Given Yale’s race issues, return of Imus is relevant

A slur, an apology, a termination, a hiatus and a return.

Don Imus’ fall eight months ago was as fast as he was popular. And on Monday, he quietly returned.

It’s not all the same now. Far fewer radio stations broadcast his program, “Imus in the Morning,” than did a year ago. And Imus himself insists he has changed. He referred to the controversy that ended his show as a “life-changing experience.”

It must have been. Newly aware of his potential to offend, he will not be able to recreate his past irreverence.

The rest of us have to hope that the effects of Imus’ experience extend beyond his radio program. As communities across the country continue to handle issues of discrimination and bigotry, examples like Imus’ are vitally important for forging paths for the future.

Imus’ return seems particularly relevant at Yale now, given the recent visible instances of prejudice on campus.

A year ago, Don Imus was not a sports figure. His show, which ran from 1971 to 1977 and then again from 1979 until earlier this year, began as a vehicle for Imus to act as a shock-jock but morphed into a daily revue of news coverage, humor and guest interviews. Only with the show’s switch to WFAN, a 24-hour sports-talk radio station, did Imus regularly incorporate sports coverage into his lineup.

But Imus was prominently thrust into the consciousness of sports fans with his offensive remarks in April. Speaking about the Rutgers women’s basketball team — on their way to the NCAA finals at the time — he called the players “nappy-headed hos.” Along with his co-host and guests on the air, Imus laughed away. Within days, he was fired.

The fuller context is even more offensive. Imus’ comments came after his co-host, Bernard McGuirk, called the players “hard-core hos.” The two, along with guest and former co-host Sid Rosenberg, continued to talk about the players’ “toughness,” comparing them to the Toronto Raptors and the Memphis Grizzlies because of the teams’ names.

Appropriately, Rutgers head coach Vivian Stringer defended her players and attacked Imus on multiple grounds: His three words managed to incorporate racist and sexist thinking. And, perhaps worst of all, he attacked people who deserved just the opposite — respect and admiration beyond that owed to each member of society. In her public response, Stringer wrote:

“Throughout the year, these gifted young ladies set an example for the nation that through hard work and perseverance, you can accomplish anything if you believe. … To serve as a joke of Mr. Imus in such an insensitive manner creates a wedge and makes light of the efforts of these classy individuals, both as women and as women of color.”

Don Imus has provided a perfect example of how complicated 21st-century prejudice is. As a former loyal listener of his show, I am confident that Imus is not a bigot. He is not a racist or a sexist, at least explicitly. And his caring is evidenced by his devotion to the Imus Ranch, a 4,000-acre ranch in New Mexico to which he invites children suffering from cancer, nearly half of whom have been from minority groups in recent years. The ranch costs Imus millions of dollars each year.

But none of that matters. What he said earlier this year was undeniably offensive and obviously prejudiced. “Nappy-headed” served only to identify the players by their race, to categorize them as black (eight of the 10 players were black) and to make their appearance paramount in their public identity. Calling the players “hos” showed once more the amazing disrespect for women that persists in American society today, a disrespect that is accepted in many other contexts.

But Imus’ sin goes beyond the offensive punch of his three-word slip-up. One doesn’t say something like what he did unless one thinks it is acceptable. Forget whether Imus is a racist or a sexist — no one is completely free of prejudice. His remarks showed his lack of regard for people different from him.

Ignoring them as individuals, Imus classified the Rutgers players only by superficial categorizations. His co-hosts are equally guilty of this offense, and we should all wonder about the nature of his program, for that was the environment in which they felt comfortable taking offensive shots at upstanding and admirable young people, college athletes who had achieved all for which they could hope.

Should Imus be back on the air? I don’t know. If his termination was indeed appropriate, as most seemed to believe it was, it is hard to justify allowing him to return to the air. But second chances are not given solely out of kindness.

In examples like Imus’, a second chance is a chance to undo the wrong of the past. It is now the responsibility of the host to do so, and only in this way will his return be justified. Imus must do his part to change the nature of the public discourse.

Pete Martin is a sophomore in Morse College. His column appears every Wednesday.

