a coalition of leaders from the civil rights and
women's movements, who said it was time for Imus to go, reports
CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes. “It's important that we
stand with the women of Rutgers who are deeply hurt by the
highly insensitive comments of Don Imus,” said Marc Morial, CEO
of the National Urban League.
It's a stunning fall for one of the nation's most prominent broadcasters. Time Magazine once named the cantankerous host as one of the 25 Most Influential People in America, and he is a member of the National Broadcaster Hall of Fame. But Imus found himself at the center of a storm after he called members of the Rutgers team “nappy-headed hos” last week. Protests ensued, and one by one, numerous sponsors pulled their ads from Imus' show. On Wednesday, MSNBC dropped its simulcast of the program. Losing Imus will be a financial hit to CBS Radio, which also suffered when shock jock Howard Stern departed for satellite radio early last year. The program is worth about $15 million in annual revenue to CBS.
The Rev. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson met with Moonves to advocate Imus' removal. Jackson called the firing “a victory for public decency. No one should use the public airwaves to transmit racial or sexual degradation." Said Sharpton: “He says he wants to be forgiven. I hope he continues in that process. But we cannot afford a precedent established that the airways can commercialize and mainstream sexism and racism.”
Imus acknowledged again that calling the Rutgers women's basketball players “nappy-headed hos” a day after they had competed in the NCAA championship game had been “really stupid.” He said he had apologized enough and wasn't going to whine about his fate. “I said it,” he said. “I wouldn't be here if I didn't say it.”
Sharpton and Jackson emerged from a meeting with Moonves saying the corporate chief had promised to consider their requests. “It's not about taking Imus down,” Sharpton said. “It's about lifting decency up.” [CBS.COM]
Oh, stop it. Fairly little of this is about decency. It’s about getting Reverend Sharpton and Reverend Jackson on TV. It’s been awhile, and they both stumbled badly on the Duke Lacrosse rape case. Nearly a year after an exotic dancer accused members of Duke University’s Lacrosse team of sexual assault, all charges against the team have been dropped.
Three Duke students — Colin Finnerty, Reade Seligmann and David Evans — were indicted in the spring on charges of felony rape, kidnapping and sexual assault for an alleged incident on March 13, during a Duke lacrosse team party. The accuser and a second dancer named Kim Roberts had been hired to strip at the party. The accuser said that she was beaten and gang-raped by several men in a bathroom during the party held by lacrosse players from Duke University. [ABCNews.Com]
In December, Durham County District Attorney Michael Nifong abruptly dismissed the rape charges after an investigator interviewed the alleged victim and she told him she couldn't be certain she was raped by the legal definition of the term in North Carolina, which defines rape specifically as the penetration of the female sexual organ by the male sexual organ. Charges of kidnapping and sexual offense remained against the three students.
Last week, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper dismissed all the remaining criminal charges against Evans, Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty. He took the extra step of declaring the players innocent—the victims of a “tragic rush to accuse” by a rogue prosecutor who could be disbarred for his actions.
Well, hallelujah, race is back in the news again.
A tale of two teams
Duke Lacrosse and Rutgers Basketball—dominates the airwaves this week. And, here we are, black and white America, pitted against one another again. But, first, a word from our sponsors…
Race makes good news items. Gets people to watch. Gets people to log onto websites or read newspapers. Racism sells. It’s one of those issues where both liberals and conservatives can go to sleep feeling good about themselves. We’re all rooting for the good guys to win, for the underdog to prevail.
If we could hang a bunch of clean-cut college kids for raping a struggling, lower-class black college student forced to strip to support herself and her young child, well, that’s a juicy news story. It’s got sex in it. It’s got race in it. But there’s always been questions about that case, and there remain questions about it.
This should be good news—right? Three innocent men, finally vindicated? Their accuser proven to be false? CBS News's 60 Minutes broadcast revealed the accuser's name and showed her face—breaking a long-standing voluntary embargo on such information in what is, perhaps, its own rush to judgment. Characterizing the accuser as a person subject to psychotic episodes, 60 Minutes painted a bleak picture of this woman, who has apparently changed her story a number of times and made enough factual mistakes in her testimony to be fitted for the black hat in all of this: a crazy woman who convinced Durham County District Attorney Denis Nifong to persecute a bunch of clean-cut innocent boys.
Which misses the point these were clean-cut innocent boys having a drunken team party complete with strippers. It also misses the point that, if this young woman is indeed subject to psychotic episodes, the psychosis works both ways: sure, she could be inventing the entire rape. or she could just be confused about where and when it happened. Either way, this woman is still a victim, still worthy of our sympathy or, at the every least, a hesitancy to judge her. And, as happy as I am to see this matter resolved, the suspicion lingers: what if these guys actually did it? What if these guys not only did it, but got away with it. Did it, got away with it, and now villainized this woman for the rest of her life.
