Friday, April 13, 2007

The enemy is not Don Imus

Don Imus apparently crossed the Rubicon, regarding matters of what’s tolerable, or not, on syndicated radio. Last Wednesday, Imus referred to members of the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy headed hos,” sparking a fire of outrage that led to his firing, on Thursday.

Imus has made a career of making remarks about blacks, women, fat people and others that various groups have deemed offensive. The fact of his firing wasn’t particularly surprising, given the nature of today’s media environment, where today’s star can easily become persona non grata on the basis of an ill-informed and “insensitive” remark.

It’s not surprising that two of the people yelling the loudest for Imus’ removal were Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, the apparent spokesmen for all black Americans. Both of these men have made careers of cherry-picking causes to champion, flashing the race card whenever the possibility of face time in front of the camera became available.

Since I’m not black, I won’t try to speak about issues pertinent to black people. I will, however, highlight black spokespeople that I think have something relevant to say on the matter. One such person is Jason Whitlock, a sportswriter from Kansas City, who I think has the ability to cut through the smoke regularly, writing about sports, but on occasion, he also has something to say about society in a much larger context than the narrow parameters of his sports beat.

Whitlock points out the hypocrisy of equal-opportunity race pandering. While I’ve never been a fan of the I-man and his posse of tired, middle-aged cranks that made up his morning drive team, I also recognize that he’s not the only person who has ever uttered an untoward remark about women, blacks, or any other member of America’s protected classes. Interestingly, white men, poor whites from the south, or divorced fathers desiring custody of their children don’t seem to fall under that umbrella.

As Whitlock deftly delineates, black comedians, like Dave Chappelle, routinely use racially insensitive material, all in the service of humor, yet he’s rewarded with $50 million (from Comedy Central) for his schtick. Apparently, it all depends on who’s doing the routine, whether it gets deemed racist, or not.

Whitlock writes,

“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 (the Rutgers coach) rambled on for 30 minutes about the amazing season her team had.

Somehow, we’re supposed to believe that the comments of a man with virtually no connection to the sports world ruined Rutgers’ wonderful season. Had a broadcaster with credibility and a platform in the sports world uttered the words Imus did, I could understand a level of outrage.

But an hour long press conference over a man who has already apologized, already been suspended and is already insignificant is just plain intellectually dishonest. This is opportunism. This is a distraction.”

I agree with Whitlock’s points about where the real enemies of black people are; they certainly don’t reside on the air with Don Imus.

In keeping with the spirit of Whitock’s commentary, I’d go even further and say, as I have at other times that the real issue in America is less about race and much more about class. The Imus episode is just another case of media white noise, getting us to take our eyes of the real enemies of everyday Americans.

For those who hold the power in America, they’d much rather we focused on Don Imus and his poorly chosen remarks about a women’s college basketball team, than the issues of economic injustice and the widening gap in our country between the obscenely rich and the rest of us. As long as our attention is diverted from those things that are truly dangerous, those making the important decisions can keep on keeping on, while the rest of us find it exceedingly difficult to garner attention for issues that matter.


asfo_del said...

I agree, Jim, and I think the larger issue is society's injustice and inequality, in terms of both wealth and power, which does not single out particular groups but is directed against anyone who is powerless, whether or not he or she belongs to a group that has been identifed as historically oppressed. It's not that our society is not racist: it is, of course. But it also oppresses with a very wide net. And it's not that Imus's comments were not offensive: they were, but so many other comments uttered daily on the airwaves that are just as damaging receive no notice at all.

I think you're absolutely right about the desire to create a media circus that distracts from a wide variety of other ills -- and does not even address the ill it purportedly is carrying on about!

Jim said...

I've been amazed over the past 6-8 months, how I've been able to focus on some very tangible ways to facilitate change on a very local level, operating on the edges of the "system."

This has been empowering, particularly comparing it to the past, when I tended to run with groups that liked sloganeering and talked alot about eliminating injustice and inequality, but in reality, did very little, other than sloganeering about injustice and inequality (and racism).

Thanks for your thoughtful comment. It's good to know you're still around these parts. How is the transition to WordPress going?

BTW, I'm enjoying the Green Day blog and reading some of it made me wax nostalgic for my younger days, back in the Reagan 80s, when I used to pick up Flipside at my local independent record shop in search of the latest on my favorite punk bands.

Joe said...

I don't really begrudge Sharpton and Jackson for "cherry picking" issues, however it's almost gotten to the point that is counterproductive. I've heard a lot of White America making Sharpton/Jackson the issue here, and not Imus or racism.

To me, the issue is a society that continues to tolerate racism. Rich white men accept Imus' form of humor. Young white males buy up gangsta rap and watch Dave Chappelle because they don't see a problem with the language. Rich white men continue to put the product on the air. Dave Chappelle selling out his own people for $50 million? That's not a problem - that's the American way! White men have been doing this for centuries! At least with Chapelle, there is an outside chance that some of the money will be used to better the conditions of the black community.

The other thing that gets my gall is the undercurrent of, "these young women are excellent athletes, students, and people. They didn't deserve this." No, they did not. But does this mean that if they were young street urchins with substance-abuse issues, they would have deserved this? I don't think so, but it's sort of implied.