By Richard Muhammad
MSNBC and CBS Radio have seen the light and suspended talk show host Don Imus for a whole two weeks. Time to pack the protest signs and go home? Not exactly. While the venom-spewing old cowpoke may be unseen for a bit, the new question is what to do with the apologists for Imus insults aimed at Black women and media peeps who contend he really isn’t such a bad guy.
Like a troubled wife living with a nasty drunk, and sharing a raggedy filthy couch, some white journalist-types just can’t seem to kick the Imus habit, or get a healthy divorce. They have stepped forward to vouch for his character and need to embrace this "teachable moment." Led by Tom Oliphant of the Boston Globe, they see redemption deep in the soul of the man who called Rutgers basketball players a bunch of "nappy headed hos."
Seems like whenever a Black person allegedly does wrong, the lesson to be taught is accountability, responsibility and facing the consequences of one’s actions. Just ask teenager Shaquanda Cotton, who was recently released from a Texas facility where she was sentenced to seven years for allegedly pushing a white teacher’s aide.
Or ask actor Isaiah Washington if white gays saw a teachable moment when he made the mistake of using the f-word to say he didn’t call a fellow white cast mate a homosexual. There weren’t a lot of discussions about him teaching anyone anything, expect to avoid angering what one African American gay rights activist called "the gay mafia."
Some media folks feel Imus’ "nappy headed hos" slur regarding play during the NCAA tournament presents America with an opportunity.
But when Michael Ray Richardson, coach of the Albany Patroons, of the Continental Basketball Association, talked about hiring "big time Jewish lawyers" to handle his contract negotiations last month, it wasn’t a teachable moment. Richardson was quickly suspended pending an investigation by the playoff-bound team. He won’t be back this season.
Richardson reportedly said in a late March interview with the Albany, N.Y.-based Times-Union, "Listen, (Jews) are hated all over the world, so they've got to be crafty … They got a lot of power in this world, you know what I mean? Which I think is great. I don't think there's nothing wrong with it. If you look in most professional sports, they're run by Jewish people. If you look at a lot of most successful corporations and stuff, more businesses, they're run by Jewish. It's not a knock, but they are some crafty people."
Richardson is also accused of using the word "faggot" in an attempt to quiet a heckler during a game the same day. Within a couple days, he was suspended for the rest of the championship series and not allowed in the team facility. Richardson apologized a couple days later. Unlike Imus, he made no attempt to downplay the pain caused by his words, or cite previous good works that make him worthy of a pass.
I wonder if those comments have the same "lack of animus" Oliphant saw in Imus and put forward in a defense mounted April 9 during a PBS NewsHour broadcast segment with writer Clarence Page, and in his column the same day.
Newsweek editor Howard Fineman went on Imus’ show April 9, appearing before Oliphant. "Just before I came on the show, I was coming upstairs and my cell phone rang, and it was some listener who called me out of the blue. I'd never heard of the guy before. I'd never heard his name. He called me and he said, ‘Are you going to go on the show and finally confront this Imus guy? Are you going to quit enabling him?’ " said Fineman.
"And, you know, I thought about that, and I said to the guy, ‘You know, I'll puzzle that through on the radio.’ And I would like to continue to enable you to do a lot of the good things you do. Including, you know, talking about stuff happening in the world, which you do a very good job of on this show. …
"You know, it's different than it was even a few years ago, politically. I mean, we may, you know – and the environment, politically, has changed. And some of the stuff that you used to do, you probably can't do anymore," said Fineman. He described Imus’ remarks as "a big mistake" and "a teaching moment."
Newsweek columnist Mark Starr came out against kicking Imus out on the street, saying the old coot was just an example how far things have swung in the name of entertainment. In Starr’s view, we’re all responsible.
Not from where Black folks sit.
Imus is so bad that even Page, the leveled-head, non-threatening Chicago Tribune columnist, argued that it’s time for Imus to go. Page recounted having Imus take a pledge on-air several years ago to refrain from the racially-charged diatribes, including an instance in which Imus reportedly referred to Gwen Ifill, a respected African American journalist, as a "cleaning lady" allowed to cover the White House.
"To the 10 young African queens who have been disrespected and violated in public, keep your heads up high," said conservative darling Rev. DeForest "Buster" Soaries in a prelude to his Easter Sunday sermon. Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer was in attendance at the service in Somerset, N.J. According to a report in the Star-Ledger, Soaries called for Imus to be fired. "When I listened to it myself, I thought the guy is too ignorant to be on the air. … We would like Imus off the air," the article said.
How often do the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Page and Rev. Soaries, a former secretary of state under Republican Gov. Gov. Christie Whitman and Bush administration political appointee, agree a firing, protest and potential advertisers’ boycott is in order?
The widespread anger in Black America was also apparently lost on a Public Radio reporter, who covered an April 9 demonstration in Chicago by the Rev. Jackson, saying only about 50 protestors showed up. The report downplayed the way Blacks have responded, implied the protest numbers signaled a lack of interest, and had no reactions from Blacks about the controversy. The reporter also apparently missed the hours of hot conversation on Chicago's WVON-AM radio, starting at 6 a.m. April 9 with the Roland S. Martin and rolling on through three hours in the afternoon with the nationally syndicated "Keeping It Real With Rev. Al Sharpton Show," and columns by sports writer Stephen A. Smith, out of Philadelphia, Deborah Mathis of BlackAmericaWeb.Com, Black bloggers and writers. Analysis came from white media observers.
What’s going on here? Perhaps the easiest way to explain it is found in the title of Starr’s on-line column, "Imus Is Us." The "us" here consists of White America – white men in the media, in particular – unable to admit insults to Black folks actually mean something. It’s as if we are soulless beings and whites are always allowed to explain away, ridicule away, or ignore away the constant assaults on our dignity and psyche.
This bond of white attitudinal perception and brotherhood may also explain why the numbers of Blacks in newsrooms at daily newspapers and within the news industry continue to dwindle.
When the ugliness of American racism is exposed, there is always an apologist, a defender. So Michael Richards, who played Kramer on TV’s "Seinfeld," can go on David Lettermen with Jerry Seinfeld to vouch for his goodness, despite Richard’s n----r-laced, racial barrage against Blacks in a comedy club audience. And Imus can find comfort in the bosom of his brothers, who just can’t bring themselves to condemn him.
"You know, all of us who do your show, you know, we're part of the gang. And we rely on you the way you rely on us. So, you know, you're taking all of us with you when you go out there to meet with them (Rutgers basketball players), you know," said Fineman on the Imus show.
"Good morning, Mr. Imus, and solidarity forever, by the way," Oliphant said. He voiced support for Imus, called the racial broadside an accident and talked about his moral imperative to stand with the broadcaster as a member of the Imus "posse."
"But to me, that only means that those of us who, through an accident, were scheduled (on the show), who know better, have a moral obligation to stand up and say to you, ‘Solidarity forever, pal,’ " said Oliphant, in his closing words.
Imus walks and talks with America’s giants, and if he suffers from the disease of racism, what about his companions? Well, we don’t have to wonder. Just listen to what they actually say.
(Richard Muhammad is editor of Straight Words E-Zine and is based in Chicago. Read more at http://straightwords.typepad.com. He can be reached at [email protected].)