I was a fan of Don Imus’ morning show. It was an edgy alternative to the banal network morning shows where hosts spend half their time mingling with sign-waving fans. For me, watching the Imus show was like walking into a locker room where five crude-mouthed men didn’t stop talking when they saw me. I was both repulsed and intrigued by the lack of couth displayed in their banter, peppered as it was with racist and sexist slurs. But just when I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, Imus would conduct a smart interview with a brilliant historian or a savvy, inside-the-beltway political reporter. It was a schizophrenic experience. How could Imus be so good and so bad, so smart and so ignorant, all within one 10-minute segment?
I know I’ll miss that crazy quality of the show, but at the same time, I’m glad it’s gone. It had to go. And I like to think every one of us has something to learn from that amazing week in American broadcasting and cultural history. I know I do.
I wonder why it took me so long to understand why Imus deserved to be fired after his deplorable slur against those innocent Rutgers basketball players? I, in particular, should have gotten it right away. Just three weeks before, I had faced a rare occurrence — a racial slur that hurt me, because it demeaned my family.
A member of an on-line group I belong to threw an anti-Asian slur into a message he’d written. It wasn’t related to the topic he was discussing, just a back-handed, bonus insult. I noticed. I’m married to a Japanese American man. And my husband and I have adopted two girls from China. To me, blonde-haired, green-eyed me, it was personal.
I waited for a backlash against the member’s comment, but it never came. So I wrote the group and lightly suggested I didn’t appreciate reading the racist remark there.
Sure enough, other members rallied around him. He was a good guy. He wasn’t a racist. I was wrong.
I told my husband about it. As if talking to a naïve child, he told me not to waste too much energy on it. He’d been there before. “You’re not going to change any minds,” he said. “Why bother?” I told him that while he was probably right, I owed it to my kids to try.
I wrote the man privately. He was willing to hear me out for a few rounds, but he finally told me to “Go after people who intentionally hurt others, next time.” But even if it’s not intentional, doesn’t it still hurt? Isn’t it still racist?
Yet somehow, even I was willing to give Imus a pass. That is, until I saw the girls he’d referred to as “Hos.” They are smart, successful young women who have achieved a great deal in their 20 years. And of course, they are someone’s children.
How could I not have seen that? How could I have secretly hoped he’d keep his job so I wouldn’t have to go back to the Today Show? Why did I think some old, offensive white guy’s career was more important than the innocent African American girls he had smeared?
I think the Imus scandal has presented all Americans with an opportunity to do a little soul-searching about the comments and actions of others that we routinely let slide, as long as they don’t hurt us.
Because if we don’t stand up and defend other people’s children, who will defend ours?