On the John
Originally completed April 14, 2007
OK…this is going to sound a little bit “out there,” but stay with me. What if the next time some moron with a microphone decides to spew out his insensitive, ignorant, or just plain hateful thoughts, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton decide to do…nothing? What if, and I’m just talking here, but what if they decide that the ill-advised exploits of a single celebrity are not worth their energy or attention? What would happen, I wonder? Would MSNBC and CBS suspend and fire Don Imus? Would he apologize unprovoked? Would listeners stop listening? Would advertisers stop advertising? Would Imus become “that disgraced and possibly racist radio host,” a name and a voice that fades weakly from the ranks of the Important and Respected as we flick him out of our minds like ash from a cigarette?
I mean, for goodness sake: does Don Imus deserve all this attention?
Because let’s remember something here: in today’s America, you have to be one of the dumbest people alive to make racially or sexually insensitive comments in a public forum. Unless you can fully justify the comment to yourself with no amount of guilt or collar-tugging shame, you have to be well beyond idiocy to go on the air and say anything that could possibly be construed or even misconstrued as hateful. Not that the phrase “nappy-headed hos” could be misconstrued, mind you. It’s just an example of how far down the stupid meter some people will go.
And “some people” most definitely include Imus, who has quite the record of these kinds of comments. This isn’t Michael Richards. His situation was one that, from prior history to incident to apology, always felt like the case of a man dealing with some legit anger/hate issues, emotions that came pouring out of him suddenly during a nervous and angry confrontation. Totally unacceptable, to be sure, but much more forgiving than what Imus did.
It’s not as if he can claim ignorance. After all, even if he had somehow made it all the way to 2005 without realizing that even the most benign infractions against political correctness are noticed, it would’ve been hard to miss Richards, and Vicente Fox, and Mel Gibson, and Isaiah Washington, and Tim Hardaway, and Rosie O’Donnell, and Billy Packer, and, ha ha, Randy Marsh. Michael Richards may be worthy of our sympathy. Don Imus is most certainly not.
And that brings us back to Jesse and Al.
Why do they choose to navigate this territory? There is no doubt that Imus’ words were cruel and hurtful, but America has never had a shortage of words and deeds both cruel and hurtful. Perhaps Jackson and Sharpton were right to take a stand against Imus, but I would take them much more seriously if they did not go after every single yahoo who says something cruel and hurtful. Given Imus’ record, they should have been going after him for years. But that’s not their style. Instead, they seem most interested in chasing after the highly-visible yet fleeting flavor-of-the-month social controversies while seemingly ignoring the long-standing and “boring” problems that have plagued Black America for centuries.
This is troubling.
There is a school of thought that Jackson and Sharpton are most interested in social problems that attract cameras. I would not argue that. But even if we grant them the benefit of the doubt and assume that the camera chasing is only part of their game, it is still not an admirable part. I suppose that the act of providing anger and outrage followed by coaxing an apology out of a subject who has already come under a ton of media pressure is an easy way to feel “victorious” in the face of mass cultural and societal injustice, but bagging easy moral victories is not much of a goal.
It is draining to fight the same fight for years on end, particularly when progress is slow and improvement is small, but tough break. That’s the fight. Taking up The Cause against Imus or Richards or anyone else who pops up suddenly is rather pointless; petty “justices” rarely add up to anything of value, regardless of how many you collect. Where are their daily rallies for improving education, poverty, health care, and other problems that have a day-to-day effect on people’s lives? Are these problems solved? Sure it’s repetitive, but it’s not like you’re beating a dead horse. It’s more like you’re beating a living horse that has been making your life unreasonably difficult for the past 350 years.
This is not to say that the burden of solving the problems that face Black America falls only on Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton; it is up to individuals to help themselves. But if you promote yourself as a black social leader aiming to improve the quality of black life, shouldn’t your focus extend beyond a single comment here or there? I’m pretty sure that there are more pressing issues facing blacks in America than what some moron says on the radio. But maybe that’s just me. I can be pretty far out there sometimes.
Copyright 2007, jm silverstein