The statement Don Imus made recently about the Rutgers women's basketball team was thoroughly racist and sexist. He was trying to be funny.
For me, the debate about whether or not Imus is a racist misses a much more important and sobering point.
To be sure, Imus sounded racist and sexist. His words certainly were. Words come from inside where we really live.
But, beyond this, and even more disturbing is the fact that Imus played to his audience and to the marketplace. His "shock jock" genre responded to a precise, scientific understanding of what those who listened enjoyed hearing.
Imus had made such comments before. This time he picked the wrong group to attack. The community responded, thankfully. Advertisers read the writing on the wall. The networks fired him. Thank God for capitalism! When all else fails, money still talks. At least occasionally, it says the right thing.
Imus is not the only one guilty of such foolish, mean-spirited, demeaning, racist pollution. But, he is the one we're talking about today.
Surely, we can do better as a nation, as a people, can't we?
As the controversy was boiling last week, I was reading Kurt Vonnegut's last book, A Man Without a Country, his brief autobiography.
Vonnegut describes a conversation he had with a young man named Joe who approached him with a simple request:
"Please tell me it will all be okay."
"Welcome to Earth, young man," I said. "It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, Joe, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of: #$%&^* it, Joe, you've got to be kind!" (page 107)
Maybe Imus understood my generation and its inherent, genetic racism and sexism. Maybe that's what his marketing folks knew and so counseled him to be what he was. Maybe his entire mission was to market to the low road running through our souls.
But, maybe, just maybe, we can face ourselves and simply decide to go a different way.
Maybe the younger generation--people the age of my daughters and younger--will show us the power and beauty of simple human kindness. I don't know.
But, I do know that we can do better.
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