Monday, April 09, 2007


Sam Smith

AL SHARPTON and others who want to dump Don Imus for saying something ethnically rotten about black women - heretofore considered the exclusive province of black men, especially comedians and movie makers - suggests that they haven't been watching the show much.

Imus has been cruel and insensitive towards a lot of people. His producer Bernard McGuirk has parodied New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin and an Irish cardinal (while wearing a folded Fedex envelope as headgear). Another regular has played the role of a pompous and stupid Jerry Falwell.

It is gutter humor and some of it pretty lousy. Imus deserves to be scolded, berated and called on it when it gets out of hand. You just don't want to fire him as well.

Here's why: Imus and is crew are one of the few real things on TV. It's not pretty, it's not nice, but it is revealing and at times even refreshing relief from the normal fantasies of the tube.

Imus is like the girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead: "When she was good, she was very, very good and when she was bad she was horrid."

So why not settle for the normal sanctimonies, pomposities and hypocrisies about our state of being as can be easily viewed elsewhere? Simply because we grow individually and as a people not based on our allegiance to some enunciated and prescribed perfection but by the incremental correction of the myriad imperfections that plague us.

Mark Twain said that sins were not to be tossed out the window but eased down the stairs one step at a time. The same goes for Don Imus.

This is not, to be sure, the currently approved method of dealing with degradations of others whether for their color, sex or physical shape. We take great comfort in rules even as we fail to notice that they are not working. We pretend that the average of human behavior is far higher than it actually is. And we assume that those who say the right thing also do the right thing.

For example, where did Imus get the nefarious expression? Probably from some black male comedian or a movie celebrating ghetto culture - including the mistreatment of women.

As the black blog Knock the Hustle put it, "Should he be fired for calling black women 'ho's?' Why? We do it all the time. We get some irrelevant has-been like Imus? We hail Stern as a genius because he has a black female side-kick for doing the same thing. We give all manner of folks passes for similar language whenever it suits our odd peculiars, particulars and assorted pecadillos."

And how does Imus' offense compare in seriousness with the number of blacks being forced out of their homes by white liberal gentrifiers who would never think of using the term 'ho'? Or the number of young blacks killed as a result of a massively cruel and ineffective war on drugs? Is ethnic eviction or ethnic eradication a greater or lesser offense than an ethnic slur? If so then why don't we treat it as such?

Then there's the point raised recently by Bacardi L. Jackson: "How does a white man who signed the deeply disparate crack-cocaine bill into law, introduced a devastating crime bill that further entrenched the prison industrial complex at the expense of black communities and black political power everywhere, oversaw the murder of more people on death row during his presidency than any president in the history of our country, completely dissed and dismissed our sister Lani Guinier, who would have been an amazing Attorney General for our country and for our community, purely for the sake of political expediency, get to be donned the 'First Black President'"? Is our loyalty so easily spawned because one acts like a 'pimp,' plays the saxophone and visits a few pulpits?"

Imus is clearly one of the most imperfect individuals one is likely to find either on or off the tube. But it is not an imperfection honed to a perverse art as with Rush Limbaugh or Howard Stern. What you see are the real failings of a real man and a real ex-addict who also, incidentally, displays some unexpected virtues. The same host who spoke of "ho's" was probably Harold Ford's biggest national booster in his race for the U. S. Senate. How does one fit that into a simplistic racist stereotype?

Imus also is environmentally conscious, is truly concerned about the treatment of American war vets and does some of the most interesting interviews with public figures to be found anywhere, in part because his very insensitivity leads him to ask questions others would be too polite to ask.

In a better world we would all treat each other with friendship, respect and as a member of the family. But this is not where we are as a nation. It's not nice that this is the case but it does no good to hide it behind the drapes of liberal sanctimony. It is far better to get all the cards on the table and deal with them rather than pretending they are not there.

Language actually provides a warning sign and serves as an inter-cultural safety valve. Paul Kuritz, in an article on ethnic humor in the Maine Progressive, pointed out that "as early as 1907, the English-speaking rabbis and priests of Cleveland united to protest the Irish and Jewish stage comedians. . . The suppression of crude ethnic humor both accompanied the economic exploitation of the lower-class work force and paralleled the dismissal of the lower classes' tastes as 'offensive' to the newly refined sensibilities of upwardly-mobile second and third generation Americans."

