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Post Number: 2273
|Posted on Friday, April 13, 2007 - 11:06 pm: |
On Becoming Don Imus: What Happens to Insults Unanswered?
by Angela Onwuachi
Racism in AmericaLike Essence Carson, the captain of the Rutgers women’s basketball team, I find it a close call whether to just ignore Don Imus’s comments. Unlike the students I referred to in my post about “ghetto fabulous” parties on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I have no hope that Don Imus will ever learn from his “mistakes” or change for the better. He is just pitiful, and no amount of education can change that fact.
I also appreciate Professor Darren Hutchinson’s wonderful point about how “we” construct racism. I understand how focusing on racist and sexist comments from idiots like Don Imus can be viewed as moving structural racism beyond remediation.
But then, my mind takes me back to those “ghetto fabulous” students at Tarleton State University, the University of Texas, the University of Connecticut, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Arizona, Villanova University, and the many other colleges identified by readers of blackprof.com in their comments. I consider the question posed during a news conference by Rutgers women’s basketball coach, Vivian Stringer: “Who amongst you could have heard these comments and not be upset?” I am saddened when I ponder two points. First, the answer to Stringer’s question for much of the American public is not clearly “Not I.” One poll indicated that only 25% of its subjects believed that Imus should be fired. According to one New York Times article, Rudy Giuliani, a presidential candidate, supports Imus; likewise, Senator and presidential candidate John McCain has backed Imus, noting that he, McCain, is “a great believer in redemption.” Second, the fact that so few Americans believe that Imus should be fired and that presidential candidates, who must certainly be concerned about public opinion, would support Imus indicates to me that the “Imus incident” is about more than just attitudinal racism. It is, in a way, structural. It is a symbol of the systemic practice of neighborhoods, the media, schools, and many other institutions in disregarding and downplaying insults about people of color and viewing us as “too sensitive” when we dare to complain. It is a sign of a society filled with institutions that will “accept” the apologies of “ghetto fabulous” students without taking full advantage of using the opportunity to really educate them before they become Don Imus, who again is far beyond saving. It is a view into a world in which public citizens wonder why Blacks cannot just accept Imus’s apology, even with his history of referring to journalist Gwen Ifill as a “cleaning lady” and journalist William Rhoden as a “quota hire.” These global practices systematically disadvantage people of color by allowing society to disregard the reality of racism in our lives; permitting far too many Whites to ignore their own racial privilege (including the way in which their white skin allows many of them not to think about race at all or see or feel its scars); and leaving us, people of color, to question all too often, “Are we crazy? Are we too sensitive? Should we just let it slide?” The fact is that Imus and his bosses who fail to fire him are part of the entire structure that support and encourage racial inequalities.
Gregory Lee, President of the National Association of Black Journalists, asserted the following about the “Imus incident”: “You can apologize, but what does that mean when you have a history of making disparaging comments. This kind of behavior must be punished. I hope the company and sponsors he has take some sort of action . . . to educate him.” I agree, and I disagree. I agree that Imus’s apology means nothing given his history. I am also happy to see that Cal Ripken, Jr. canceled his appearance on the Imus Show and that some sponsors such as Staples, Procter & Gamble, and Bigelow Tea have take action by pulling their advertising from Imus’s show in response to his comments. But, it is not the education of Imus that I am concerned with. Watch Imus. He apologizes, deflects attention from his own comments by raising concerns about rappers’ use of misogynistic lyrics, and then claims that such actions by rappers do not excuse his behavior—all in one breath. He clearly has learned nothing.
But I am concerned with educating of the rest of us about the societal practices that enable the Don Imuses of the world to thrive and may work to turn “well-intentioned” ghetto-fabulous party throwers into Don Imuses—that is, if we choose not to educate them. Overall, I am hoping that the rest of us agree with team captain Essence Carson, who said, “At first we thought to let it slide, but . . . we decided it was unacceptable.”