Comments

  • Anonymous

    FYI, Sid Rosenberg was not even on the Imus episode in question. How interesting to once again read of an Imus critic who has little actual knowledge of the program. Until you can become informed, how about just kindly giving the rest of us some shut up? Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous,

    Actually Sid was in the station day. He was filling in for carton. You can see him on the tape and in the transcripts.

    Just so you don't think I'm "an Imus Basher"

    you can read my opinion at…

    http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/246866/The_Birth_of_the_I_Nation

  • Anonymous

    http://mediamatters.org/items/200704040011

    Listen for Sid Rosenberg (or read the text on the page). He's there.

  • Anonymous

    For the clarification, Rosenberg was a call-in guest at the time. A one-time co-host, he had taken to calling in to the show after he left. On April 4, the day of Imus' infamous quote, Rosenberg was on the air with Imus and Bernard McGuirk, just not as a paid employee of CBS or MSNBC. In fact, as the video shows, it is Rosenberg who first draws the parallel to the Raptors.

  • Anonymous

    Get over it (and yourself). While I am no Imus fan (really), that a couple of old white guys (one wearing a cowboy hat) can SPEAK IRONICALLY to highlight the linguistic absurdity of certain cultural segments (in this case, the tamest, most innocuous of hip-hop/rap comments)--and the get VILLIFIED (and fire-ified, a.k.a., fried) shows that RACISM is alive and well.

    Not racism by "the usual suspects" as fingered by the media, but a racism that reserves "some" language for "some" groups, but not "all" groups (some animals are more equal than others, right Orwell?).

    Rap & hip-hop can--ON THE AIRWAVES--air absolutely (i.e., not just relatively) disgusting stereotypes of women and minorities (and cops and whitey and what have you) WITHOUT REPERCUSSION, but when an old white guy in a 10-gallon hat makes fun of that language: WATCH OUT AMERICA.

    So, Pete, I say again, get over yourself. An attack on Imus (as annoying and grating as he is) is an attack on free speech (and NOT, mind you, the most egregious of speech).

  • Anonymous

    re: 5:40am - wow, is that all that you got out of this article?

  • Anonymous

    As the comment alludes to above, the die hard Imus fans are always on the attack. They never take responsibility for what he did, it is always how you are wrong and need to shut up. Never Imus needs to shut up.

  • Anonymous

    It's amazing to me that the liberals, like yourself, young man, will hyperventilate over a stupid remark by an old shock-jock but will remain silent when racist remarks like "honky", "hymie", etc. are uttered by a Jackson. "Free speech" for the liberals is "it's okay to burn the flag, it's okay to mock religion, etc." but everyone else must remain politically correct. It's the McCarthyism of today (and I can remember the horror that was caused by it many years ago).

  • Anonymous

    Are you outraged by rappers and rap moguls such as Russell Simmons, Snoop Dog, etal., BET and music execs who have accumulated billions of dollars by denigrating the women of their own community? Did they apologize to the women of their community, or did I miss something? I’m still waiting for Sharpton to organize a boycott of the advertisers who sponsor misogynistic videos on BET and rap lyrics on the radio’s public airwaves. “Protests” and “marches” now and again will not suffice, nor will “recommendations” by Russell Simmons to refrain from such language. Why don’t you demand the immediate firing of these rappers and executives? Why don’t you shut down Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock and other comedians? Why don’t you demand the firing of Isiah Thomas? Your self-righteous holier than thou hypocrisy is staggering!

    I don’t want to live in a sanitized society in which every utterance is scrutinized and is “approved” or “disapproved”. I would rather be offended than have a self-appointed thought police determine what I can and cannot listen to or what should or should not offend me. Who appointed you as the thought police and arbiter of virtuous radio behavior? This is straight out of the former Soviet Union’s propaganda machine. Or, perhaps you are ignorant of the history of totalitarian governments – so-called “offensive” remarks, and off to the re-education camp you go!

    From my perspective and as a feminist and female listener, the feminists of yesteryear propelled us to positions of unimagined strength and power. But, thanks to the new generation of NOW and its PC cohorts, today’s generation has transformed us into whining victims in need of protection, lacking the spine to laugh at ourselves and laugh off tasteless and poorly conceived humor, or at least, to dish it right back.

  • Anonymous

    To the above: brava!