post submitted by Chet Brinkley
In the wake of CBS’ firing of that moron Don Imus, I find myself torn. I’m an advocate of the first amendment as well as affirmative action and other efforts to uphold the civil rights of all people. I’ve never listened to Imus or Howard Stern or any other of the so-called “shock jocks,” though I have a pretty good idea of the kind of verbal swill they spew.
Imus’ comments about the Rutgers team were disgusting, to be sure. And in targeting young women who came one game away from the national championship rather than some politician or celebrity whose job description in the 21st century (unfortunately) includes being maligned or “satirized,” Imus clearly crossed a line that should not have been crossed. But then again, he and his ilk make a living stomping all over that line on a regular basis. So why now? Why this? Part of it is that African Americans enjoy far more economic clout than sixty years ago when Jackie Robinson broke through the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Their collective outrage hits advertisers where they live, so networks have to respond differently. In addition, tens of millions of parents with daughters took his comment very personally.
Kansas City Star sportswriter Jason Whitlock offered another perspective:
Thank you, Don Imus. You’ve given us (black people) an excuse to avoid our real problem…While we’re fixated on a bad joke cracked by an irrelevant…shock jock, I’m sure at least one of the marvelous young women on the Rutgers basketball team is somewhere snapping her fingers to the beat of 50 Cent’s or Snoop Dogg’s or Young Jeezy’s latest ode glorifying nappy-headed pimps and hos.
It’s embarrassing. Dave Chappelle was offered $50 million to make racially insensitive jokes about black and white people on TV. He was hailed as a genius. Black comedians routinely crack jokes about white and black people, and we all laugh out loud.
I watched the Rutgers news conference and was ashamed. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke for eight minutes in 1963 at the March on Washington. At the time, black people could be lynched and denied fundamental rights with little thought. With the comments of a talk-show host most of her players had never heard of before last week serving as her excuse, Vivian Stringer rambled on for 30 minutes about the amazing season her team had…
We all know where the real battleground is. We know that the gangsta rappers and their followers in the athletic world have far bigger platforms to negatively define us than some old white man with a bad radio show. There’s no money and lots of danger in that battle, so Jesse and Al are going to sit it out.
I’m in no position to make the kind of statement Mr. Whitlock did, but the civil libertarian in me has a problem with Imus being fired for saying some stupid and offensive thing, no matter how stupid and offensive. When University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill compared World Trade Center victims to Nazis, colleagues came to his defense—not because they agreed with him, but because they didn’t want to make any concessions to the right of free speech. Churchill resigned as chair of the university’s ethnic studies department, but remained a professor.
While Imus is not an academic and his audience doesn’t exactly break the brain bank, this country has created a market for (and the Supreme Court has defended as free speech) this kind of scurrilous, scatological, crap (and I’m talking about hip-hop as well as shock jocks). And the outrage that follows in the wake of a particularly offensive salvo can indeed come off as opportunistic. Are we truly so weak and so fragile that we cannot defend ourselves or simply ridicule weak-ass comments such as those drooled by Don Imus?
As a white guy, clearly I’m out of touch with the black experience. But I don’t think it serves anyone well to condemn whites for using hateful and bigoted language while rewarding “artists” in the black community for using it with impunity. I’m not saying that black athletes today should suffer in silence the way Jackie Robinson was forced to 60 years ago. But I think all of us could seek to emulate some of the dignity and class he displayed. We at least got a glimpse of that when, after CBS fired Imus, he and his wife still wanted to apologize to the Rutgers team, and they still wanted to meet him, and chose to forgive him. That forgiveness doesn’t give Imus his job back, but just might give him a chance to earn some self-respect—or at least some self-restraint.