By now most everyone has heard much about the recent remarks made by Talk radio and television host Don Imus. Imus hosts the popular syndicated show Imus in the Morning which is distributed by Westwood One and MSNBC. If you have not heard what went down on the Imus show a week or so ago, I'll catch you up on the story.
Basically, Don Imus and his producer were doing their show commenting on various items in the news etc. They began to discuss the recent NCAA Women's Basketball Championship game when they turned to the Rutgers women's team and rained out some terrible insults. Now Imus is one who has insulted people plenty in the past - a display of the lack of civility in our culture where the ad hominem reigns. An AP article on the incident records the following:
While Imus has used his show to spread insults around — once calling Colin Powell a "weasel" and other times referring to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as a "fat sissy" and former Colorado Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, an American Indian, as "the guy from `F Troop'"
The comments that followed have brought outrage across America from people from all walks of life. You can hear the comments at YouTube. In light of his misinformed perception of the ladies from Rutgers, he referred to their tatoos and called them "nappy-headed hos." Since then there has been a firestorm of media attention, Imus has offered his apology, has been suspended by the network for two weeks, and sponsors have dropped the show, and may be fired from his job. There is much talk going on about speech, racism, culture - and hopefully some good will come from all of this. In light of this I want to comment briefly on the situation as well.
The Remarks In Themselves
First of all, the remarks in themselves are deplorable and disgusting. This is the case from several angles which we don't want to overlook. The remarks were derogatory and racist. Nappy headed and hos were directed at the black women on the court - everyone knows this and this is a primary reason for the outrage. The remarks were made about women he did not know, are young college women, who did not deserve to be used to try and make a joke. As has been seen, these women on the Rutgers team, black and white, are women who are of high character and esteem. The comments of Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer are revealing:
Before you are valedictorians of their class, future doctors, musical prodigies, and yes, even Girl Scouts," she said. "They are young ladies of class, distinction, they are articulate, they are brilliant, they are gifted. They are God's representatives in every sense of the word."
The Rutgers women had just over achieved at the highest level of their sport. They had accomplished something very remarkable in the world of women's basketball, and some guys tried to have fun at their expense. One of the tests of human action is that people should not be treating as means to other ends. People have value due to what they are. I can only guess how the mothers and fathers heard Imus' remarks - I know how this father's heart would have felt.
Imus is a White Man
I have read some commentaries which try to shift this conversation from what it is to a commentary on the nature of discourse in rap music and the black community. This sort of language is common in media, music, and popular views of women in the black community. I even watched some guy's video complaining of the "hypocrisy" of the black community. For some reason, we as white people fail to see at times that our words and actions carry different weight with black people because we are white. We forget that for hundreds of years white folk enslaved black folk. We forget that just a generation ago in the south, Jim Crowe still strutted down the streets. We forget that white people still have a sick supremacist view of their culture over others and that comments like those from Imus confirm many of our black brothers and sisters heartfelt suspicions. That this is just the way white people are. In listening to the Imus clip, you hear a guy trying to sound ghetto in talking about the Rutgers team, trying to be hip and funny. Are these remarks appropriate if they come from a black rapper? Of course not. Are they more loaded when they come from the mouths of white folks - absolutely. People fail to see this.
I sensed a similar frustration this week in reading a tragic commentary about the state of black men in American in the Tennessean. At the bottom of this passionate plea by a black man for more men to mentor and help guide the young brothers of the world were some of the most asinine comments I have read. You can read it all here. My conclusion sometimes is that people can be so culturally blinded that they don't give a rip about their neighbors. It is hard not to get frustrated with a white culture that hides from other people in the "the right neighborhoods" all the while looking down on a culture and people enslaved by our forefathers for centuries. When people say "why are they like that?" "Immigrants do better in life in just a few years in America...Why is that?" I just want to go nuts.
I always believe that grace and forgiveness along with appropriate consequences is the way forward. Our racial conversation in America, with all its pain, awkwardness, ignorance, sin, and joys must continue. We need to get to know each other better, listen, repent, change, share, empower, pray, weep, and hope for a better day. I know the stupid stuff I have said to my black sisters and brothers; I know how many folks misjudge me. As the dominant culture in America, my plea to my white sisters and brothers is to care about people, hang out with folks, be willing to not "defend yourself" or dismiss what is said by others. We need to listen...no, we need to "HEAR" from our neighbors. We then need Jesus - to forgive our sins and move us forward to lay our lives and agendas down for one another in love.
If you are one of the conservative, white guys out there who thinks Imus is being made an example of, that folks are "overreacting", being hypocritical and you are privately angry about it...I do pray you may reconsider your views. This is not about being PC - it is about civility and respect for all who are created in the imago dei.