My earliest recollection of being different, and indeed “less than” other people is the memory of standing outside my friend’s front porch, and hearing his father yell at him for bringing that “little Mexican kid” to their house. We were the only Mexican family living on that street. When I heard that, it suddenly and brutally explained the behavior of some of our neighbors. I knew the ladies next door hated us, I just didn’t know why until then. There were other kids that couldn’t or wouldn’t play with me, (except during school) and I was advised by my older siblings which houses to steer clear of, though I didn’t always heed the advice. I think I was 8 or 9 years old. That was my first but certainly not my last experience of outright racism. It continues to this day. A few weeks ago, I was standing in line at my local gas station, waiting my turn to pay for my cigarettes, when a guy seated at one of the the two tables nearby started to tell Mexican jokes loud enough for me to know I was the intended audience.
These kind of events are simply a part of my life. I am thankful that I never had to endure the humiliations that my parents did, but even if my experiences were less violent, they still hurt to this day. Come to think of it, some of them were actually not less violent, but those were at least less frequent. I don’t feel that I am the least bit bitter about any of it. It makes me wonder though, how many events did I miss? By that I mean, I’m old enough to realize that to chalk up every disappointment in my life as some consequence of my being Mexican is ridiculous, and probably counter-productive. But if I allow myself to think about it long enough, I would have at least some basis for wondering if I didn’t get the job, or get the girl, or have my loan approved because of my last name or my skin color. I mention all of this to explain that I indeed know how it feels to be perceived as “less worthy.”
So now it appears that Don Imus will join the sad brotherhood of broadcasters sacrificed at the altar of political correctness. He, and Al Campanis and Jimmy the Greek and to some extent Trent Lott now have this thing in common. I don’t believe for a minute that Don Imus is any more racist than you or me. I really don’t. I think he tends to improvise quite a bit on his show, and I think that in the split second he decided to say what he did, he did so thinking that it would be funny, and perhaps even give him a little street cred for knowing the term “nappy headed ho” at all. I should say that I watch his show in the morning because I really like his guests, and throughout the years I have given him a pass for his (and his crew’s) less than ideal portrayals of blacks, Mexicans, Catholics, and yes, even women. I also made it a point in a recent post to acknowledge the fact that he seldom felt it necessary to feature empty, over hyped stories like the death of Anna Nicole Smith.
All day I have been forced to think about this. I have flip flopped back and forth on the issue of whether or not he should be sacked for his comments. Part of me believes that until these high profile broadcasters are made to pay for spewing their poison, they will continue to do so unfettered. In fact, I have heard much worse comments made by our local under-achiever Phil Valentine, with nary a whisper of public outcry. Is what Imus said any worse than Glenn Beck asking an elected Congressman to “prove he’s not a terrorist?” CNN let that moron skate, and I do not watch CNN as a result. Don’t even get me started on Rush Limbaugh. So, while I think there is great reason to let Imus go, I keep wondering why this idea gets so much traction? I mean, I get that he combined racism with misogyny, thereby managing to compound the mistake, then he actually dug in deeper today by his defensive posture when called on the carpet. The cynic in me thinks it ultimately hinge on the number of sponsors abandoning his show. I think I heard tonight that Staples and Bigelow(sp?) Tea were the first to do so. It may only take one more for MSNBC to decide that the suspension band-aid won’t stop the hemorrhaging and that the limb must be amputated altogether.
Don Imus isn’t a monster. I believe he and his wife have done many outstanding things that give meaning and value to many people’s lives. I wish that he would come to understand that perpetuating stereotypes and uttering hurtful slang, no matter how common, is harmful to everyone that hears it. And I wish he could have learned it without losing his career. Even if he does remain on the air, the damage has been done.
But I can say this , Imus may have done all of us a huge solid. I know that in schools, offices, and homes (including my own) conversations about race took place. We were literally forced to do this, since this story dominated the news tonight. And maybe it’s time that we talk about this, perhaps we will be less tolerant of it no matter who the target is, and maybe, just maybe, we will hear less of it on our airwaves. I know that if we don’t talk about this, nothing will ever change. Perhaps there is perfection to be found in this if we choose to look for it. If so, as a friend of mine likes to say, that is of the good.