April 12, 2007
Don Imus was fired this afternoon. His offense? Honesty. Call it a lynching in the name of political sensitivity.
The record is by now clear. Imus referred to the Rutgers women's basketball team as a bunch of "nappy headed hos," a remark that branded him as a racist in the eyes of millions. Folks on both sides of the color line pounced on Imus, calling for his resignation. A mere apology was not enough. He had to be strung up and killed, an example made of his aging white flesh.
CBS's decision to fire him is a sign of moral cowardice. And all the convivial back slapping among the politically correct at water-coolers from coast to coast is but chatter signifying nothing.
Imus is raw and uncensored. He'd never cut it at National Public Radio, where the goal seems to be to make everyone sound alike. When I refer to his offense as honesty, I am not, obviously, referring to the content of his remark about members of the basketball team. All are good athletes; some may even be good students. His racial insensitivity is what is honest. He has issues on the topic of race. No surprise there; so does our society.
So Imus has been lynched in the name of sensitivity. He'll probably re-emerge on Sirius radio, where political correctness is not required. I'll listen.
But what I won't listen to is the supercillious jive that speaks of Imus' firing as good for race relations or good for anything else I value. Race relations didn't improve because of his firing. I suspect that plenty of black folk are happy to see this cracker fall because he is a cracker, and many whites will fume that -- dare I even utter this unlicensed as I am to use term by mere accident of birth? -- niggers like Al Sharpton are movin' on up the food chain of influence. These harsh words are real; why do we flinch when we use them? Do we expect racial tensions to disappear by banishing the words that reflect them?
What Imus teaches is that we cannot talk about the things that divide us. Too much truth, too much honesty is dangerous. It is better to engage in symbollic chatter. Let Oprah and Al Roker have prime time slots and let them speak politely about things. But don't let them provoke. Keep it all clean, mild, and compressed toward a center that does not hold. Avoid real issues in the name of getting along while the lights are on.
Race matters. A lot. There is disparity in drug sentencing for crimes involving people of color. Housing opportunities are not equal. Educational opportunities aren't equal. Gangs tear urban areas apart. Real issues tear away at our society's health. But rather than focus on these, rather than engage in any meaningful discussion of race, we lynch Imus.
It is just plain dumb. And it dumbs down public discourse by declaring that some sentiments and attitudes are off limits. Perhaps that is why so little changes over time in our society. Truth is too provocative. Ask Don Imus.