I really didn't want to spend much time thinking about the controversy currently swirling around Don Imus for specifically disrespecting the black women who constitute the majority of the basketball team from Rutgers that made a surprise run to the championship game. So, I thought to myself (for the last few days anyway), I'm not going to. However, I realize now that I do have to comment on it because the story just won't leave my mind alone, if you know what I mean.
Rutgers, of course, is the largely-unclaimed "University of New Jersey" and not an athletic power in women's college basketball or most other collegiate sports. With its main campus located some 25 miles from New York City, they were a local story for the New York market that is the home of the Imus in the Morning radio show hosted on what is said to be the number one sports radio station in that market, WFAN. One would have thought a leading program on such a station would have recognized what this story was.
It was an historic run these women made.
I suspect this is what angers me most about the riff the guys on that news-talk-sports program laid down about the looks of the women on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights team. Here these young women are accomplishing the improbable and damn near overcoming the odds and actually doing the impossible -- winning the title -- and these clowns use that special feat as a prop to crap all over the history these women made in what was probably a calculated and cynical attempt to create buzz.
Which, of course, it has. I'll grant you it may not have been calculated by Imus for this purpose but the gentleman who fed him the "hard core ho's" line? Yeah, he thought about that. He calculated the use of that line, I'm fairly certain. And he knew that Imus or someone else among the cast of characters would run with it. Briefly, I'm sure. But it would be good for a "drive-by laugh" and off they would go to the next bit.
This is our modern dilemma, or so it appears to me. Bad home training sells and counts on the maintenance of standards in a sufficient number of Americans capable of being shocked by intemperate or insensitive language so that a constituency (any constituency) can be reliably counted upon to be offended in some way, shape, or form by the likes of Imus and his posse.
I've never liked the guy and I've never quite understood his popularity with many people (especially in the northeast, especially among liberal white folks from a variety of different groups). That's not to say I don't appreciate the talent employed by the show. They have some very talented people who put together some very funny radio skits, impersonations, etc. But it's far too New York for me, full of false superiority and a conceit that I find unbecoming.
As I've said, bad home training.
I heard Mike Greenberg say recently that he loved listening to Imus' show while growing up and he also said his recollection was that Imus tended to go after the powerful and not (as in this instance) the powerless. I'm not sure about that, not sure at all. I think that's probably a convenient recollection now that Imus is caught up in a storm. I will acknowledge, though, that it could be right on the money and this does represent a departure for Imus. My bias, however, doesn't believe this is so.
Gwen Ifill has a good opinion piece up at the New York Times. John McWhorter has an equally good piece that serves, I think, as a good counterpoint. I have bounced all over the place in thinking through where I stand on this situation. The black women I know want his behind fired, and with a quickness! I have concluded that, emotionally, I want him fired. Although I have to admit that I want him fired, I don't exactly feel good about wanting him fired. For me, this means that (intellectually-speaking) I'd prefer he not be fired.
I presume it's because I have a disdain for punk ass surrender monkeys, and this controversial demand that he be fired strikes me as punkish. Or, overly feminine. It seems to violate a long-learned rule from my childhood and no doubt that of most African Americans before this current rush toward "sensitivity" that is turning our men and women into apology-demanding and overly fragile dependents forever in need of the good white folks to come to our assistance against the bad white folks.
That rule? Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.
In preparation for the outside world (and not simply a mean world but a grown-up world that is quite cold and has always been so), it seems to me that the "sticks and stones" rule has far greater utility than this whole "apologize and say you're sorry" mess we're now inundated with. As McWhorter said:
[T]he quest for an America where no one ever makes passing observations that are less than respectful of minority groups is futile. And why are so many of us so obsessed with chasing that rainbow anyway? The truth is that black people who go to pieces whenever anyone says a little something are revealing that they are not too sure about themselves.
Roger that. This McWhorter opinion explicitly addresses an insecurity we'd much prefer to overlook.
That said, the black response to the Imus controversy is also more complicated than simply a lack of collective or individual faith in ourselves as African Americans. Which is why I have vacillated on this issue. There's an element here that is fundamental and cuts to the core. It directly speaks to defending black womanhood and when I hear my wife or my sister address the issue, there can be no doubt about that. And Imus, perhaps unknowingly but nevertheless revealingly, most definitely dismissed these women as so much riff-raff. And in doing so, especially in this manner, he also dismissed my grandmother. And my mother, each and every sister, and also my wife. In fact, from an American perspective, he screwed with the yet unborn progeny of black people everywhere.
That's an ass-whuppin' offense, ladies and gentlemen. And I do, emotionally, want to beat his ass.
But more importantly, I don't think he should be fired. From what may be a right-wing fringe of American politics, I found a piece written by Don Krasner that does a good job of placing the controversy in what appears to me to be the proper context (and I have no doubt that many others have done the same):
Just where do you think Imus felt he had the license to utter those words---if they were indeed so repugnant and offensive? From his buddies in the white Aryan Brotherhood?! Or from liberals in the hip-hop culture, the recording industry, and Hollywood who get rich off the use of that language? Do Jews, Italians, or Latinos denigrate their women in the same manner, let alone permit such language and behavior to emerge as dominant in the culture? Shouldn't Sharpton and Jesse Jackson be spending as much time and effort in preventing the mainstreaming of this offensive language about their women, than in bashing white imitators trying---and failing---to be funny? Shouldn't they be boycotting the New York Times for printing glowing reviews of hip hop music that refers to other blacks as niggers?
The same liberals in the news media who looked the other way or otherwise enabled Imus, easily gave in to their white guilt and provided a forum for race hustler Al Sharpton to lay into Imus; demand his apology and dismissal; and condemn the wall-to-wall white NBC network. This from an individual who is responsible for a career in generating racial disharmony, and has had a lot to apologize for, yet never has. Especially for his "white interloper" and "bloodsucking Jews" comment that resulted in a racial murder of an innocent white merchant in Harlem. Hosts on MSNBC sought salvation from Sharpton, and instead received salvos. Enough to make conservatives giddy.
A couple of hours after NBC fired Imus, Keith Olbermann on Countdown sought salvation from Jesse Jackson. He told Jesse that he quietly counseled the top brass at NBC all week to fire Imus. And how he chose black interviewer Alison Stewart as one of the substitute hosts of Countdown. Unlike other NBC commentators, I suppose this proves that some of Olbermann's best friends are black!
I've heard that Jim Brown had some harsh words for Sharpton over this incident. Good. I doubt that Jim Brown sees things the way I do but that's not what is important about an icon like Jim Brown speaking out against the good Reverend. Al Sharpton is a New York hustler and in no way, shape or form represents or speaks for Black America in any meaningful way. That's not meant to denigrate the good that he has done. I give him all due credit for those efforts. But I'm also not oblivious to his egregious errors and I give him no pass for them, either. Just as the good that Don Imus has done does not automatically absolve him of criticism over this incident, so too for Al Sharpton. I also know that if close attention is paid to many, many black talk show hosts or black public figures who can often be incredibly loose with their language, we could find a multitude of outrages similar to the Imus rant currently the focus of so much discussion.
Sticks and stones may [tangibly] break our bones but words will [only superficially] hurt us. It's high time we not only re-learn that lesson but toughen up and internalize the time-honored wisdom contained within its' intent.