There are no easy answers. If we are to glean any insight from the terrible incident, it should be a warning to us that the wages of sin are indeed death—spiritual, physical, emotional death. The one thing I can be sure of is somebody's lying. The players, the D.A., the victim: somebody is not telling the truth. and, because of it, people are suffering, lives are tainted and damaged. And, in the end, we're left with more questions than answers.
The boys being vindicated—charges not merely dropped, but declared innocent—is only half a win, because only half the country will sleep good. It’s not as clear-cut a victory as it would have been had they been found guilty. But now their accuser comes under some scrutiny and is possibly villianized: now she’s the new villain. And, as such, hateful things thought or said about her in private now have validation, where it’s now actually okay to call her terrible names.
Not so with the Rutgers University women’s basketball team. These women were assaulted, after a fashion, although somebody had to tell them they’d been so, as I doubt these young women (or any young women, for that matter) listen to or watch Don Imus. They weren’t gang raped and beaten, but they were spoken rudely of, victimized first by Imus and now by, well, everybody trying to cash in.
And, make no mistake about it: it’s all about the cash. Reverend Sharpton, Reverend Jackson, and now The Reverend Dr. Buster Soaries, my former Pastor (I used to attend the same church many of the Rutgers players attend), are polishing up their Righteous Indignation road show, cranking the decibel level and making a great deal of mess about this.
As for the players themselves, the quiet dignity they display is, likely, the most damming condemnation of all for Imus. And, make no mistake about it, this is between the players and Imus—it has nothing to do with American Express or Sprint or whomever. It, ultimately, has nothing to do with you or me. These ladies were insulted by this man. This needs to be resolved between those parties. Everybody else is just ringing up the cash register.
The coach of the Rutgers women's basketball team, who spoke out at a press conference on Tuesday morning, said the focus on Imus' racist and sexist comments obscured the real issue, which is the team's accomplishments. She’s right. They'd opened the season with a humiliating 40-point loss, but came back “through perseverance” to make it to the finals.
“These are 10 young women who have accomplished so much. They are valedictorians, future doctors, and musical prodigies,” says C. Vivian Stringer, the Rutgers coach. “They are the best of what the nation has to offer.” During the press conference, which was highly emotional, players made it evident how deeply painful the remarks were. They're hoping to convey that to Imus during a private meeting with him. “It's more than the game of basketball, it's more than Rutgers women's basketball team,” team leader Essence Carson told reporters. “As Coach Stringer says, we realize that it's about women across the world, across this nation. It just so happens that we finally take a stand. And we ask that you continue to support us and not look at it as [though] we're attacking a major broadcasting figure. We're attacking something an issue that we know isn't right.” [ABCNews.Com]
What Would MLK Do?
Sidelined by the flubbed Duke Lacrosse deal and with not much else on the racial horizon, Reverend Al and company were no doubt excited about having a national platform with which to attract media attention to themselves and their cause. And, yes, it is “their” cause, as the universality of moral complaint against the injustices of social inequality are, for them, the currency of their very existence. Their respective organizations and causes thrive and, yes, profit from the sturm und drang of finger-pointing over these issues.
I’m not sure how much the public benefits from blowing this Imus thing so far out of proportion. With Reverend Al and Oprah and everybody yammering on camera about it. In all that noise and confusion, Reverend Al and Reverend Jackson appear to have forgotten they are Christians. Many Rutgers team members also claim to be Christians. As Christians, our path to conflict resolution is outlined in Matthew 18, where Jesus instructs us to handle this privately, soberly, between ourselves, bringing others into the process only as needed and only if the offending party refuses to deal with the issue.
Don Imus apologized. For us, as Christians, that must be the end of the story. We must forgive him. That’s the biblical model. The Rutgers team—the Christian members, anyway—should appeal to CBS to reconsider their firing of Imus. Jesus would never demand Imus’ head. Jesus would never support Imus’ firing. In advocating Imus’s removal, especially after Imus apologized, Reverend Jackson and Reverend Sharpton appear to be wholly unfamiliar with the personal example of Jesus Christ. They have gone for a cheap and short-term victory over a much more powerful one: the power of forgiveness. By advocating Imus’s forgiveness, by lobbying for Imus to stay, by demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ and the sublime power of forgiveness, these men could have rocked the world.
