Tuesday, April 10, 2007

an open letter to don imus

Dear Don Imus,

I had a friend growing up who absolutely refused to apologize for anything. If she hurt someone's feelings, which happened quite frequently as she was one of those teenage girls who confused "it's best to be honest" with "it's best to be a total fucking bitch" she would respond to a crumpled face or even tears with an "I'm sorry you feel that way." To this day, that phrase still makes me seethe. It's not an apology, it's a retort. It gets no one anywhere, designed to assert superiority on the part of the one who issues it while not ceding any territory that a real apology, one that was sincere and paired with a promise to be better, would include. She hurled half-baked non-apologies, saying the correct words while rolling her eyes. Like, geez, why do you have to be so sensitive? It's not my fault you can't handle how it is.

I've thought of her a lot this week watching you make the obligatory Tour of Shame and Regret that is so common these days. One week it's an actor with a big mouth who thinks that epithets about gay people are okay to use both at the workplace and at the Golden Globes or an actor who blames his anti-Semitism on his drinking problem, the next it's some college kid who writes a column suggesting that women actually like getting raped and it's the only way that "ugly" girls will ever have sex.

In all these cases, everyone involved has mixed their apologies with all sorts of qualifying statements, cheapening whatever nugget of genuine regret was present. How can you truly be sorry if you're trying to defend your actions? Being defensive is just asking for a lesser punishment. Time off for good, or at least not-malevolent intentions. You're not sorry for what you did. You don't think that what you said was bad. Just like them, you're sorry you got caught being a jerk. You're sorry you're paying for it now. Whole different ballgame.

You semi-apologist types make excuses are ranging from "it was satire" (no it wasn't, satire is ridiculing a subject with the goal of shaming it into reform, not being a sophomoric little prick who uses his college newspaper to make rape jokes) to trying to forget the whole thing ever happened (not a good idea when you then repeat the word in question at a press conference). But your response has got to be my favorite of the bunch.

Now, I don't watch or listen to your show and so my understanding of it has come entirely from reports after the incident in which you so charmingly referred to the Rutgers women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos." Way to strike a blow for freedom of the press there, Don. I'm sure that your right to name-call a group of hardworking black female athletes was truly what the founding fathers had in mind when they created the First Amendment.

But you know what? Fine. I don't care.

This may be somewhat shocking, as I am somewhat hard to pull off my soapbox, but I'm not feeling rowdy about this just because you made a bigoted remark. Hell, you've been doing that for years. You spent the 90s calling Gwen Ifill "a cleaning lady" and referred to a black sportswriter at the Times as "a quota hire." So classy. But no one watches or listens to you because they expect classiness, or well-reasoned, thought-provoking dialogue. You're around because of your entertainment value, because you get people's knickers in a twist. You're around for the same reason I read Ann Coulter columns online when I'm feeling lazy-- to light a fire under my ass. I may not agree with anything she or you or they say, but I respect your right to exist.

But you should know, you're playing this whole thing all wrong and practically guaranteeing it's not going away any time soon. For one thing, your remarks were clearly no isolated incident of verbal diarrhea or pathetic attempt at a joke. The guys above were undeniably stupid and small-minded, but at least were smart enough not to go on the record with how bad at life they are. You've got a rap sheet for dumb moves, Don, and three strikes, you're out.

It's really hilarious to see you frantically thumbing through the Tour of Shame and Regret Playbook, looking for anything but anything that will get you out of this mess. To you, it's not about apologizing or regret, it's about making the situation go away as quickly as possible. But there have been enough of these incidents in recent memory that you should know that trying to explain it away will only get you in a bigger mess.

Let's examine some of your moves so far, shall we?

Deny and call everyone else pussies: Don, you can still get away with doing that when you make offensive remarks about women in general (an infantilizing line of reasoning that makes me steam, but that's another soapbox). I'll break this down for you, though it will undoubtedly get me into some trouble: you can't do that with African-Americans, Jews, sexual assault victims or, increasingly, gays and lesbians. Any time that a people have been actively persecuted or discriminated against in recent memory, it gets exponentially harder to blame your bigoted comments on public sensitivity. There is probably a mathematical formula to this. Someone should figure it out so crotch rot like you has a barometer for trash-talking.

The "it's a joke gone wrong" defense: 1) Jokes are supposed to be funny. 2) You are not funny. 3) White men don't get to make jokes about private citizens who are black women on nationally syndicated radio shows. You go ahead and stew about the injustice of that in your Westport, Connecticut mansion.

Go on Al Sharpton's radio show and use the phrase "you people" in reference to the black community: I have not the words. It is 2007. You don't DO that. If you don't get this, I can't help you.

On the same radio show, make bizarre claims about your funding for sickle cell anemia and the fact that ten percent of campers at your ranch are black: How is this not the old "I have black friends so I can't be a racist" argument?

In a hilariously misguided effort to dig yourself out of an ever-deepening hole, suggest "we ought to have a black person on the show every single day to add some perspective:" Well, sure, why not? After all, all black people speak with one voice and as A Black Person, never as individuals with their own opinions and qualifications and experiences. Every black person is just A Black Person. FLAWLESS plan, Don.

And now you want to meet with the Rutgers women's basketball team: Don, please, please, PLEASE take a lesson from Isaiah Washington and do not say something like "I'm sorry I called you nappy-headed hos. You're not nappy-headed. Or hos. You have heads, but they are not nappy. Some of you may have sex but you're not hos. Nappy. Hos. Heads. Nappy nappy nappy hos nappy heads. BLACK!"

You should have apologized. You should have been a man and not tried to weasel your way out of a situation you created. You should have said right away "I am so sorry. I said a stupid, terrible thing. I don't know why I said it. There is no excuse, no reason that would qualify or justify my behavior." Then you should have gone off the air for the rest of the day, met privately with the Rutgers women's team and told them the same thing away from the microphones and cameras. Then, instead of being in danger of losing your job, people would be saying things like "Look, that grizzled old man has a soft spot after all. He's trying to change. I respect that." People would feel tenderness for you and forget about their contempt for what you said.

Okay, so after all of this: I think you should be fired.

I think you should be fired not because you said something stupid and racist, but because you don't get it. You're out there running around hollering about how you're a good person, but you don't get that this whole fuss isn't about whether you're a good person. You may be sweetness and sunshine and puppy dogs and Katie Couric before she left the Today Show, but what you are NOT is a good radio host. Whether you're a good person is irrelevant. Your job is to say things on the radio and you're really, really bad at it! You make stupid comments that offer no entertainment or educational value and even though there have been a MILLION examples of how NOT to conduct The Tour of Shame and Regret, you screw up at every turn! You're an embarrassment, Don. No one cares if you're a racist deep down inside, they just care about whether or not you express your racism ON THE AIR. YOU WORK IN THE MEDIA-ENTERTAINMENT COMPLEX, DON. If you have not by now grasped that it is all about appearances, then you really have no business keeping your job longer than it takes CBS to chuck you and your cowboy hat on the street.

With all good intentions, because if you don't mean it to be cruel then you can say whatever the hell you want and screw anyone who can't deal with it,


1 comment:

S said...

soapbox ej is my favorite.