Monday, April 09, 2007

Sucks to be Imus

I never thought I'd feel bad for Don Imus.

If you've been under a rock, here's the story thus far: The other day, Don Imus, one of the true legends of syndicated radio, whose show is not just aired nationwide but also broadcast on MSNBC TV every morning, made a colossal screw up.

During a riff while he and his sportscaster were talking about the Rutgers-Tennessee women's basketball final, Imus was trying to make a point about how -- well, heck, let's just say it -- how butch & bad-a** the Rutgers team looked compared to the more, err, lady-like Tennessee Lady Vols. Imus picked the wrong words to use.

"Those are some nappy-headed ho's."

Famous last words, indeed. LAST words because Imus is presently being crucified by every African-American rights group on planet Earth. LAST words because Imus just got suspended for 2 weeks.

And -- I can't believe I'm saying this, because I really, really, REALLY can't stand Imus -- but I'm taking his side on this one.

I'm taking his side not in saying that there was nothing wrong with his choice of words, because there certainly WAS. There are some things that we pigmentally-challenged of the world simply can't say -- the "n" word obviously being the Big Bad Daddy of them all -- and calling ANYONE "nappy-headed", let alone an innocent girl's basketball team, is pretty offensive.

But now you've got Al Sharpton demanding that Imus be fired for his blatantly racist attack... and that's a joke.

Folks, Imus wasn't being racist, and he wasn't making an attack, other than making fun of how macho and athletic the Rutgers team was. The problem, I think, is simply that Imus is an old, out-of-touch dude.

He was trying to be cute on the air. You could tell. He was trying to adapt street lingo in order to seem a little bit cooler when talking about basketball.

It was a case of simple ignorance, not unlike something I saw on TV the other day. It was the story of some black student who took great offense when one of his white teachers called him THE N-WORD. Whoa. Big no-no on that guy's part.

But then they let the teacher on to defend himself. And this teacher proceeded to attempt to explain that he didn't say the dreaded N-word... but instead said the word "nigga," which the teacher took to be a common colloquialization of less offense, used in the same context as I would if I were to call you "dude" or "brother."

Of course, the teacher looked even more and more like a jackass every time he used the "nigga" variant on the show - it was one of the most cringe-worthy things I had ever seen.

But the point is: the teacher really didn't think he was doing anything wrong. Not because he was racist -- a dictionary doesn't make you racist -- but because he was so chronically un-hip that he didn't even register the offensive context of the word.

Deplorable? Heck yes. Stupid? Arguably. But RACIST? Naw.

I've never understood racism. Not even slightly. And I'm HORRIBLY aghast and offended when a white person within earshot cracks a racist joke. But... at the same time... I'm equally offended when Al Sharpton and his cronies assume that every white guy on the planet is out to oppress the black race.

Mr. Imus works in radio. Radio requires you to think on your feet, and think fast. For years and years, Imus has existed on the air without offending anyone more than your token shock-jock does. But now, after one poor vocabulary choice, you're demanding that his career be ruined? RIDICULOUS.

Look, I feel for Imus. I was once kinda sorta in his shoes. No, I've never said anything (to my knowledge) that someone took to be racist. But one time, I DID speak before thinking on the radio.

It was back in Galesburg, when I used to work for a Top 40 station, Q-93. It was a Saturday morning, the 4th of July in fact. The year prior, Galesburg's 4th of July celebrations were marred by the death of a girl. I can't remember now what even happened - if she drowned or was murdered or her body washed up onshore or what - but it was a Big News Story the year before.

So a year later, I'm on the air and riffing with our morning news girl. "How's your 4th of July, Shane?" she asked.

"Pretty good," I said, "so far, nobody's dead for a change."

Which is probably quite innocent for someone like Imus or Howard Stern. And I thought then (and still do today) that it was kinda funny. But in a small town like Galesburg, and on a cheezy Top 40 station that pretty much everybody in town listened to, it's probably not best to make a flippant comment about tragedy.

The news girl did her job and quickly got us off-topic, and never said anything to me about it. When I got home, my mom (who had been listening) asked if I still had a job. Until that moment, I didn't even realize that what I'd said might have offended some people.

