The Perfection of the I-Man

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.



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28 responses to “The Perfection of the I-Man

  1. Mack, it breaks my heart that even now you have to deal with that kind of treatment. It makes me want to go kick some ass…(i.e., don’t go picking on my friend!).

    Or that anybody has to deal with it, for that matter.

    But I have a serious question that I would like to sincerely ask and hopefully not get pounded for…

    First of all, a little history: I grew up in a primarily black neighborhood in Miami. I would walk to school and get picked on by all of the black girls. Twice I was beat up. Bad. For being white.

    This morning, I read a comment on my blog where I was called ignorant and disrespectful for even questioning if the outcry over Imus was over the top.

    While I am the first to admit there is no comparison to what you and those of races other than white have had to go through just to be respected…for me as a child, being the victim of racism was very real and very painful.

    Finally my question: Is it not acceptable for a white person to feel they have been hated for their skin color? Is it not acceptable for a white person to question or even have an opinion when they feel a comment by a dried up old shock jock has been blown way out of proportion?

    I’m like you…I have started flip-flopping on the matter. I just don’t think I should be called ignorant and disrespectful for having questions about it all. (Sidenote: I say this in general…not saying you have done this to me personally.)

  2. Mack, thank you for your thoughtful perspective. I value the insight I gain from reading you.

    Ginger, if I may insert my thoughts on your question, I feel that it’s completely plausible for white people to be made to feel bad for the color of our skin. You can call it prejudice, you can even call it racism if it becomes systematic in some way. But I think the most important thing for us to remember is that as much as it hurts when it does happen (and I know it does hurt — I’ve been there, too), it is not (for most of us) a day-to-day reality we will live with for the rest of our lives, and whose reality will shape the very opportunities in our lives. That same disclaimer cannot be made for people of color. In my view, that’s what makes it largely irrelevant — or at least of a significantly decreased priority — in discussions of racism.

    I also think it’s unfortunate when discussions of this sort tend to turn to how it impacts white people, because we are not the real issue. (And I’m not saying you’re wrong to bring it up, honestly. I just think it’s important to acknowledge that the REAL issue is still about the impact on people of color.)

    But I look forward to seeing what Mack has to say about it.

  3. Anyone that knows you is well aware that you are neither ignorant nor disrespectful, so I wouldn’t worry what some random commenter says.

    Is it acceptable for a white person to feel they have been hated for their skin color? If you feel that way, it’s completely acceptable. Of course, there are all sorts of differences that I could point out, but the fact remains that you have experienced some fear and pain due to your skin color. And that is clearly NOT acceptable.

    I didn’t agree with your post yesterday, but you were definitely not alone in your thinking. I read similar viewpoints on many other blogs. My whole point is that these conversations are probably long overdue.

  4. Thanks, Mack.

    And thanks, Kate. You are absolutely right. Which is why I acknowledge (unequivocally) that my pain is of no comparison to what those of races other than white have had to go through just to be respected. I hear ya, though, that this is definitely about if it becomes “systematic in some way.” (I liked that line–that gave me pause, and you are right).

    Thanks for not pounding me. I’m truly open to discussing this.

    And yes, Mack, healthy conversations on this are definitely long overdue.

  5. Sometimes you are most enlightening man in the blogosphere.
    You are right. Absolutely right about that our nation is having a conversation about race and I think that’s good. It is a positive in that respect and I hadn’t thought about that in this context until I read your post.
    I think Imus is done. It’s not the first time he’s done this and I think that his reaction came off as that he was more upset about being called to the carpet than he was about the impact and depth of hurt that resonated in the words he said.
    Sadly, it comes down to money more than it does anything else in corporate media. Proctor and Gamble are yanking their sponsorship as well as Staples and Bigelow. Story here :
    Mack, I hate that you’ve had to deal with such racism. To say I understand the depth of your pain just isn’t true. I don’t. I’ve been placed in uncomfortable situations before, but I can’t honestly remember being judged by the color of my skin. I can only imagine how horrible the hurt and disappointment that other people can be so cruel.
    I will say that I can relate on not being accepted by people making a judgment without knowing me. That is where I can empathize and although it’s different, it’s sort of a thread within itself.
    Thanks for this post and allowing us a glimpse into your world.
    It is of the good 🙂

  6. Mack,
    I wrote a post that included a link and I think I got spamannihilated. It’s probably in your spam box.

  7. nm

    Yeah, and some of the conversations are revealing things I’d rather not have known about people. (And I DON’T mean Ginger or anyone else here, but an actual in-person conversation I’ve been having for the past 2 days.) When someone doesn’t even see what the problem is … wow.

    Mack, if Imus keeps his show will you continue to watch it?

  8. nm:

    Hell, it’s all revealing things I’d rather not have known about me.