Kuritz, a third-generation Slovak, was arguing that the real problem with a recently fired French-Canadian radio host was not that he had made fun of his own culture but that the full panoply of ethnicity was not also represented on the air. This would have allowed all these groups to experience what anthropologists call a "joking relationship," helping to reduce tensions between potentially antagonistic clans. Said Kuritz, "As a general rule of thumb, an attempt to suppress speech as 'offensive' or 'disempowering' is not a signal to lessen the amount of talk, but to increase the amount."

Today, interethnic joking is mainly found in rough-and-tumble environments such as the modern vaudeville of comedy clubs or in sports and politics, but is frowned upon by those whose social status leads them to presume that manners create reality. The problem is that under the latter ground rules, words often disguise feelings, sidetrack action, and no longer serve to keep tension and hate apart. It is paper wrapping around something still extremely unpleasant.

The irony is that even as standards of interethnic language are enforced, the actual state of those allegedly being protected is being increasingly ignored. Poverty, education, fair voting, healthcare and housing deserve far more attention than some ugly phrase uttered by Don Imus. Yet the less we do about real issues, the more time we seem to spend worry about what people say. And the funny thing is, if we would take care of the things that really matter, the language would take care of itself.


At 11:45 AM, jeremy said...


At 1:15 PM, Anonymous said...

The Comment button reads 17 comments. When I click on it there's only one. What's the deal? If they've been removed that would seem a trifle ironically humorous, considering this story is about freedom of speech.

At 5:44 PM, JMS said...

Dear anonymous,

Did you ever stop and think that perhaps there was a glitch?

Do you really think Sam would write an article in support of freedom of speech and then delete comments in opposition?

Lastly, do you honestly believe that the other 16 comments were all critical of Sam and his opinion?

I'm sure there's an explanation and I can guarantee that it wasn't Sam Smith's conspiracy to silence critics.

At 6:04 PM, TPR said...

Don't know what happened but suspect it has something to do with joint posting on both the Undernews and the Flotsam & Jetsam page.

Meanwhile search for "From our readers" for the best of the lot


At 5:19 PM, Anonymous said...

I said "IF they were removed", followed by a mildly ironic jest,5:44. Quit yer heavy breathing already, okay?

At 7:57 AM, Mairead said...

who also, incidentally, displays some unexpected virtues. The same host who spoke of "ho's" was probably Harold Ford's biggest national booster in his race for the U. S. Senate. How does one fit that into a simplistic racist stereotype?

Honestly, Sam, you need to put up an *IRONY* flag when you say stuff like this. There are too many people who would take it at face value rather than think "waitaminnit, it's a virtue to support a 99.44%-White right-winger?!"

Only in the racist USA could someone like Ford be considered "Black". In Africa he'd be seen as the White man he is genetically and politically.

At 11:06 AM, caynazzo said...

Sam, I'm a student journalist and I understand the free speach position, and I also agree with your point about double standards--50 Cent v Imus. However, the context in which Don Imus said "ho" was not a staged radio bit strictly meant as entertainment. It was off the cuff. And for Imus to think it okay to use "ho" so glibbly while on air, leads one to the conclusion that in his private doings, such thoughts and words are not only routine but acceptable. Don Imus has sexist and possibly racist tendencies.
Consider as well who the recipient was. Not a bedraggled prostitute with a crack addiction cast against some stereotyped ghetto scene. No. It was a young woman competing at the college level in both academics and athletics--a double feat most American's will never accomplish. Why bring her down like that? What made him think it was okay to say that?

At 11:48 AM, Anonymous said...

It's not okay to insult anyone...I dislike Imus and always have, but hearing how he spoke these things, I think he was just 'trying to be funny' and it was a horrible, bad mistake.
However, when can I expect apolgies from the Revs Al and Jesse re: many, many remarks they have made about Jews, and, in particular...Rev Al condemning those boys from the lacrosse team before they even went to we find there is no basis for charges.
Hey Rev....where's your apology...and, when are you going to be stripped of some form of your lifestyle and manner of earning a living as you've insisted happen to Imus, who, as I a highly dislikable man overall in my opinion...(though he does do some good work with his ranch)....
Let's get a little fairness in the mix here, people.