Happily, no one ever said a THING to me about it. I bet my bosses were dead asleep - it WAS a Saturday and it was like 8 a.m. But -- as hokey and innocent as it sounds -- I bet if my bosses WERE listening, or if anyone had called in and complained, I might HAVE been fired.

The point is this: it's easy to slip up and say the wrong thing in radio. And once it's out there, it's out there. It's not like my column where I can hit the backspace key and no one realizes what an idiot I really AM.

Imus wasn't trying to be racist. He was trying to be cool. He failed miserably at both. But he shouldn't be fired, and I bet even ol' Al Sharpton believes that, too. But Sharpton will use ANY vehicle to bring the black struggle to the headlines, and it doesn't matter how many innocents are left in his wake.

You know who I'm starting to gain a newfound respect for? WHITE RAPPERS. Seriously. Imagine how tough it must be for dudes like Paul Wall & Bubba Sparxxx who have to do raps -- a lot of them freestyle and off the top of their heads -- that appeal to black culture WITHOUT accidentally slipping up and offending somebody. Honestly, in this crazy P.C. world, it's gotta be tough.

It's one thing to be racist, and altogether another thing to SCREW UP ROYALLY and say something stupid. THAT'S Imus' crime. Don't slaughter the guy for it. He's apologizing left and right. We need to forgive him and move on.

8 comments:

Dave Barrett said...

This was not a one time mistake. Imus has a history of making "joking" racist remarks and then apologizing for them.
Everyone else who gets paid to be funny on the radio manages to do so without calling an accomplished African-American woman "a cleaning lady" or a "nappy-haired ho" simply based on her physical appearance.
Imus has blown his opportunity to be a nationally broadcast commentator. There are undoubtedly many people out there who could do a better job than him given the opportunity. They should get Imus out of there and give someone else a chance.

Anonymous said...

How come black rappers can call black women hos, bitches, niggas and worse, but nobody complains? In fact, they buy millions of $$$ worth of their music! Look up the lyrics to Stevie Wonder's classic "I Wish". The first line -- "Looking back on when I was a little nappy-headed boy...." (It was in Happy Feet, for cryin' out loud! Point is the black community uses the terms to describe themselves. Imus did sound silly saying it, but because he's an old white guy. It's silly for the AA community to be offended by their own terminology.

-shane- said...

I know that Imus has said some iffy remarks in the past. (Personally, I can't stand the guy.)

But has it been anything MORE iffy than the misogyny and racist leanings of Howard Stern, who can get away with pretty much the same thing only because he's got a female African-American co-host?

I'm not saying that Imus is a great guy - he's a schmuck. But there should be a line drawn in the sand between intent and accident. We do the same thing for killing someone. If it's intentional, it's murder. If it's reckless behavior, it's manslaughter.

Imus was reckless and SHOULD be punished. But not destroyed.

emilene said...

To me, it is more of a sexist comment than a racist comment. It's really become a racism issue since Al Sharpton stuck his nose into the controversy. I'm not black so maybe I have no idea what I'm talking about, but if I was going to be upset about some idiotic comment from an old, no-talent white guy, I would probably be more insulted by the "ho" part of the comment than the nappy haired part. I know as a female, I don't particularly like to hear women referred to as "ho"s or bitches, etc, but I'm not going to get all revved up about it. Old, no-talent white guys say stupid stuff every day. Who cares?

Anonymous said...

Locally, Jim Fisher says similarly racist things on his blog all the time. No one seems to care about that???

Anonymous said...

I think it's bullshit that people haven't explored why this one comment out of the many "offensive" things that have been said by not only Imus but others in the media (including people who have been joking about this by repeating the phrase)has been isolated. There is an ulterior motive here. Sharpton wants press and the guilty white media is going along with it for fear of being called racists as well if they point out the utter nonsense of this whole thing. And why is no one bringing up the fact that Al Sharpton is racist against white people (remember "white interloper?")?

mrc said...

complacent one, i think i understand where you're coming from -- it's how i initially felt about it, too (and having al sharpton come after the guy certainly increased my sympathy for him, for sure). but apparently there's quite a history here -- did you read
Gwen Ifill's column
in yesterday's NYT? Apparently Imus referred to Ifill (who is a really great newsperson -- check out the Jim Lehrer hour on PBS if you haven't evah done so) as the Times' "cleaning lady." delightful!

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