It's interesting that the Don Imus thing has blown up just days after my last post.
First I need to be honest about something. I was a radio DJ for 19.5 years. If you ask me who were my professional heroes I would have listed Jack Bogut, long time morning man at KDKA Pittsburgh, Dr. Johnny Fever, fictional morning man at the equally fictional WKRP in Cincinnati, and Don Imus, then morning man at W-ENNNNNNNNN-BC in New York. I appreciated the irreverence, and take no prisoners attitude towards the famous and powerful. He could often be rude (which was not my personal style) but he consistently punctured pretension.
Today I need to distance myself from my former hero. His statements (which I will not repeat here. The image of way too many middle aged white announcers repeating those words while they "report" the story is making me ill) are despicable. What is worse to my ear is Imus's repeated reference to this as a "mistake". Don Imus has been on the air in big time radio for over 30 years. At his level you don't get to make "mistakes" like this. This is the kind of open- mouth-insert-foot stupidity that a rookie makes, not a long time veteran of center stage. "Mistake" is an excuse. Imus needs to come out and say "I thought I was being clever, and funny. My brain simply stopped working for that instant. I have no excuse. I was wrong. It's indefensible." He still may lose his job because the sponsors may want to dump him. That's what happens. I'm not sure there's anyway he can redeem himself professionally.
Following my last post I received several nice notes, both on and off the blog, and I thank everyone for them. This event ties in with what Dr. Dyson is talking about with the deeply ingrained racism of our culture and institutions. When a reasonably intelligent man(and he is, you don't sustain the level of success he's had for decades and be an idiot) can look at a group of college women and use racist and misogynistic terms for them and even think it's funny there's something deeply wrong here. Someone on ESPN pointed out that female college athletes are very different as a rule from their male counterparts. There's no illusion that they can jump off to the "pros" after a year or two. Mike Wilbon said this on PTI, that as a rule the women tend to be more articulate and better students. BECAUSE THEY HAVE TO BE! So we discover an even bigger disconnect from the reality of the basketball team and Imus's "mistake".
It's too easy when you're a member of the ruling elite (unruffle your feathers. If you don't believe that white men still make up the ruling elite then you are not paying attention) it's far too easy to say "Well, come on. Look how far we've come, it's much better than it was". Absolutely true. And equally absolutely irrelevant. The racism is still there, buried deeply in us all. As people of faith we can not, we must not, ever accept it. This is truly a case where good enough isn't good enough.
I wish I had an answer for how we achieve this. There's part of me that thinks maybe it's not possible to completely erase it but we still need to try. I'm a big believer in the "talking solution". We need to talk openly and honestly about ourselves and each other. We need to hear each other openly and honestly about ourselves and each other. We need to acknowledge what has failed in the past and look for what will work in the future.
We need to think before we speak. If only Imus had.