Don Imus and VA Tech—A Year Later

Posted by Melvin Bray on April 15th, 2008 filed in Useful Perhaps

This is a re-write of some thoughts I posted a year ago after the VA Tech tragedy. It’s a tough one, because it asks us to identify with those we viscerally (an perhaps rightfully) despise. But isn’t that the message of Jesus on the Mount…

It was only a short year ago that “shock jock” Don Imus chose to refer to the accomplished women playing in the NCAA Basketball Finals as “nappy-headed hoes,” later billing the match-up for his listeners as the “jiggaboos” versus the “wannabes.” Imus’ disrespect came as little surprise. He had a long history of slur and slander against Blacks, Africans, Asians, Latinos, Jews, Arabs, women, homosexuals, the poor, and just about anyone he considered unlike himself. And he had been paid handsomely to be so. The absurd brevity of his time spent off the air is perhaps only surpassed by the financial profitability of his return.

But the story that a middle-aged white man of means in the U.S. showed himself to be (or made his living as a) racist and sexist is not news to me. He is not the first, nor will he be the last. Not that what he did was not news-worthy, but his misogynistic or otherwise bigoted views seemed almost beside the point to me.

The thing that captured my attention regarding the Imus coverage the first half of April 2007 was the power dynamic. You see, power matters, and Imus had plenty of it, which he used unrepentantly to pummel with impunity the dispossessed, disenfranchised, or otherwise already marginalized. Don Imus, who is now with ABC, at the time had a nationally syndicated CBS radio show that was simulcast on MSNBC (how much money was he making?), which NPR reporter David Folkenflik further characterized as attracting “an educated, affluent audience.” Most interesting to me, again, was not that this was the case; however, I was floored by the sheer number of “educated, affluent” folks who unreservedly championed Imus’ “right” to do what he had been doing. It was as if the unapologetically privileged got together and declared, “How dare you have a problem with us continuing to exercise our privilege at your expense? This is the way it’s supposed to be. Haven’t you gotten the repeated memos?”

They said it was a First Amendment issue, to which my only response can be: Neither hate, discrimination, nor any other form of exclusionary practice or language is a First Amendment issue. Freedom of speech does not guarantee one the right to be heard. Hate does not deserve a publicly facilitated audience (e.g. radio and television air waves), and those who resource it privately deserve whatever nonviolent (particularly financial) backlash they get.

Then came the story of Seung Hui Cho. The Western world cried out in horror at the massacre Cho perpetrated on VA Tech’s campus—”the single largest act of recorded handgun violence on U.S. soil in American history” (the qualifiers “recorded handgun violence” and “on U.S. soil” are important because they help to conceal our selective recollection and shocking history of violence, particularly that which has involved what we would call “state-sponsored terrorism” if it were directed at us from the outside).

And we wept. And so should we weep again in the upcoming weeks, but not just for Cho’s victims. We should weep for Cho and others like him, who are victims as well … of the Imuses of the world.

Complete the post at God’s Politics blog>>>

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