Instead, they went for vengeance. They went for the quick, the easy solution. And they sold out the Rutgers team to pander to the screaming mob and fresh bookings on the Sunday news shows. Click here for an ABC video of conservative talk show host Larry Elder speaking to this issue.
The bumbled handling of this incident is a sad testament to the overall quality of civil rights leadership these days. Consider, for a moment, how the late Dr. Martin Luther King might have handled this.
MLK would have voiced concern, but he would have done so reasonably and soberly, considering the wider implications and making the most of this important opportunity to teach. What most of us fail to remember about Dr. King was just how smart the man was. The guy ran his thing like a Mafia Don. Jackson and Sharpton cashed in a quick check; King would have put that favor in the bank. CBS would have owed King fifteen million dollars (the approximate value of Imus’ show). And King was a man who always—I mean always—collected on his debts. Mostly, Dr. King would never have exploited these young women the way these preachers are doing today. He’d have told them to return love for hate. To be patient. To not lash out. To follow Jesus instead of following the media.
At bare minimum, King would have won sweeping and wide-ranging concessions from CBS and from Imus’ corporate sponsors. Imus would have been far more valuable on the air than off of it. Jackson and Sharpton really blew it. And, now that Imus has been swiftly fired—a relatively easy fix for CBS—nobody will want to talk about this anymore. They’ve cut the very legs out from under Dr. Soaries (the team’s pastor), Dr. Stringer, their coach, and taken the wind (and spotlight) from the women themselves.
There’s a blown opportunity here, for the black community to stop shaking its fist, to stop wasting energy on hair-trigger temper tantrums over meaningless things. Yes, Imus’ outburst was ultimately meaningless. But we give it power when we scream and stomp and parade and boycott.
Worse, we allow corporate America, and by extension, white America, to cheapen the legacy of our equal rights struggle by making this somehow about racism, by making this a “cause.” This isn’t a “cause.” This is an old guy trying to be funny and blowing it. Note the clip (above) from the film *Ragtime,* where in Howard Rollins, Jr.’s car is vandalized by a group of racist volunteer fireman. The late Ted Ross, a brilliant character actor perhaps best known to us as Dean Harris from *The Cosby Show,* advises Rollins to just let it go. He doesn’t excuse the behavior or say Rollins doesn’t have a right to be outraged. He merely puts it in perspective of the far more tragic matters Ross has to deal with as a black attorney in turn of the century New York.
Corporate sponsors and networks cancelling Don Imus was exactly the wrong move. Imus’s outburst was a mistake. Yes, it may have betrayed what was in Don Imus’ heart; maybe he is a closet Klansman—I doubt it. But leave him on the air.
At least, then, we’ll know where he is.
Imus’ sponsors pulling out was fairly disingenuous. It was phony social justice in that it doesn’t actually fix anything or solve any problem. Firing Don Imus just pushes *actual* racism back into the shadows. It doesn’t address the problem, it doesn’t engage the problem, it doesn’t fix the problem. It’s cheap, it’s easy. And we cheer these corporate giants who lead the way, even though the best job many of us will be offered by many of these companies involves a pail and a mop.
The hypocrisy, here, is for corporate America to give Imus a spanking while continuing to drag its heels about diversity within its own ranks. Of the 38,000 companies that report to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, black men and black women account for only 146,000 and 113,000 at senior levels under the EEOC designation of officers and managers. Nationally, blacks comprise 8.1 percent of managers and professionals, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Corporate America putting Don Imus out to pasture will have absolutely no effect on that. As long as minorities are continued to be denied equal opportunity and advancement, all this hollering is just phony and hypocritical. It distracts the black community’s attention from actual racism: the institutionalized kind deeply embedded in our society. This sad event, which is indeed serious, is being exploited by these companies for financial gain, to enlarge their profile and buffet public perception. And we’re falling for it.
I remember when the civil rights movement actually meant something. When it was a serious movement run by serious people. Now it’s just about money. We’re all just watching the money. Imus’ money. Pepsi’s money. Giant corporations expressing outrage and demanding Imus’ head on a Pike—they could care less about Imus. They’re afraid of losing money. And cancelling their ads guarantees them *free* advertising as the news media reports American Express has pulled their ads from the Imus show.
It’s all a shameful exploitation of blood. Blood shed by people who gave up everything, and often their very lives, to effect social change. Clothing themselves in the skins of martyrs, what we actually have here is petty yammering about nothing. Which is not to suggest, in any way, that Imus’ crude remarks are appropriate. Only that this business simply does not rise to a level deserving of national scrutiny and outcry. Imus’ comments were hurtful, were vile. But, at the end of the day, somebody called these sisters a name. That’s what we’re talking about. A hateful name, and certainly indicative of a much larger problem. But the fact is, this is an incident about a sexist and racist remark.
