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
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