Thursday, April 12, 2007

What We Should Learn from Imus' Lesson

Two subjects have been on my mind for the past week…I don’t really want to do two full-length articles, but I want to cover both subjects as comprehensively as possible.

First… the ever-prevalent “nappy-headed hoes” incident...

I don’t even need to go into the specifics. What Don Imus said was not really so terrible. It was that his attack was so unwarranted, so vicious, against a group of women that almost couldn’t be more undeserving of it. I think most people have heard much more vicious attacks on TV or radio…but never to a group of more accomplished, more respectable young women, who excelled defensively on the court, yet found themselves defenseless to the attacks from the airwaves. I almost wish that the punishment for Mr. Imus would be left in their hands—that would be justice…

…but it wouldn’t solve the greater problem, the deep questions that remain unanswered by our culture.

What is unacceptable language in today’s society?

Who determines language acceptability?

Are persons with comedic intent supposed to be given free license to say anything? Or should they be held to the same standards as the rest of us?

Does a person’s history of actions/comments weigh more heavily than an individual incident?

How many people does a comment have to offend to be proclaimed offensive?

…or really, which groups have to be offended for a statement to truly be proclaimed offensive?

These questions could not come at a more important time…let’s just recap the last 8 months of “events”…

(sucking in a big gulp of air)

Kramer called a group of black hecklers “niggers” while informing them how blessed they were not to be hung from the nearest tree like their ancestors…(hmmm…) Ann Coulter has been cited numerous times for using the word “fag” derogatorily in reference to liberal and democratic leaders, particularly former Vice President Al Gore… Michael Chertoff, our Secretary of Homeland Security, referred to European terrorists as “clean skin” terrorists—so what does that make the non-European terrorists? Exactly… Rush Limbaugh poked fun and made a mockery of Parkinson’s Disease after its lead spokesman, Michael J. Fox, began campaigning for stem cell research as a hopeful resource for eliminating the disease… Newt Gingrich inadvertently referred to Spanish and Latin American languages spoken in America as “languages of the ghetto.” He obviously was referring to them, because he apologized directly to them—in Spanish… Tim Hardaway said four words that stirred the entire nation: “I hate gay people,” and thereby severed his own ties with the NBA. His timing didn’t help, either—John Amaechi had just become the first openly gay NBA-affiliated player, leaving Hardaway on the opposing end of what many saw as progress for the league…Senator George Allen of Virginia was ultimately responsible for the Republicans losing control of the House after calling an Indian American in his audience “Macaca,” a racial slur that most Americans had never even heard of, and thus he thought he could get away with…Last September, Pope Benedict XVI found himself in a world of trouble for quoting an anti-Muslim passage in one of his lectures. He said his point was to discourage the notion that religion could be spread by violence—but being Catholic, he definitely could have read from his OWN churches passages to prove that point.

(chest heaving, gasping for air)

So in this paragraph, we’ve offended: African Americans, Spanish-speaking Americans, citizens of Middle Eastern nations, Far Eastern peoples, liberals, democrats, Parkinsons sufferers, homosexuals, and Muslims.

So what have the punishments been for the above offenders? Half-hearted TV apologies, statements from PR persons, long explanations on interview circuits, and the occasional loss of sponsorship or affiliation. Or if you’re Ann Coulter or the Pope…nothing.

NOW, when you look at the Don Imus incident in this context, as well as in the context of his own career and actions, you understand why we have a problem.

The problem isn’t that we have people like Don Imus on the radio spewing insults and covert/overt racism on millions of homes. The problem is that our society hasn’t really grown culturally in 30 years, and we’ve suppressed race and cultural issues in various ways as best we could, but now we are seeing them seep back to the surface.

So where are they coming from? The Civil Rights movement was the catalyst for much of the change and advancement we experience today. But in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, the focus shifted to the Vietnam War, and the false unity of anti-war sentiment masked our need for growth and racial exploration. The following eras of drug use, drug war, satanic music, and Persian Gulf conflict gave us another two decades of distraction. All these eras distracted us until now—the era of information/accessibility. And now we all sit a YouTube visit away from the harsh reality of what other Americans really think of us—whether we’re black, gay, Muslim, or whatever else.

I haven’t said many words about Don Imus, or the women of Rutgers, in this article, but that’s because it just doesn’t seem like the central issue in this story. The truth is this: American culture, whether black or white or in between, has created numerous double standards when it comes to self-expression. And even though Don Imus is a rabid bigot, even he is able to see that we are becoming a nation that’s selectively PC, wanting others to push the envelope, just not when it make US feel less of OURselves. Let’s face it, America, WE made Borat one of the richest movies of the year. WE embraced Dave Chappelle’s racially-charged humor to a level that even he could not maintain his sanity. WE are the ones that support artists and labels that produce music that is wreaking havoc on youths from the projects to the suburbs.

And as long as we create a culture of “acceptable offense” in our entertainment, as long as we embrace certain levels of abusiveness as merely “pushing the boundaries of self-expression,” then we can expect the Kramers, Ann Coulters, and Don Imus’s of the world to keep spreading their filth as well.

And one last thing—this isn’t about the black community needing to toughen up or “fix itself” (Imus and every sympathetic white figure has turned to rap music as his excuse for his crime)—it’s about AMERICANS realizing that we haven’t done anything but TALK about unity since Martin Luther King died. We’ve still got a long ways to go before we’re Civil. Or Right.

[NOTE: It was announced after 4pm today that Imus was officially fired from CBS, ending his more than 30 years in broadcasting]

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