This isn’t Rosa Parks. This isn’t Brown vs. Board of Education. This isn’t Emmett Till, lynched for whistling at a white woman. This isn’t Medgar Evers, murdered in his driveway. This is a cantankerous senior citizen in a cowboy hat muttering obscenities in the wee hours of the morning.
It seems hypocritical to me to flog Imus while ignoring the point the entire country now seems out to cash in on these young women. The corporate sponsors pulling their ads—it’s all about money. MSNBC pulling the show—it’s all about money. CBS’ firing of Imus—money. Oprah dropped everything and put these women on her show. The world came to a screeching halt: why? Black women are degraded and exploited every single minute of every single day as a matter of routine, and we all—black, white, Latino, Chinese—accept it without blinking. Why are we suddenly blinking at Don Imus?
The blown opportunity, here, is for black America to show how we’ve grown, how we’ve matured, how we’ve learned the lessons of our struggle by, first and foremost, learning to forgive. Imus apologized. Our faith, our belief system requires—it’s not an option—requires us to accept that apology. The opportunity missed was for the Rutgers team to simply forgive. And not fake forgiveness. Not surfacy, pretend forgiveness. Real forgiveness.
The opportunity missed was to show Don Imus love, when he had shown us only hate. To heap coals upon his head by being more of a grown-up than him, by loving him. Returning hate for hate is simply not biblical. Demanding “justice” is also simply not biblical—especially when this isn’t about justice. He uttered a bigoted remark. It was wrong. It was horrible. It was indefensible. So now the man shouldn’t be allowed to exist?
What’s hypocritical, here, is black America knows, without doubt, that white America is still home to intense racism. We know this because *black* America is also home to intense racism. Firing Imus only calcifies this situation, polarizing us in our respective tents. The hypocrisy here is to lynch Don Imus for every bad thing white America has done to us, to say this man can never work again, can never make a living. That’s not justice. It is a disproportional response. The more appropriate thing, say an FCC fine, which is what should have happened, is somehow not enough for us. We’re such utter crybabies, so very tender and thin-skinned, that letting the system take care of Don Imus wasn’t enough. Man, if only Reverend Al had just said, “No comment,” or, better, “This is an FCC matter and we’re content to let the agency do its job.” Oh, how much more mature would that have been than the multi-ring circus we’re in right now. A circus designed to fuel Sharpton’s war machine at the expense of the young women involved.
In the end, all Don Imus (or white America, for that matter) will learn from here out is not to change his thoughts about black America, but to hide them better. Embracing Imus with love would have been a much more effective weapon and a much more dire punishment.
The outcries and protests and yelling about Don Imus are all cheap. And, as I’ve pointed out before, it is, in the end, cheap. This is social justice on the cheap; screaming and hollering about an easy target like an aging radio host who just got tired one morning and said what was actually on his mind. There are much bigger, and far more insidious forms of racism out there, which corporate America not only does nothing about, but actively encourages. When corporate America stands up about *those* forms of racism, I’ll get behind that movement. But this is just cheap because it’s easy. Because it costs nothing. There’s no sacrifice in it. No risk involved. Fire Don Imus. So what?
Forgiving him would have been a much harder challenge and a much worse punishment than any FCC fine. Forgiving him involves sacrifice. Forgiving him involves risk. Hate just tears down—Imus and us. Forgiveness transforms and elevates and makes new.
Taking The Rap
Now, here’s the real racial divide in all of this, here’s what white families are saying ‘round the supper table across America: I’m sure those women have been called far worse—by black men. Click here for an ABC video speaking to this issue
The loud retort to all this is “rap music.” Critics argue that black women are routinely called far worse in rap lyrics by artists many of these same Rutgers players routinely listen to; music on iPods Rutgers Women’s’ Basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer took away to help the players focus on their game. And there’s a point to that: double standards are simply not fair. We should never cry “racism” at our convenience, calling for Don Imus’ lynching while routinely cozying up to an artist like Snoop Dogg—whose very mantra is, “I don’t love them hos.”
We have no way of knowing what is playing on those ladies’ iPods, but the reality is, if you’re listening to rap music with explicit lyrics, you’ve bought a ticket to sexism and, just as often, racism. The same can be argued to listeners of shock jocks like Howard Stern and Imus, whose brand of humor is often childish and sophomoric. Tuning him in should come with a warning label, advising listeners the guy can be crude and thoughtless. Crude and Thoughtless are his stock and trade; it’s what he sells. So, who gets to decide where the water’s edge is? Who decides where the line between crude jocularity and vulgar obscenity is?