  9. NM, yes, until someone else in that time slot comes along and does a better job.

  10. Newscoma, I have a spam filter? Cool? Now how do I go in and fetch it?

  11. Not newscoma, but I’ll try to help: go to “Dashboard”, then “Comments”, then click on “Askimet Spam” and you can go through the spam and retrive real comments (and delete all of the Viagra ads).

  12. Thanks Ginger. It’s up now.
    You can learn a lot in your spam box.
    And a lot you’d rather not know.

  13. nm

    Oh, Ginger, I dunno what you’re learning about yourself. I see you asking people to explain why they’re upset, stating your own opinion, learning about others’. I’m talking about someone (someone close to me) who told me that there is no problem except for blacks and feminists (e.g. me) going into canned rants.

    Mack, I’ve spent years excusing Imus to myself because he’s not as bad as Howard Stern and I like his taste in music. I just don’t know where, for me, the inexcusable line is. Sigh.

  14. Is it not acceptable for a white person to feel they have been hated for their skin color? Is it not acceptable for a white person to question or even have an opinion when they feel a comment by a dried up old shock jock has been blown way out of proportion?

    Oh Ginger, I second what everyone else has said about this. At the personal level, it’s absolutely true that white people can be the victims of some enormously unfair prejudices. People do get beat up, or teased, or made to feel uncomfortable for being in the skin they’re in, even when that skin is white. And yes, you’re perfectly within your rights to wonder whether this particular blowup was worth this particular amount of media exposure. Compared to a lot of things that are out there, this seems… kind of mundane.

    I think the parts where we have to be careful, again, are in the overall shape of the conversation. When things turn from “here is this bad thing that happened to [oppressed group]” to “[insert appropriate dominant group here] get victimized too!” that’s problematic. Because it’s true, but it also obscures the point.

    (Which is not to say that you personally are doing this at all. You had a valid thing to say, and said it respectfully. This is just a general thing about these types of conversations.)

    The point about the difference between harm and oppression (their systematic nature) is well taken. Also something interesting to think about…. but my brain is refusing to spout anything useful on that right now, so I’ll leave it.

    Mack, your post was really interesting. I was lucky enough that most of the overtly racist things that happened to me got covered in my hair politics post. The subtler things, the things that were harder to prove (why did my Junior High insist on tracking me with the remedial kids, even though my previous records were strong, I did ridiculously well on their admission test, and my parents insisted that I needed to at least be in the regular classes, if not the honors ones? Why has our housing search gone the way it did, once people saw Breviloquence and I together?)… well, those stick.

    I’m glad you survived, though. And it’s wonderful that you share your stories. I think, sometimes, that we get a little too distant from the things we’re talking about. Heaven knows I do… I can academicize just about anything into abstraction. But then something stupid like this happens, and people make with the excuses, and somebody can point out that hey, this has an effect… this stuff isn’t always abstract. We need that.

    [rambling snipped and tossed over to my blog, to see a new post.]

  15. Awww. I got spaminated too. Can ya fish me out please, Mack?

  16. I wish I had something semi-intelligent to post here but I don’t, I think the wreck jarred my brains too much last week. I read this post last night though, and again this morning with all the comments, and have been thinking about it all day.

    Frankly, my initial reaction was wanting to go find the redneck who made the Mexican joke in Mack’s presence and beat him up. (shrug)

    I don’t know. I’m in an odd position POV-wise here. My father’s side of our family was rather progressive in these respects during times (the Depression era, the ’60s, etc.) when being progressive about racial issues was not looked kindly upon in this state. I have some marvelous stories about my great-grandfather and the kind things he did, my father sort of took after him in different ways, and I was not brought up to be the way a lot of my peers were about such things. Yet a member of that very same side of the family (though only by marriage) was one of the most racist people I ever met and very vocal about it. It was very strange to me, and all the rest of us, I think.

    I also spent most of my teenage years in a county that is about 99% Caucasian but there are some strange viewpoints sprung from that as well.

    I don’t know. I can’t really put my thoughts together this week, it seems.

    I will say while much like Newscoma said: “I can’t honestly remember being judged by the color of my skin” – I never had before either until about the last ten years or so in this fine city I live in. There is an ugly dynamic brewing here and has been and it’s no secret how sour I am on this city I used to love.

