The Essence of Imus

The airwaves are ablaze with the Don Imus controversy. The 66 year old shock jock host of early morning radio and television fame recently described the women’s basketball team at Rutgers University as “…” -well, I am not going to repeat the abusive language he used out of respect for the young women on the team. Nonetheless, Imus and his cohorts’ remarks re-ignited our debate over who is willing to take responsibility for the latent and blatant sexism and racism in our society. In the week’s aftermath of apologies and suspensions, positioning and posturing, aligning and disassociating, I hope the opportunity for serious dialogue is not overlooked or minimized. I hope the real issues surrounding race and sex are not miscast, once again, as problems with young people’s music of hip-hop and rap. I hope personal responsibility is not hidden behind the shroud of money and big business, on one hand, and comedy, on the other. Now that the Don Imus show is canceled, some people may have won their fight, but we will be losing the bigger battle! The bigger battle is about adults seizing the opportunity of teachable moments for our children and young people. Don Imus has been sticking his foot in his mouth for over 30 years. His verbal attacks are not new, so his most recent transgression should not surprise anyone. Firing Imus is a lost opportunity. My fantasy is that during the original 2-week suspension, Mr. Imus and the Rutgers basketball team would meet during the scheduled “Imus In The Morning” time slot and for two weeks they would get to know one another. The opening segment would be an Imus apology and from that point on let a dialogue between Imus and the ten student athletes unfold. Put real human faces on the controversy without the pundits and without the political jockeying. Then, if CBS and MSNBC deemed it appropriate and necessary to fire him let them do the deed they probably should have performed many years earlier.

I know my fantasy is Pollyannaish considering the realities of ratings, money, and big business. So, then, what are the teachable moments in this latest episode of 24/7 news coverage of human tragedy on the airwaves? How can we, as parents, for example, glean something worthy from an elderly cowboy-hat-wearing white man calling a predominantly black group of young women “…?”

One teachable moment was at the Rutgers press conference when the women’s basketball team and school officials responded to Imus’s request for a meeting with the team so he could personally apologize. The captain of the team is Essence Carson. She was also the team’s spokesperson. One question from the press was how different were the Imus remarks from the hip-hop and rap music which demeans women and uses racial slurs. Essence calmly took the microphone and shared with the press and the TV audience how popular music has desensitized us. Yet, Essence went on to say, this is no excuse. Mr. Imus should not say these words and I should not say these words.

That is the essence of the Imus mess. A 20-year-old woman can stand before the world and with the grace of hope beaming from her eyes and genuine care streaming from her mouth take personal responsibility for an incident she did not create. That is the teachable moment our young people need to witness.

TV has an incredible and awesome influence on all of us, especially our children. We cannot expect TV to teach our children our values. TV’s job is to entertain. So, the teachable moments become our responsibility. We, as parents, have the capacity, in our homes, to instill hope in our children that we can live in an environment free of racism and sexism. We, as parents, have the duty to strip the coarseness and insensitivity off the refrains “I don’t care” and “it doesn’t matter” from our children’s mindset and replace it with “I care” and “it matters.” We, as parents, need to lead by example, like Essence Carson, and take personal responsibility for the words that come from our mouths.