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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Don Imus is a racist

I didn't want to wade in to this mess, since it's another example of media hounds smelling blood (like OJ or Britney or Michael Jackson) when there's a war on, a budget crisis, and global warming to face down. But I rediscovered Tim Wise, an anti-racism activist who spoke at my undergraduate institution several times, and his essay on the Imus affair shines light in the dark corners of social indifference to one racist shock jock.

Wise has 3 points on the immediate issue of Imus:
  1. Wise dismisses the "free speech" argument, noting that the 1st Amendment shields you from government oppression and does not give one the right to a network radio show.
  2. He also notes that a racial slur isn't just one insult, when flung against the backdrop of institutional racism.
    That backdrop--of housing and job discrimination, racial profiling, unequal health care access, and a media that regularly presents blacks in the worst possible light (think the persistent and inaccurate reports of murder and rape by African Americans in New Orleans during the Katrina tragedy)--makes verbal slights, even if relatively minor, take on a magnitude well beyond the moment of their issuance.
  3. Finally, Imus is no fallen angel:
    In the past he's referred to black journalist Gwen Ifill as "the cleaning lady," a Jewish reporter as, a "boner-nosed, beanie-wearing Jewboy," and Arabs as "ragheads." Furthermore, he handpicked a sidekick who called Palestinians "animals" on the air, and suggested that Venus and Serena Williams would make fine centerfold models for National Geographic. Imus is a serial offender, and his contrition now, while perhaps genuine, has been long overdue.
Wise is not content with just pointing out Imus' failings, since it's merely one incident on that "backdrop" of institutionalized racism.

One thing has been made clear by the Imus incident: namely, white folks are incapable of blaming other whites for white racism and racist behavior. Despite all the demands by whites that blacks take "personal responsibility" for their lives, their behaviors, and the problems that often beset their communities--and especially that they stop blaming whites for their station in life--the fact is, we can't wait to blame someone else when we, or one of ours, screws up. So please note, from virtually every corner of the white media (and from black conservatives who are quick to let whites off the hook no matter what we do), the conversation has shifted from Imus's racism to a full-scale assault on rap music and hip-hop. In other words, it's those black people's fault when one of ours calls them a name. After all, they do it themselves, and Imus can't be expected not to say "ho" if Ice Cube has done it. At this point, I'm halfway expecting to hear Bill O'Reilly say that white folks wouldn't have even heard words like nigger if it weren't for 50 Cent. (emphasis mine)

But this kind of argument is not only absurd on the face of it, even more to the point, it's a complete affront to the concept of "personal responsibility." It ranks right up there with telling your mom that "Billy did it too," back when you were ten, and playing ball outside, and broke your neighbor's window. As I recall, mom didn't really give a rat's ass, and responded by saying something about Billy, a bridge, and whether his desire to jump off like a damned fool would inspire similar stupidity on your part.

If you want to see the rest of Wise's essay, read it here. And be glad that at least one bigot is off the air.

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