The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Imus in the Mourning

I broadcast the following essay on NPR's "All Things Considered" last friday...
The last two weeks have been a particularly interesting time to be black. Barack Obama raised 25 million dollars. Charges have been dropped
against the Duke University Lacross team, and DJ. Don Imus has been
fired, his radio and television shows dropped from CBS and MSNBC for racially insulting comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball players.


These are odd times, in which 21st Century America struggles to find its social and political soul.

A century ago, Booker T. Washington and WEB Dubois debated whether financial power or social equality represented the best path to improved life for blacks in America.

I’ve heard Prosecutor Mike Nifong’s terrible mistakes in the Duke rape
case attributed to over-eagerness, perhaps an attempt to compensate for times when sexual violence against black women was underreported and unprosecuted. But even the best intentions would not excuse damaging three innocent college students.

But where Nifong’s horrible mistake probably resulted from social pressure and programming, the Don Imus flap is incredibly revealing about the current state of black America, in a way that both Washington and Dubois would have appreciated.

Certainly Imus words were in poor taste: Entertainers
often balance on this thin edge. One could easily believe that black
folks are simply being too sensitive, and there’s a part of me that
agrees with that.

But only part.


Perhaps this is all a tempest in a teapot. Surely we’ve gone beyond
all this terrible stuff. I agree. Race doesn’t matter in America…it never has, as
long as you’re white.
It is normal for those with power to be oblivious to the ways they
wield it, profit by it, and fight to keep it. In essence, they’re
like fish who cannot see the water, but get riled up when someone on
shore drinks from a paper cup. I'm sure if the position were
reversed, blacks would be just as oblivious, just as self-righteously
irritated that whites "just can't take a joke." Pity we've never had
that opportunity.
But what we do have is blacks situated on the executive boards of major media conglomerates, working in the law offices of CNN, making decisions at multi-billion dollar corporations.

The Imus storm might have died down if not fed by thousands of letters and e-mails, some orchestrated by the NAACP and other groups. But it was the withdrawal of advertising by General Motors, Proctor and Gamble, and American Express (lead by an African-American CEO, Kenneth Chenault ) that motivated both CBS and MSNBC to drop Imus. They had been hit squarely in the pocketbook, and it hurt.

Personally, I don’t particularly think Imus is a racist. Real
racists are rarely so forthright. But if he’s a victim of the
culture wars, his chastisement sends a message loud and clear: this
stuff isn't funny. It never was.

For future reference: men are not the arbiters of what women find insulting. Nor can straights make that decision for gays. Whites don’t get to decide what is or is not insulting to blacks.

Partially because of DuBois, blacks sought and acquired the social equality necessary to pierce the corporate walls. But as Booker T. Washington might have predicted, it is financial pressure that forced a change, that drew a long overdue line in the sand. Two sides of a single social/political coin. They must be smiling.

Welcome to the 21st Century.
In my mind, the appropriate comparison is not between Imus and black rappers who use the same language. It would be between Imus and a black DJ of national prominance saying comparable things about white women. Even rappers talking about white women would come closer. Notice that that doesn't really happen? Ever wondered why?
Intermittent Fasting

On Saturday I hit a little bump. Was in a workshop all day long, and it was a fast day. Started feelinga little sniffly and coughy, with a slight scratch at the back of the throat. That feeling followed me home, so I had a small meal at around 10 pm. Woke on Sunday feeling better, and felt fine by monday. Yesterday's fast was pretty close to effortless--no Hoodia.
On non-fast days, EAT A LOT. Start with fresh fruit and vegetables, go from there to lean proteins, and then your carbs. Give your body what it needs. THEN give it what it craves. Don't go to be hungry in the slightest, and much healthy all day long. Desserts are your business, but I've noticed a general sharpening of appetites across the board.
I'm down to 178, which has been tough for me to get to. Still dropping...and will want my weight to stabilize at around 175.
I just know that all this experience will get folded into a book project of some kind. Probably the sequel to GREAT SKY WOMAN...
My prayers to the friends and parents and students of Virginia Tech. What a nightmare. Yesterday on the radio, I heard Righties rushing to defend the Second Amendment, and Lefties rushing to promote Gun Control. The instant politicizing of this mess saddened me. Later, I heard a radio show asking listeners "who is responsible" for the massacre. You know what? Not a single person said: "The shooter." Not one. Disgusting.
"A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."
That's what the second amendment says. Me personally, I don't trust ANYONE enough to turn over complete responsibility for my protection to any governmental agency. Trust the police more than I trust myself or my wife? Bull. So I'm in favor of non-felonious citizens being able to own guns. Not so sure about automatic weapons, though--seems to me that a shotgun is a perfectly adequate source of home protection. But that's not the question. What exactly do I think the 2nd Amendment guarantees?
Here it comes...
It guarantees arguments. In my opinion, there is no honest way that someone can say that a meaning can be unequivically extracted from this sentence. A good and honest person could interpret this to mean (for instance):
1) only a formal militia and its members can own guns.
2) Because a formal militia will be drawn from the citizenry, all citizens should have the right to own guns, so that when an emergency arises, they will be familiar with their tools.

I can see either of these being quite possible. What I do NOT see is the kind of black-and-white clarity that both Right and Left claim. You already know where my sympathies lie: when in doubt, give the freedom to the individual. And make the individual take responsibility for his actions. And about horrors like the college massacre? Well, the answer isn't in all the students carrying weapons on campus. Security guards, yes. And yes, there will be other such events, and that rips my heart out.

But personally, I am FAR more worried about the government having all the guns. I just don't trust it, or anyone, that much. Sorry. I clearly remember times when cops...and I'm afraid they were white cops, folks...gave me shoddy or differential treatment apparently based on race. When I called them for help, and they took days to show up. No. On the other hand, I would have NO problem demanding an extensive gun safety program for a gun license...certainly at least as much as is demanded for an auto license.

But most importantly, in the midst of all the agonizing, take a moment to pray for the dead, and the wounded, and those who seek answers they will never find. This is hell, indeed.
"To summarize, 1st incident -- 1 black individual, shouting and complaining about racial prejudice in the presence of several officers over being arrested for minor crime. Shortly before being release, was on the receiving end of a blantantly racist act by another officer but wouldn't follow up on it."

If they don't trust the corrections officers, they would assume that, were they to follow up on it, there would be reprisals. On the other hand, screaming "racism" when they are brought in may or may not reflect their true opinions, but is in the "I'm innocent!" category of behavior, isn't it? And isn't it fairly typical for inmates to protest innocense until it is to their advantage to be hard-ass gangsters? They don't trust the system. Hell, if they did, they wouldn't be in jail, would they? And you, friend, are part of the system. And if you are white, don't think for a second that they don't believe that, when the fertilizer hits the mixmaster, you will side with other whites.

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