Saturday, April 14, 2007

Thank You, Imus, for a Teachable Moment

This is a Moment with a capital "M". The opportunity for fundamental social change doesn't come often, so let's take full advantage of it.

Shock jock Don Imus's racist and sexist remarks about the Rutgers University women's basketball team didn’t go beyond his typical bottom feeder discourse, but in this age of YouTube and internet rapid response capability, his sleazy pot shots against a target so clearly undeserving of epithets have captured the nation's attention. We’ve been riveted to the story and it has brought us together. Interest soon turned to outrage; the outrage continues to mushroom into new social expectations. Suddenly it is Imus who’s shocked. Even Oprah is talking about it, and when a story reaches that level, you know Imus had better head for rehab fast because the times, they are a-changing.

Racism and sexism are so pervasive that too often we allow them to wash over us without pricking our consciousness let alone our consciences. But Imus's little tete a te with his executive producer Bernard McGuirk-who is equally culpable-was so awful, so blatant, so gratuitous it created a tsunami that might just wash away the toxicity regularly spewed by destruction derby talk shows.

Some of the current media chatter addresses important principles such as free speech, the difference between political speech and hate speech, and the appropriate punishment for Imus given that many rappers--not to mention other Limbaugh-like talk show hosts--have said similar things. This is a useful conversation, but should not divert us from the opportunity afforded by this Moment to expose the consequences of racism and sexism in real people's everyday lives.

That’s why it is overall a very good thing for a man who is such a symbol of the last bastion of unfettered white male supremacy to get canned for so clearly overstepping the bounds of appropriate speech, legally protected or not, political speech or not. I say, pour it on and grab his employers by the short hairs while the public's short attention span is focused on that vulnerable spot.

At the same time, the Scarlet Knights will better serve the cause of righting the injustice done to them by playing the role of teachers rather than victims. Based on my own experience, I generally counsel people in these situations to toughen up and not take media attacks personally because it's never about them; it's always about power: the bully’s fear of losing his power over them. Goodness knows, during my 30 years in the public eye advocating for women’s reproductive rights, I received the gamut of such ad hominem attacks from picketers wielding signs at my home to being called unprintable names on the airwaves to having a political cartoonist caricature me as a Nazi. The last felt to me like the equivalent of Imus calling the Rutgers women "nappy headed ho's".

But toughening up does not mean that those who are attacked should isolate themselves and refrain from fighting back in a positive way, especially when we are in a Moment.

Imus unwittingly gave his would-be victims a bully platform from which to teach America the wrongness of mindless bigotry. He attacked individuals rather than ideas, actions, policies. Imus wasn't talking issues at all. He gratuitously disparaged young women who were just playing basketball. He did it because he thought he could. His power to do so had never been challenged. Perhaps now he will learn along with the rest of us that it's fine to rough up ideas, but not to rough up people simply because of attributes they were born with. The difference is in category, not just in gradation.

So let's give a big round of thanks to Don Imus for awakening the nation to this distinction. He created a teachable Moment in which we have the opportunity, if we act on the conversation we are now having with ourselves, to make change for the better, both in our culture and in our own hearts.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If anyone hears of Oprah's guests for her Obama fundraiser post the names on any one of the Imus websites, and keep posting them as they come up. Oprah has made a fortune pandering to the rappers, actors, writers, producers moguls, CEOs and comics who use "Ho", the "N" word, pimp, pimp slap, violence, murder, bitches, etc. in their movies, albums, comedy tours, and any other media, including tagging. Going through a recent list of guests and "Oprah friends" from her shows we estimate that there may be as many as 233,000 references (so far) to these words her guests and "Oprah friends" have uttered publicly (In their global distribution of movies, videos, video games, albums, concerts, club appearances, and tours, MTV, TV, BET, Radio, magazine articles, books, poems, speeches, You Tube, My Space). Imus made an innocent mistake based on the Americanization of these words by the late (murdered) Pac and B.I.G, two paragons of chivalry. Two dead patsies, used by the white man to make him richer and stronger, to give him the cash to buy another Gulf Stream. Oprah blamed Imus for this language, but she, more than Imus, fostered this through her pandering of the perpetrators of rap filth and through her silence. Oprah is beholden to Murdoch and his fellow media titan, John C. Malone, CATO Institute Board members and owners of these pipelines of death and degradation, along with that Jug eared old fool from Texas and his AT&T death ray from space (Dish Network) that distribute this pain and hatred, this hopelessness to the poor ghettoized black kids trapped in the dangerous squalor of our inner cities this summer. These white men distribute this depiction of Black America to the honky offspring of the “New Middle Class”. These privileged white kids drink up this rap and its race hatred in their white suburbs with their manicured lawns and in their trendy gentrified whites only urban neighborhoods. The exploitative media Ofay include Geffin, Clive Davis, Jobs, Sumner Redstone, Mike Eisner, Jeff Immelt, and that silly bastard from Virgin records (whatever his name is) all the way down to Puff Daddy Cooms and Snoop Doggy Dog, a name only his mama can adore. It includes Russell Simmons, the Elmer Fudd ring master of exploiting the horror of urban life and corporate sponsored female degradation. They all made billions off the suffering of kids from our American cities. Once we get the stats compiled, fact checked and verified we are getting donations and taking full page ads in the New York Times, The WSJ and Variety asking Oprah and Obama to explain the presence of these people that have benefited from the murder, poverty and drug holocost perpetrated on our city kids. When they fly in to “Oprahstock” their numberless utterances of rap coda will be there, in print, to greet them. The ads will run on the day of “Oprahstock”. "Why did you invite this long list of perpetrators of rap language, Ms. Winfrey?" Is money that important? Oprah won't sway the Obama vote. Blacks and women are voting for Clinton. They know, and I know, its all about the BenjaOprahs. Just post the names of potential attendees. Please.