Don Imus has been fired. I feel sociomorally (if that’s even a word) obligated to further defend my position that a) he didn’t deserve to be fired, and that b) this sets an ugly precedent for suppressing free speech and is a bullshit victory for censorship in the media.
First of all, let’s be clear about exactly what was said and not said, and then relate those things back to reality. Don Imus went on the air and called the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy headed hos.” I’m no Imus apologist, and his remarks were certainly objectionable, insensitive, and unnecessary, but firing-worthy? He didn’t say anything overtly racist (the word “nappy” will be discussed in a bit), never espoused that certain action(s) be taken against the team, and didn’t disparage the team’s success (they were the national runners-up).
And now the reality: half the Rutgers team is white. Moreover, like I mentioned in my last blog, Imus has to wait in line behind virtually every rapper for the “objectionable verbiage” crown. And, as one of the most controversial radio hosts in the history of this or any other country, you can bet your ass that “nappy headed hos” was not the most incendiary thing he’d ever said.
Now, the argument has been made that “nappy” is historically tied to racism and pejorative labeling. While this is inarguable, it is impossible to prove intent, especially vis-à-vis a half-white team. How can you definitively, or even beyond a reasonable doubt, surmise that he meant to target the black players, or, even more implausibly, to group the white and black ones together and put them all down collectively with a dubiously racist remark? It just makes no sense.
At http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070412/ap_en_tv/nappy_hair_2, you can read “Nappy has a long, hurtful history” by AP writer Deepti Hajela, who propounds that, “Since slavery times, "nappy" has been used to malign the natural hair texture of many people of African descent: dense, dark and tightly curled. So when Don Imus referred to the women of the Rutgers basketball team as "nappy-headed hos" — a widely condemned remark that got him fired Thursday — it cut deeper than many who are unfamiliar with the term might realize.”
Still, that doesn’t explain why Don Imus, a recognizably cogent and alert personality, would purposely use an anti-black slur to demerit a half-white team.
The reverse-racism argument is similarly unsatisfying. This theory speculates that black leaders manufacture racism out of innocuousness in an act of self-preservation; essentially, the argument goes, community figures like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson would be irrelevant and de facto out of work in a racially harmonious climate. Hence, hastily tolled claims of racism are sounded reflexively at the first signs of questionable content.
Take this quote that my roommate Yehudah found somewhere on the internet: "Blacks have been complaining for years about equality in America and how they don't get equal time. Well here is a prime example of why black will never be seen as equal, they use every instance they can find to highlight their UNWILLINGNESS to be seen as equals. Sharpton and Jackson have made careers out of hate mongering and inflaming situations that would have barely even raised and eyebrows in any other race of TRULY assimilated AMERICANS. When the black community starts acting as equals...they will be taking a huge step forward...It's all fun and games if a black rapper comedian or personality says something off-color...GOD forbid it goes the other way."
This argument, however, is as fallacious as the “nappy is racist” argument, because it inherently ignores the times that these leaders have been vital in arbitrating the legitimately racist cases. They are not hate-mongers, and relegating them as such is just as racist as the things of which this anonymous writer accuses Jackson and Sharpton.
Ultimately, this case distills into a first amendment issue. Just like any American’s, Don Imus’ right to free speech is protected by the Bill of Rights, and no judiciary on earth would void that right in this particular situation under the “clear and present danger” clause. Because he wasn’t calling his listeners to action, his remarks cannot be misconstrued as inflammatory or potentially dangerous. Censorship, in all its pernicious manifestations, uses the misguided “emotional damage” claim to install an artificial—and illegal—ceiling on self-expression. Don Imus, the asshole that he is, is nonetheless an unfortunate victim in the censors’ unremitting dalliance with Constitutional constriction and illegality.