By now, I am sure most of you have heard about the Don Imus debacle. If not, I'll give you the quick run-down. Here are the makings of a disaster:
Step 1 - Don Imus calls the ladies of the Rutgers basketball team "nappy headed hos." Foolish.
Step 2 - Backlash ensues.
Step 3 - Don Imus aplogizes and tries to explain by giving context to his statements.
Apparently not good enough (I think the cowboy hat did more harm than good).
Step 4 - Don does another foolish thing and appears as a guest on Al Sharpton's radio show.
Step 5 - Al Sharpton tears him a new.... everything. Al also calls for Don to get fired and pulled from the airwaves.
Step 6 - Don does indeed get suspended for two weeks (to end next week, I believe).
Step 7 - Various voices (but only black and white) chime in to create a horrible cacophony (I purposesly veer away from the word "debate" because that would give all of this a sense of more order and intelligence than what has been displayed).
Step 8 - Success! We have effectively ignored the real issues and have triumphantly scapegoated one person.
Good job, America! You have just had another ignore-the-real-issues moment!
I have not commented until now because I have been watching all of this unfold. This is still being discussed daily, in quite a heated way, and I am left with many questions.
a. Why is this a discussion that has merely included blacks and whites?
This is something that has really gotten on my nerves for a while now. In this country, the norm looks like this -- if someone of your ethnicity or religion or race (because people still buy into the concept of race) is harmed, you stand up and you scream, and you get enraged. You might even protest and write letters if you are feeling motivated. If someone of another ethnicity or religion or race is harmed, you look the other way and go for ice cream. This doesn't make any sense. If we continue to react in this manner, we will never be able to make the connections that we so desperately need to make -- one of them being the fact that racism is prevalent in our society. If we keep tackling things on a case by case basis, are we really going to be able to make any substantial changes? It is the most short-sighted thing for all of us to work in such silos. When we begin to talk about mysoginistic and sexist views against black women, why aren't we all concerned? Or...knowing that many people of various ethnicities out there ARE concerned, why aren't they allowed at/brought to the table?...which brings me to my next question...
b. Why isn't anyone schooling Oprah?
Oprah, ohhhh Oprah. I have a love-hate relationship with you. Right now, so you know, our relationship is on the rocks. You try to do good. Goodness knows you do. But what are you thinking? Are you thinking? You have a TOWN HALL to discuss this Don Imus situation and you only invite black people. Makes sense. What kind of town hall is that? This situation makes it clear that there is still so much damage to undo in this country. A comment like Don Imus', which yes, was ignorant, throws us into a tailspin and makes us so angry that all we want to do is shut him up. This does nothing to address the larger situation on our hands. Inviting only black men and women to the Town Hall to discuss sends the message that no one else should be concerned with this. That this is a battle for black men and women to fight alone. Black vs. white (or black vs. black when you look at it from the whole rapper vs. black woman angle, which is mainly what it has turned into at this point).
Now that we have gotten rid of Imus for the time being, let's see what we can do about bringing down hip hop, our 2nd scapegoat in line. Now, don't get me wrong, I agree that we should be looking at the language that is used by all, not just Don Imus...but let's figure out WHY we are using this language and talk about that.
Instead of trying to censor all of those who use the words ho and bitch, why don't we figure out why people are so into those words in the first place? Why did Imus think it was funny to call the women's basketball team a bunch of "nappy headed hos?" And why do hip hop artists use lyrics that are demeaning to women? These are the real questions...the ones we need to be asking. Picking off hip hop artist after hip hop artist, and shock jock after shock jock is not the answer. You are only going to have more to sprout up in their places, if we aren't changing anything about our society and the ways in which we think about each other. This is short-sighted to the extreme. Or perhaps no one really wants to solve the problem...but assuming we do...
c. ...why are we allowing Al Sharpton to lead the way?
Let me just say it. He's a mess. How can he claim to be a civil rights leader when he -- time after time -- creates such divisiveness? It doesn't do anyone any good when he basically makes white people out to be devils and black people out to be victims. This does not move us any closer to equality. It just keeps blacks and whites in a space where they are constantly battling or expecting to battle -- again, where whites will always do wrong to black victims. This is not an empowering model for us to live by. Time and time again, this is what we see -- we fall so easily into this pattern because it's comfortable and understood. We need to snap out of it (I know Sharpton's coiffure is mesmerizing, but...)! We need to stop playing into these roles that he and others set up for us. What he is doing here isn't helping to solve the situation. It's time to really break out of this pattern. He suggests having more POCs in radio stations...is that really the answer? Again, avoidance of the real problems. Band-aid after band-aid after band-aid. You know how much that's gonna hurt when you finally rip it off?
d. Jason Whitlock doesn't seem to like band-aids...why don't we listen to him?
My new favorite person is Jason Whitlock. The only voice of reason I have heard throughout all of this! He was at Oprah's Town Hall talking sense, and went on what seemed like a whirlwind tour of CNN, the Today Show, etc..to respond to this debacle. He's a journalist from the Kansas City Star and been the only one pointing out that Don Imus is irrelevant, that there are larger concerns here to be discussed, that this has turned into a divisive matter, that we are discussing race like we are in 1965, that blacks should not be considered victims, that there is no "magical evil white man," that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are terrorists, and that we need to call for new leadership with new solutions. Finally, finally. Someone talking about this issue in a way that we need. He has said more than once, that an injustice for one is an injustice for all, which is something that we really need to move our society towards. The more we allow each other to "fight our own battles," the more we will endlessly spin our wheels.
I am glad that someone like Jason Whitlock is adding these ideas to the discussion, but the reality is that more of us need to be speaking them. I want to get to a place where these ideas are more the norm than not.
Bonus question: Why do all of our discussions on race have to devolve to the point where you can't even remember how it started in the first place?
It's scary how people truly can't focus on the real issue at hand and instead go off on tangents that tickle their fancy. There's ignoring the real issue, and then there's complete idiocy. My old friend Larry Elder. What in all hell? A bit of diarrhea of the mouth here...basically bringing up a laundry list of other people in the spotlight who have said inappropriate things. Thanks for adding to the conversation, Larry. See you next time!
In all seriousness...everything here, all of the noise around this issue (despite not being able to really get us to scratch the surface), does tell us that we have major problems -- both in dealing with each other, and in addressing the real roots of our problems. There is a great deal of anger and hurt, and scapegoating, and dramatizing, all in the name of getting us to a better place. Let this be a lesson to us all -- we currently have no idea how to get there.
My suggestions for our best next steps: we all need to be at the table when something like this happens. And we need to talk about why we have a culture of dehumanizing and putting each other down, blaming each other for our problems. We need to stop pointing fingers and realize that we are all in this together. If racism or sexism or homophobia exists, that speaks to the failure of all of us. It's on us to change things. I'm determined to make my way to the table. Let me know if you want me to save you a seat. :)