Lessons to learn from Imus fiasco

Tuesday, April 17, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:59 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
Rose M. Nolen

Some of us who grew up in homes where lewd and irreverent language was not allowed often learned pretty fast that the same was not true in every household. This was so, even at a time when good manners were the order of the day. Until about 15 years ago, I can remember being shocked at the words and phrases children used in front of their parents and adults used in public. Nowadays, my senses are pretty much dulled to inappropriate language.

Consequently, I didn’t get as upset over Don Imus’ ugly remarks about the Rutgers female basketball players as many of my friends. As far as I’m concerned, the electronic media has become a cesspool of vulgar words and behavior. And since the courts have defined so much of it as “free speech,” I see very little point in taking issue with it. At one time, the Federal Communication Commission had rules and regulations as to what went out over the airwaves, but I guess with deregulation that is no longer the case. My answer to the problem is to use the turn-off knob.

I must admit I was surprised when mothers and grandmothers didn’t put an immediate end to rap music. Ghetto language has always had a way of spreading into the larger society, and I knew ultimately the kind of disrespect for women expressed in that genre would find its way into America’s mainstream. I probably will not see women taking responsibility for their own self-defense in my lifetime. Somehow, the women’s movement has never been able to convince us that we cannot expect men to look after our well-being. So, we continue to bring up little boys to be men who verbally and physically abuse us with our consent and blithely blame “fathers” for being irresponsible.

I am truly sorry that the young women from Rutgers had to endure such an attempt to humiliate them. But long before this incident, I believed that this kind of stuff (the anything goes school of language) should be a thing of the past. But without enforceable rules, we can only hope that when freedom of expression is given its greatest latitude, only nice things will come out of people’s mouths. And I can certainly hope that some positive changes come about as a result of the volume of voices raised in protest.

But, of course, we all know that we live in a money-driven society and, unfortunately, quality of life issues do not win many battles. And while I don’t care for the manner in which unfunny material becomes the subject of humor, obviously I’m in the minority. It seems to me that a lot of jokes based on race, gender, nationality and religion are over the mark, yet the programs that feature this kind of material have millions of fans and earn high ratings. As much as many of us would like to believe that prejudice and bigotry is stored away in long-forgotten closets, more often than not they show up in the public venue.

One of the uglier side effects of these kinds of racial incidents is that they tend to trigger deeply-rooted attitudes in a lot of other people who are not intimately involved. For some, the incidents suggest that we have not come as far in racial harmony as they thought.

Most people will undoubtedly put the whole thing in its proper perspective. The matter will be seen for what it was: the case of a radio show host whose irreverence and careless mouth got out of control, and as a consequence, offended people of good will of all races. Some will accept his apology, while others will hold on to their anger and use it as an excuse for their own prejudices. Like the mountain from the molehill, these people will build a cottage industry out of the affair and carry it on ad infinitum. Racism, after all, is not the exclusive province of any single racial group.

Hopefully, the young female athletes will go on with their college careers and chalk the experience up to growing up as a minority, in a country where most folks are trying to heal the great racial divide that it took a few hundred years to create. By now, most of the young women probably understand that the offenders as well as the offended have been victims of a racist system and who added: who continue to suffer the consequences of it.

In a world where power has been held primarily by white males, most minorities and most women, at some point in time, have felt the effects of racial or sexual discrimination. This fight for equal rights must be waged continually by every generation because even when substantial gains are made, social change is never permanent. At every stage of life, those of us who have suffered the indignities of inequality must be ever vigilant.

We should learn from this recent skirmish that we owe it to future generations to be watchful. Bigotry and intolerance stand just outside the door. Don’t let them in.

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