    I don’t know, my thoughts really are almost impossible to make any sense of this week. But I do know it pains me for my friend Mack to have been hurt in any way (even though I know it has happened at times before) and I just want to go kick that stupid redneck idiot’s ass for being so stupid, but that’s the smalltown Tennessee redneck chick coming out in me. (shrug) 😉

  17. I was lucky enough that most of the overtly racist things that happened to me got covered in my hair politics post.

    mag, I didn’t even know you were not of the “caucasian” race until I just read this. 🙂

  18. Coming back over from TCP to announce:

    *10,000-watt lightbulb turning on in Ginger’s hard head*

  19. Nice to see so many friends wander by and offer to kick some butt on my behalf. I am truly humbled by this.

    Yet, I only offered that by way of explaining that after a lifetime of it, you learn to go from astonishment to rage to numbness and eventually, hopefully, pity towards those that feel threatened by those who seem different. It truly is all based in fear for them. I can look back and laugh on even the most blatant and hurtful comments and not for a minute think that I am to blame, or in any way not equal to anyone else.

    NM, yes, I’m guilty of the same feelings toward Imus and others like him…I am also running out of news shows to watch!

  20. My opinions about “racism” have been expressed on my blog, and they’re pretty straight forward.

  21. *laughs* Ginger, you didn’t know? That tickles me.

    But yes, I’m pretty brown. My mother’s family is from the South (backwoods Alabama, mostly) and traces its lineage pretty directly back to slavery, with a short detour into nearby Cherokee groups. (Or, at least, I think they were Cherokee. I’d have to ask my mother to be sure.) My father’s father is from South Carolina, and dark as they get (though we don’t know much about their history as a result of some unfortunate family stuff), and his mother was from Gotemba, Japan. His parents met while we were occupying Japan, heh. And her family disowned her for marrying not just any American soldier, but a black American soldier. They didn’t talk to her for years after that. But yes… that’s me! Brown skin, kinky hair, and slightly slanty eyes.

    And it’s neat to see that all this stuff was helpful to you! I like explaining things, and I love the conversations that happen in these Tennessean waters.

    Mack, I totally echo the protective sentiment here. I’d beat ’em up for ya if I could. Well, give them a stern talking to, anyway. My training rather frowns on beating people up when you could lecture them instead.

  22. Okay Magniloquence, Ginger ain’t the only one. (The ain’t was from Tennessee.) 🙂
    I had no idea either until I read the your Hair Politics post.
    *raising my hand with Ginger*

  23. Pingback: Nashville is Talking » Rutgers/Imus Round-Up

  24. You know what? I’ve been thinking about this ever since I posted Tuesday night, so I’m just gonna say it.

    Maybe it’s just the ditzy blonde in me (or my magical powers of often being so completely unobservant), but Mack? If I didn’t know you personally (and, well, your name, which I knew before I met you) – I don’t know that I would have ever guessed you were Mexican anyway. And even more so with your daughter.

    Anyway, that whole thing with the joke guy just seems even more ridiculous to me (on his part), but like I said, maybe it’s just my blonde roots. (shrug)

    Pffft, you might as well be a Martian for that matter. It’s just silly. And then I’d be wanting to kick his redneck ass for telling Martian jokes, I suppose. Feh, people irritate me.

    (PS to Mag – yeah, anywhere in the South outside of Florida – probably Cherokee.)

  25. See, now, doesn’t that prove that stereotypes are bogus tools for spreading discord among the races?

    Lynnster, your mention of your blonde roots reminds me of this fantastic quote by Dolly Parton: “I don’t get offended when people call me a dumb blonde. Because I know I’m not really dumb, and I know I’m really not blonde!”

    Word. 🙂

  26. Coming to this late (inadvertantly). My readthru of the initial post got interrupted yesterday.

    1. Mag, I didn’t realise you were of darker hue until it came up in the Slarti’s kids conversation. Again, though, it doesn’t occur to me to factor skin tone or ethnic background into an equation unless it’s already part of the conversation (like here.) I don’t say that to be a snot–I just was not raised that way. I know we’re getting into the pros and cons of “colourblind rearing” at TCP so I’ll leave the rest of that for here.

    2. I read statements like Mack’s opening paragraph, and I feel for him. I cannot stress enough, though, how similar the experience is for FAT people. Both of my parents weigh in excess of 300lbs and have my whole life. My family was excluded from neighbourhood parties because we’d “eat all the food, ha! ha!” , other children in the neighbourhood were not allowed to play with me because I was “those fat people’s kid” and the mothers were afraid I’d expose their kids to junk food and bad eating habits. (This was the 70s…)

    So trust me, skin colour and ethnicity are not the only reasons that people treat other people like vermin. And just because some of us are white doesn’t necessarily mean that we don’t put up with education discrimination, job discrimination, etc. /self-involved rant

    3. Ginger, tell those people to blow it out their ass.

  27. Hehe, Ginger, yeah, that too.

    I don’t have much excuse though, I really was born blonde and stayed that way into my twenties. Just a slave to Miss Clairol fighting the good fight against the gray now, blech. 🙂

  28. Pingback: Say what? Colorblind, part II. « Feline Formal Shorts

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