Personally, I’m much more comfortable knowing who the racists are than forcing them underground. Before I moved into my home, I asked the guy, “Look, I won’t tell anyone, just be honest with me: am I going to have a problem, here? I mean, I don’t want to wake up to crosses burning on my lawn. If I’m not wanted here, just tell me and I’ll look someplace else.” I’d rather people didn’t smile in my face while hating me, “Nigger, nigger, nigger!” behind my back. Crucifying Don Imus only calcifies the racism: it really does nothing to engage it, to bring it to light. It just hardens the arteries of people who already hate us. And, like a smoldering brushfire, it *looks* like we’ve accomplished something, that we’ve put the forest fire out, while all we’ve done is force it underground where it grows even more dangerous.
Ice Cube, way back when he used to be Ice Cube and not this cuddly papa bear thing he’s become over the years, was probably one of our worst offenders. His scabrously funny but vilely offensive Givin’ Up The Nappy Dug Out, from his critically-acclaimed Death Certificate CD, has artistic merit in that it is clearly satirical (in the preamble sketch, Cube politely asks his date’s father to tell her he’s arrived and the dad speaks offensively to Cube, prompting Cube’s virulently misogynistic but clearly facetious rap about the daughter). Maybe Cube gets a pass, here, because he clearly doesn’t *mean* his shocking insults. But, neither did Imus. Why is Cube the darling of the black community, while Imus is being fitted for a Grand wizard cone hood? So far as I am concerned, this whole Imus episode is simply a case of our chickens coming home to roost. We've allowed that language, that attitude towards women for so long, and things have gotten so bad, so utterly crass and misogynistic within urban culture, that we have forfeited the right to be outraged by someone parroting that sensibility—which is what Imus was doing. Before we criticize Imus, let us clean up our own back yards and take responsibility for our intellectual cowardice and moral laziness in this area. Sharpton and Jackson should be leading the charge on this issue. Instead, they suck up to these hateful, ignorant rappers, to this hateful, ignorant culture, while repudiating Imus, making them the very model of apostate morality and ontological bankruptcy.
I’d like us to expend our political capital, our moral outrage, on actual crimes, on actual tragedy. On the millions of us without health care. On the fact there are more black men in prison than are in college. On the astonishing disparity in average net worth between blacks and whites. At the lower end of the economic spectrum (incomes less than $15,000 per year), the median African-American family has a net worth of zero, while the equivalent white family's net worth is $10,000. Likewise, among the often-heralded new black middle class, the typical white family earning $40,000 per year enjoys a nest egg of around $80,000; its African-American counterpart has less than half that amount. Among the wealthiest Americans, the story is much the same: Oprah Winfrey and Robert L. Johnson (founder of Black Entertainment Television) are the only African-Americans on the Forbes annual list of the 400 richest people in the United States, and they are both on the lower end of the list. [The Nation].
None of which excuses Imus. But there was a great opportunity, in all of this, to engage American on a slate of much wider-ranging issues. With Imus’ firing, that window has narrowed exponentially as America’ bloodlust for vengeance has been slated. Now, everything else we say about it is just us whining, beating a dead horse—the man’s been fired, what else do we want? A lot. And we might have gotten it, or at least gotten America’s attention, had Sharpton and Jackson not gone for the quick, cheap, easy stunt, foregoing the far more sublime torture of watching Imus squirm for months on end and also foregoing farther-ranging opportunities to educate and inform, to challenge America on issues of sexism and racism.
Way to go, fellas.
It’s cheap justice. It’s show biz justice. And all we’re really doing is following the money. We really should be following Christ, following His divine example. And divine change often occurs in much quieter, less newsworthy places. Starting, first and foremost, with our own hearts.
On December 3, 2009 Imus returned to the airwaves on ABC Radio and RFD-TV. When asked about Imus's return to radio, Al Sharpton said in an interview, "We’ll monitor him; I’m not saying I’m going to throw a banquet for him and say welcome home. He has the right to make a living, but because he has such a consistent pattern with this we are going to monitor him to make sure he doesn’t do it again." On April 4, 2008, Jesse Jackson appeared on "Imus in the Morning" to discuss the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King--a booking that would have seemed impossible nearly a year before, when Reverend Jackson joined 50 demonstrators in Chicago demanding that "Imus Must Go." Many media commentators declared Don Imus's rehabilitation complete. [Wikipedia]
Christopher J. Priest
13 April 2007
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