At 1:59 PM, Anonymous said...

So, how do we explain the firing of Phil Donahue by the same network that fired Imus? It's simple. The guys who paid the bills got nervous and baled out. Support independent news. DemocracyNOW!

At 4:29 PM, Anonymous said...

In my opinion, the comments used by Don Imus are in very poor taste--after all, he is a shock jock on par with the likes of Howard Stern or Bill O'Reilly. As a matter of opinion, I think all of these jerks suck! These are folks who are paid to piss people off! And they do an excellent job of it.

But, what point does it serve to fire Don Imus or any shock jock for that matter? If you don't like him, don't watch it! If you don't want your kids watching this garbage, get off your ass and be a parent!!

Hey, while we're at, why don't get rid of Bill O'Reilly? He has plenty of hate speech to give out! And, as much as I can't stand this pompous idiot, I know that our Constitution ensures his freedom--even if it means acting like a dumbass!! But, the beauty of our system is that I can take my remote and turn the damn TV off!

So, here's one for ya! What about the countless number of black comedians and rap artists who spit and swear their racist, sexist remarks??? Oh, but this is ok... When "white folks" do it, it is hate speech; but, when "black folks" do this, it is an example of cultural pride and overcoming the racial prejudices inflicted upon them. By the way, "we" can say it, but when "you" say it, it's being racist/sexist!! My ass, you bunch of word nazis!!!

No one seems to get pissed off when folks crack on Asians, Indians, and so on. I don't hear anyone shouting from their end of the room You know why? Because they're kicking our asses in science, math, and engineering. They're not sensitive to our dribbling, whiney nonsense! They look at the rest of us (whites and blacks) as retards anyway. And, only retarded people get upset when you call them "retarded"!!! As for smart folks, they dismiss it and look the other way while being disconcerned with such nonsense!

The problem in this country is that we have become a bunch of whiney babies! We want nanny laws and word-smithing to protect our precious little hearts and minds!

If this is the direction that our country is taking, I have one piece of good advise: Be careful what you wish for!

As for Imus' comment, I say this:

America, u's all a buncha nappy-head ho bitches!!! Peace in da middle east, hos! I'm outta 'dis bitch!

At 6:28 PM, Anonymous said...

Mairead would probably be amongst the first to insist that the idea of 'race' is simply a concept, a social construct if you will. So how is it that because he/she does not like Ford, this now makes him (ultimate insult, apparently)"Genetically...a White man"? What? This is just a prime example of how the Left can bandy about these paradigmatic terms, twisting them about however they see fit. Race doesn't exist--except in those instances where it supports your position to have it exist, 'genetically' no less.

At 6:24 PM, Anonymous said...

Do you really beleive that Imus's comments were directed to really hurt the Rutgers girls basketball team? Im sure if anybody on the street or if occured in any way the Rutgers girls would not be offended this can a simple 3 word phrase on a talk show where the host is trying to be funny escalate into a national controversey...I beleive the black leaders simply exploited this situation.

At 5:11 PM, Mairead said...

Race is a social construct, not a scientific one. 'Race' in humans identifies broadly the same group of characteristics that we call 'breed' in non-humans.

People referring to Ford as 'Black' is as ridiculous as my referring to my cat as 'Siamese' would be. More ridiculous: my cat actually is half-Siamese, whereas Ford's genetic inheritance has almost nothing of Africa in it. US racism makes him 'Black', not his genetic heritage.

And my dislike of him is, of course, due to his rightwing politics ...politics that are far more characteristic of White people than of Black.

I'd suggest you study genetics, politics, and logic, Mr 6.28pmAnonymous. You come up short on all three.

At 6:51 PM, Anonymous said...

Sam, I get so tired of the moral relativism of pundits in the mainstream media as well as in the blogosphere. In your world, there are no objective rights or wrongs. Any wrong, no matter how heinous or insulting, is simply compared to another equally heinous or insulting wrong for which the evildoer was not punished. In your world of logic, or lack thereof, punishment for a wrong is not determined by any universal standard, but on the punishment or lack of punishment for selectively culled similar wrongs. Such a Weltanschauung, and such logic are, well, wrongheaded.


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