So, the word is out that Don Imus, the shock jock fired from his job at CBS earlier this year after calling Rutger’s women’s basketball team not just “nappy headed ho’s” but (as if that definition was not laced with enough racist and sexist vitriol) “hard core ho’s” is returning to the airwaves courtesy of Citadel Broadcasting at flagship station WABC-AM in New York on December 3rd.
Interestingly, many seem surprised by his return. I for one am not. Imus’ views reflect those of America. Let’s see—racist? Check! Sexist? Check!! They concomitantly both reject and indulge in difference? Check, check!!! Come on, clearly Imus has a very active (and perplexing) imagination-one which fantasizes about unsuspecting black women’s sexuality. Not only did Imus sexualize the basketball players, he imagined them to be “hard core”! Sounds familiar to me. And no, hip-hop is not the only source of blame. Is it an aspect? Sure. However, it is only a single aspect of the manifold—a manifold which stretches far and wide and is centuries old.
So, in this vein, of course Imus is coming back. The airwaves would not be the same without him. Imus stands in the tradition of Neal Boortz, Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, et al. All of which use humor to disguise their aggression towards certain groups of people without inhibition. It is their way to transgress the boundaries of political correctness or as others have suggested, the culture of ‘nice’ Not only that, their forms of radio discourse boost ratings. So, they get to insult and ‘shock’ listeners while increasing corporate dollars. It’s the American dream.
However, what comes to mind for me when thinking of Imus is not necessarily his nauseating perversion, his obnoxious zeal for tragicomedy or his predilection for elementary forms of ‘shock’ discourse. Sure. He’s racist and sexist. I get that. Is this a problem? You bet! Does it make me cringe? Of course! But is it unfamiliar? Hell no! Racism and sexism are as American and foundational to our cultural make-up as democracy. Imus simply reflects America’s contradictions. What comes to mind for me is the greater problem: the perennial closeting of race and sex.
Let’s all say this together: RACISM AND SEXISM EXIST AND ARE INTEGRAL PARTS OF THE FABRIC WHICH MAKES UP OUR COUNTRY. NOT ONLY THIS, WE AS INDIVIDUALS IN SOME WAYS PARTICIPATE IN ITS CONTINUANCE. Whewww!!! That wasn’t easy. But hey, admittance is the first step to recovery. So, we are on our way. The next step is (no, not calling up the likes of Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton. I really would like to know who keeps calling these guys by the way) rethinking the limits of public discourse and sitting uncomfortably with the dis-ease of honest, unsuppressed speech acts, which offend.
Perhaps when we stop closeting race and sex (and admit to our support of racist and sexist ideologies and cultural practices) in our society we will finally get somewhere on these issues. Then, we can also righteously rebuke the likes of Imus and others. Until then we will continue to say things like ‘race and sex don’t matter’ and ‘we live in a colorblind and sexless society.’ And, the next time Imus or others un-closets their very real inner convictions, instead of indignantly censuring his/her bigoted idiocy, we will disingenuously cover our mouths in horror, shake our heads with disgust and point our fingers outwards to deflect blame.