by Andy Ostroy
April 10, 2007
Racism in 2007 America is no less shameful than it's been at any other period in our nation's 231 year history. There is simply no excuse, ever, for racial prejudice and intolerance, and that holds true for entertainers like Don Imus, who last week on his nationally-syndicated radio program referred to female basketball players from Rutgers University as "nappy-headed ho's." Was this comment despicable? Yes. Extremely inappropriate and highly insensitive? Of course. Just plain stupid? Without question. But are we to surmise from this comment that deep down in his core Don Imus is truly a racist? I think not. But the public outcry from people like the Rev. Al Sharpton serves to hold a mirror up to what is the real racism in America. The double-standard that exists between whites and blacks; the rules of engagement that are imposed upon us by the PC Police. Don Imus, reprehensible and irresponsible behavior aside, is now the victim of an even bigger racism.
Let me say first that I am no fan of Don Imus. I never listen to his show and I don't think he is funny. In fact, his incessant mumbling makes anything he says unintelligible in my opinion. But I have been listening these past several days only because of the incredible controversy surrounding him and this story. During this period, Imus has been taking a pounding from just about anyone who's gotten in line to have a swat at this alleged poster-boy for racism. As a result he's been on the receiving end of perhaps the biggest bitch-slapping in media history. And his personal mea culpas have been non-stop. On Monday he was pilloried for two hours by Sharpton on the black leader's own radio program. It was brutal. It was relentless. And it was wrong. What's really wrong with society today is that someone like Sharpton is allowed to capitalize on a stupid remark and exploit it to death to further his own racist agenda. Society says it's ok for a black man to publicly crucify a white man so long as that white man even skimmed the racism surface. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't remember Jesse Jackson being subjected to a two-hour on-air skewering after his infamous 1984 "HymieTown" comment. Was this anti-Semitic comment publicly condemned? Yes. Did Jackson pay a huge price politically for it? Yes. But did he have to sit through a two-hour flogging, which is what Sharpton perpetrated on Monday? No. That would've resulted in public cries of racism from the black community.
What about Sharpton himself, and his own highly checkered racial past? How did Rev. Al somehow end up as the standard-bearer of high morals and racial equality? How did someone who plays the race card to exploit every possible situation for his own self-aggrandizing selfish interests--as he did back in the late '80's with the sensational Tawana Brawley case--become the official voice of the racially oppressed? As Slate Magazine wrote in 2003: According to the Associated Press, Sharpton and Brawley's lawyers asserted "on 33 separate occasions" that a local prosecutor named Steven Pagones "had kidnapped, abused and raped" Brawley. There was no evidence, and Pagones was soon cleared. Sharpton then accused a local police cult with ties to the Irish Republican Army of perpetrating the alleged assault. The case fizzled when a security guard for Brawley's lawyers testified that the lawyers and Sharpton knew Brawley was lying. A grand jury investigation concluded in late 1988 that Brawley "was not the victim of forcible sexual assault" and that the whole thing was a hoax. The report specifically exonerated Pagones, and in 1998 Pagones won a defamation lawsuit against Sharpton, Brawley, and Brawley's lawyers. Sharpton was ordered to pay Pagones $65,000. Johnnie Cochran and other Sharpton benefactors subsidized the payment.
And what did white and black America subsequently bestow on this racial firebrand? The opportunity to run for U.S. president. Furthermore, Sharpton never subjected himself to the kind of public castration Imus himself was foolish enough to volunteer for.
Look, Imus is an idiot. We all know that. Just like Rush Limbaugh, who makes fun of handicapped people like Michael J. Fox. These babbling blowhards suffer from the kind of foot-in-mouth-disease that most of us never experience because we somehow know better than to make such moronic comments. But I do agree with Imus that there's a contextual element that needs to be considered here. Imus is not a journalist. He is not a politician. He is not an educator. He is a comedian. What Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Don Rickles, Lisa Lampanelli, Sarah Silverman, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock and countless others have taught us is that under this comic umbrella certain people get to use the N word, make shit jokes, Jew jokes, aborted-baby jokes and mock the handicapped. That's what comedians do. They make fun of life and the people in it. Do they push the envelope? Absolutely. And they sometimes go too far. But does it make them racist? That's a tall order, and I'm just not buyin' it. Sorry. Imus' highly offensive remark needs to be viewed within the context of a comedian making a joke, albeit a horribly racist one, within a comedy program.
Imus is a bonehead. And he should be disciplined. He's been suspended for two weeks, and he's promised to tone down the insensitive rhetoric and use his radio show as a platform to help mend the racial divide. He deserves that chance. He's got a 35-year broadcast record that is not representative of that one stupid comment. As he's pointed out in his own defense, his charitable work on behalf of children with cancer (many of them black) and in finding a cure for sickle-cell anemia is well known. We live in a country where the punishment fits the crime. Firing Don Imus over his mistake does nothing to fight racism. To the country, it only fuels it in a much bigger way by giving inciters like Sharpton a much bigger voice, and a much stronger hand, in spewing their own racism. One could even ask the Rev. Al, a follower of Jesus and the Bible, about "forgiveness." That he fails to practice what he supposedly preaches only makes his ulterior motives even more suspect. Don Imus...Tawana Brawley...only the names have changed. For Al Sharpton, it's the same old story.