Sunday, April 15, 2007

We Take Part in the Ongoing National Dialogue on Race, Installment 347

“We got a sense that the healing has now begun.”
-- Greg Hurst, anchorman, Channel 11 News, Houston, putting a Cronkite-ian flourish on Friday’s report on the meeting between Don Imus and the Rutgers women’s basketball team

Certainly there were many more pressing concerns to occupy the national mind, such as last week’s stunning breach of security in the Green Zone (“On the other hand, the pacification is proceeding …” – Charles Krauthammer, deep thinker), but the Imus Affair quickly shifted into an uncharted dimension beyond the reliable “contrition and rehabilitation” script usually followed when some celebrity (whether of the A, B or C lists) steps too far over the line in his or her public utterances. How cruel the fate: to be condemned by Ann Coulter (!) and defended by Tom DeLay, who apparently was not among the audiences on the mornings when Imus referred to the former congressman from Sugar Land as the product of a brother-sister coupling (or something equally as lame).

Still, we figured its shelf life might not extend beyond the weekend, as some new spectacle or another would debut in the Big Top while Imus slunk off to peddle auto insurance on satellite radio. Then we heard Oprah declare her intent to explore “After Imus?” on Monday, an hour surely to be given over to a deep probing of “feelings” and expressions of “hurt” and the arduous seeking and finding of that elusive “healing” (or maybe that’s “heeling”).

If only Ann Coulter could be there, in a very short skirt.

It turns out our 13 year old’s Texas history teacher was way ahead of Oprah in using Imus (he being an important figure in Texas history) to launch a discussion on race and ethnicity and disparaging terms. While the 7th graders were unanimous in condemning the elderly white man, many, including some black students, took issue with his firing (our daughter, an Imus hater of longstanding, not being one). She reported that the teacher, in what must have been an awkward instructional moment, stressed that it was NOT OK for those outside a racial/ethnic category to use the apparently familial terms employed inside the group (like ’ho, we guess). Our daughter cited the example of “Cubans” at her very diverse school who refer to one another as “beaners”*; our 17-year-old son, briefly passing through the discussion on his way to the icebox, observed that these self-I.D.’ed beaners probably were Mexicans and asked if our daughter was aware of the term’s etymology. We then felt compelled to point out that most white Cubans we’ve known generally look down on other Hispanics because, as our son added from the kitchen, they consider themselves to be of “purer” Spanish blood.

Seeking to return to the issue at hand, we asked if black kids at our daughter’s school refer to white kids as “crackers,” and she gave us the duh-uh ... and replied, Yeah, sure, some do---and some Hispanics, too (we knew the answer already). Wandering back through on his way to his room, our soon volunteered that at his very diverse school the pejorative for whites favored by black and Hispanic gangsta types is “white bitch”---directed toward males of the Caucasian persuasion.

So, sure, let’s have that discussion, let’s keep yammering about it until Imus falls off the wagon or blows his brains out, but be advised that, to paraphrase early Fleetwood Mac---back before they had sniffed cocaine or laid eyes on Stevie Nicks and her scarves---it might not yield the answers that you want it to. If we want to make it more than just these little tableaux of self-validation or displays of moral hauteur, let’s strip away the hypocrisy and double standards, starting with those of CBS, which after years of tolerating similar remarks by Imus and his yukking buddies withdrew its original suspension and canned him more than a week after his “nappy-headed ’ho’s” crack---if its was a firing offense on Thursday it should have been a firing offense the day he said it---and MSNBC, which terminated his show earlier in the week but then for two days devoted the same airtime (and lots more, almost around-the-clock) to coverage of Imus’s downfall moderated by NBC correspondent David Gregory, a frequent guest of Imus’s (sheesh---we originally typed “Dick Gregory”; this race talk leaves us feeling logy). As far as we know, Imus has not agreed to be one of Gregory’s guests during the time spot he formerly occupied.

Then we could move on to all the pious African-American academics and journalists and social commentators solemnly weighing in with their ritual condemnations of Imus (so far so good) but who verbally look the other way when their (usually white) interlocutors timorously pipe up, “Yes, sir or madam, but what of this vile rap music so beloved by today’s youth, with its talk of ’ho’s and bi’ches and so forth?” or “Yes, Mr. Sharpton, but what of your promotion of the false changes against the Duke lacrosse players?” (as if expecting Sharpton to break down and summarily offer a heartfelt apology).

Imus in a sense was absent-mindedly backstroking along in the larger popular culture, although in an end of the pool where he wasn’t allowed, a point made more succinctly by our wife, also no fan of Imus---the chicks just didn't dig Imus---on the first day of the commotion, when she noted that “nappy headed ’ho” was exactly the sort of thing (maybe the exact thing) that one of her students would have said to a classmate---that is, a black male to a black female---back when she taught middle school, long before the pervasiveness of hip-hop culture or whatever you call it: “And since when did Imus start talking like a seventh grader from [South Park]?” (Note to our reader[s] in France: this South Park being a southeast Houston neighborhood, not the TV show, although that would work, too, if you wish.)

We hesitate to use “the lynch mob” metaphor, because as a white Southerner we’re sensitized to the reality of that term, but there’s something so unseemly about the piling-on and face-stomping that it's left us feeling sympathetic toward Imus and bereft at his passing. So for healing we’ll turn to the red-meat wisdom of our coozan, Pat Buchanan (yet another frequent Imus guest):
Imus threw himself on the mercy of the court of elite opinion – and that court, pandering to the mob, lynched him. Yet, for all his sins, he was a better man than the lot of them rejoicing at the foot of the cottonwood tree.
Yes, asshole that he is (was).

*A slur that we first became acquainted with as a 6 or 7 year old reading the educational book Texas History Movies.

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