Crucial Minutia
it's the little things...
Theo Gangi
National Pastimes: The Criminalization of Racism
3 Comments | posted April 10th, 2007 at 11:02 am by Theo Gangi

“It happens to be Mr. Imus. But behind Mr. Imus it’s all of us.” –Rutgers Coach Vicki Stringer.

Not again. E Tu, Imus

I’m not going to get in line to take shots at Imus. The repugnant idiocy of his comment is self-explanatory. Whether or not he should be fired is another issue.

Unlike Mel Gibson and Michael Richards, Imus has done a ton of good with his celebrity. He championed Harold Ford Jr.’s run to be the first black senator of Tennessee. He regularly promotes a line of green safe cleaning products and a ranch for kids with cancer. Politicians go on his show to expose issues neglected by the media. Unlike Mel Gibson, his slur came in the midst of a comedy act. Unlike Michael Richards, Imus wasn’t in a primal rage.

So who wants Imus canned? Many rightly outraged black leaders. Also the same man who wants to charge the cops in the tragic Shawn Bell shooting with premeditated murder. It’s not that Al Sharpton invents issues. It’s that his hellfire approach terrifies white people, and does nothing to address the racism behind their revelatory gaffs.

When someone in the public eye slips up like this, it does wonders to dispel this ridiculous common notion that no one is racist. But the racism they reveal is not the KKK brand, but a subtler, widespread prejudice. Being racist does not make you evil. It’s not necessarily an intellectual conviction of superiority, but an ignorant, omnipresent undercurrent. Its consequences are just more severe when in the hands of the powerful majority.

Now I don’t mean to stick up for Don Imus here. There’s just no excuse for his words. He doesn’t even need this shock jock nonsense anymore, he’s just alienated the mainstream politicians and news people who’ve become his bread and butter. Tim Russert, who has appeared on his program in the double digits, might think twice now. But Imus has pledged to have more of a black perspective on his show after he serves his two-week suspension. Doesn’t that serve more of a purpose than him losing his livelihood and legacy? Even if he were fired, he would pop up on some other station and his tremendous following would go with him. Subjecting that following to a black perspective is a good thing.

Just look at the Bush administration to see how surface gestures can backfire. Did Condi Rice’s stature do anything to help Katrina victims? Surface gestures of reconciliation do not change racist policy.

Al Sharpton wants people to notice and address racism in America. But by criminalizing racism, white people who do no believe themselves criminals will not believe themselves racist. By only attacking the act, the thoughts behind them remain innocent. So white Americans everywhere can ignore their own racist undercurrent, look down at Imus and congratulate themselves for their purity of tolerance. So the cops in the Shawn Bell shooting take all the blame, and the systematic racism that incarcerates minorities like an addiction gets off clean. Over 99% of the people in jail in New York are minorities, yet people only march when a few young men, justified or not, feared for their lives and pulled their triggers.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 10th, 2007 at 11:02 am and is filed under Race. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

There are currently 3 responses

  1. Great points Theo. I am so sick of these incidents turning into three ring circuses that lead to no real systemic change in this country. Gwen Ifil wrote a great op-ed in the NY Times today (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/10/opinion/10ifill.html?ex=1333857600&en=6d885cf564dfad05&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss) about the kinds of girls that are on that Rutger team–girls who have overcome a lot of this country’s unjust institutions. They deserve verbal respect from idiots like Imus, surely, but even more, they deserve the public’s energy on changing the conditions that they had to work so hard to overcome in order to get on that court and into those classrooms in Jersey.

    April 10th, 2007 | 3:32 pm
  2. Great points Theo. I am so sick of these incidents turning into three ring circuses that lead to no real systemic change in this country. Gwen Ifil wrote a great op-ed in the NY Times today about the kinds of girls that are on that Rutgers team–girls who have overcome a lot of this country’s unjust institutions. They deserve verbal respect from idiots like Imus, surely, but even more, they deserve the public’s energy on changing the conditions that they had to work so hard to overcome in order to get on that court and into those classrooms in Jersey.

    April 10th, 2007 | 3:33 pm
  3. Yeah, the issue here for me isn’t Imus. Sure, he’s an idiot, but he’s probably not more of a racist than your average person. He was going for snark/shock and messed up.

    My issue is that these persecutions that follow–Isaiah Washington, Michael Richards, Imus–feel tantamount to a repression of free speech. Sure, it’s not illegal. But it makes me think about what de Tocqueville wrote about the tyranny of the majority, how overwhelming public opinion can override whatever else is going on. Now, you may say that’s a good thing in this case–overwhelming public opinion coming down against racism. But the fact is, there is no check or balance against it.

    As an aside, our government has a strong check against public opinion: it’s called the Senate. That’s why they have six year terms and obscure rules on “cloture” and filibustering that empower minorities and individuals to make a stand. Obviously, these powers were used to delay the Civil Rights Act for over a decade, but it’s comfortable to know that if a massive brainfart on the scale of the Nazi party were to overcome the nation, the Senate is ABLE to stand against it. (For people who would bring up the Iraq War in response, consider that this only functions when the executive branch does not lie.)

    April 11th, 2007 | 8:04 pm

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