The I's Have At It
Can we take a brief moment to look at Gwen Ifill's op-ed today in the NYTimes? Like Ifill, I have never heard Imus, unless he's making the news for offending someone else. My understanding is that he's a so-called shock jock, handing out kudos and knee-breaks as he sees fit, without any adherence to right or left ideology. He has a face made for radio, as they say, with an odd aura of the sepulcher to it. But that would be judging him on appearance, which would be unfair.
So let's look at his words, which wouldn't be.
As Ifill writes, and others have noted, Imus has been at this sort of insult for a long time. As when Ifill was covering the Clinton White House for the NYTimes, and Imus is quoted as saying, "Isn't the Times wonderful -- It's letting the cleaning lady cover the White House." Clarence Page, columnist for the Chicago Tribune, who is African American, says he got Imus to take the pledge to stop racial insults a decade ago, but apparently he's back-sliding. And, according to Page, he hasn't been asked on the show since.
So, is this just another case of a mote in the eye of PC liberals who are getting their dander up over nothing more than a little friendly jab, or at worst, a tasteless gaffe?
Well, first of all, no. There's a pattern here. And second of all, I'm sick of it all, so stop it already. Who are we as a nation if these are the people we listen to day after day, and pay them the big bucks to be rude and crude? What does it say about our taste, our (egad) values if adults find this sort of banter amusing? And what is it teaching kids who hear it as well?
OPN (Old Person Nostalgia) alert. Radio in my day, children, was mostly men -- except for the soaps -- and mostly boring. But there was not this culture of insult, racial or otherwise, that thrives today. (Okay, the Amos and Andy show was, um, not radio of yesteryear's finest moment.) It's as if whole chunks of the population have refused to grow up, and are stuck in a rebellious junior high mode, complete with taunts and sexual innuendo most of us got sick of after a few bad years on the school bus.
But this latest thigh-slapper of Imus's, calling a winning and much admired women's basketball team a bunch of "nappy headed ho's" goes beyond the usual locker room idiocy of puerile men doing stupid things. Those words don't just form and tumble out without years of a mindset -- and a culture -- that allows the thoughts behind them to exist. Whitefolks like Imus just can't seem to see blackfolks through a lens that isn't clouded by sexuality and stereotype. The "nappy-headed" part of this insult speaks of his revolting racism, but the "ho" part speaks of his sickening sexism, with a vulgar racial twist.
Yeah, we've come a long way baby, and things are better, which is why we have articulate and smart women like Ifill -- and the phenomenon of Oprah -- doing the work they're doing. And, far as I can tell, with enormous grace and generosity of spirit as they do it. Oprah trashed James Frey into a Million Little Pieces for writing a lie of a memoir, but that's about as nasty as she gets.
They understand, as Imus and his ilk apparently don't, their responsibility towards building a better, more civil world, where hope supplants cynicism, and approval -- rightly earned -- supplants insult.
As Ifill writes, "This country will only flourish once we consistently learn to applaud and encourage the young people who have to work harder just to achieve balance on the unequal playing field. Let's see if we can manage to build them up and reward them, rather than opting for the cheapest, easiest, most despicable shots."
Amen. Meanwhile, it's time for NBC news and CBS radio to can Imus permanently and allow him to sit silently in eternity's waiting room with his own sorry thoughts. A two week suspension is meaningless in the face of the hurt he has consistently caused, no matter how many apologies he now offers.