Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Let Imus speak: He's making my job easy

By Sylvester Brown Jr.
Reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Don Imus issued yet another apology Monday on the Rev. Al Sharpton's syndicated radio program regarding comments made last week about Rutgers University women's basketball team.

Imus and his producer, Bernard McGuirk, described the student-athletes, eight of whom are black, as "hard-core ho's," "nappy-headed ho's" and "jigaboos and wannabees."

The remarks, which Imus defined Friday as "insensitive … ill-conceived and completely inappropriate," led to an onslaught of notable and racially diverse voices calling for Imus' resignation or termination.

Now, I'm no fan of the cowboy hat-wearing curmudgeon. But I say when his show returns (MSNBC says it will suspend his radio program for two weeks), let him do his thing. Do it exactly the way he's done it in the past: without interference.

It's best for the country.

Racism is easy to deny if it's not in your face. Guys like Imus make my job easier. The unfiltered, graphic, in-your-face, racist commentary makes a far better case than I ever could about the existence of racism.

There's a contingent of folks who worry when black activists, commentators or writers speak out about race. As if only black voices can stir black discontent.

Imus' syndicated show reaches millions. This latest antic has angered thousands — blacks, Hispanics, whites and "others." You couldn't manufacture a better reason for a massive outcry.

You see, not a week goes by that I haven't received a call or an e-mail insisting that I stop talking about racism. It hardly exists anymore, readers tell me. "Perhaps it will go away, if you just shut up," they say.

However, it's not like this is the first time Imus and company have made ugly racist remarks on the program. But where was the outrage at past offenses?

Just last month, McGuirk, in a spoof of poet Maya Angelou, read this little ditty:

Whitey plucked you from the jungle for too many years … took away your pride, your dignity and your spears … into whitey's world you was rudely cast … so wake up now and go to work … you can kiss my big black ass ...

McGuirk recited the "poem" at Imus' urging after the two talked about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's speech in Selma, Ala. She tried to "sound black in front of a black audience," the duo claimed, with McGuirk adding: "Bitch is gonna be wearing cornrows … and gold teeth … giving Crips' signs during speeches."

Where was all the fuss last year when Imus referred to the "Jewish management" of CBS Radio as "money-grubbing bastards?" Before being fired in 2005, another member of his morning team, Sid Rosenberg, called black female tennis players Venus and Serena Williams "animals" who should be featured in National Geographic.

Years ago, according to Imus critics, he called PBS's Gwen Ifill a "cleaning lady" and described a black New York Times sports columnist as "a quota hire."

If Rush Limbaugh can play a parody of "Barack, the Magic Negro" to the tune of "Puff, the Magic Dragon" (as he did in mid-March), why can't Imus toss out the occasional "jigaboo?"

What are the guidelines?

Did the "Imus in the Morning" gang go one "nappy-headed ho" comment too far? Maybe they crossed the line when they chose to target student-athletes instead of more well-known political or entertainment figures.

Still, we need those racist, vitriolic voices out there. It's just what America needs to hear.

Folks like Imus and Rush turn up the volume for those who ignore the racism that reverberates in our society.

During his appearance on Sharpton's show, Imus said he's not a racist, but a good man who made a mistake. To emphasize his point, he talked about how 10 percent of the sick children who visit his cattle ranch in New Mexico are black.

"This is not about whether you're a good man," Sharpton countered. "What you said was racist."

"I can't win with you people," Imus said during a testy exchange with Sharpton.

"You people?" Good Lord.

Tell you what, Don, stop apologizing. I hope you survive the storm. We need you, Rush and others out there doing what you do so well.

It's an ugly — but honest — side of the country we need to see more often.
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