Now that Don Imus, and his racist comments about "nappy-headed hos," is back page news, if it is still news at all, I am ready to comment on this rather amazing episode in pop-cultural blow back. I have listened to the defenders and the detractors and the right and left go back and forth. Frankly the whole matter probably meant very little in the bigger picture. It does indicate, once again, how driven we are by how the news is presented to us in this country.
My comments, therefore, are random and not really original.
1. Was Imus a victim of censorship? It suppose it depends on how you define "censorship." He was employed and his employers decided to fire him for an insensitive comment that was unwisely made. The employer broke no censorship laws.
2. Freedom of speech comes with a price. We cannot say anything we want anywhere we want to say it. We have forgotten this and it harms our culture significantly. Sadly, Christians have often interpreted "free speech" as inviolable and virtually above the potential of abuse. (I am not speaking legally here since free speech is not the real issue legally in the Don Imus case.) Our society often rewards people who trash talk and debase others. All human beings, made in the image of God, are worthy of some measure of dignity, even if they are evil. In this case a women’s basketball team was the target of the comment, not an evil person or persons.
3. Imus lived by the verbal sword and died by the verbal sword. No one should be surprised in the end. Let everyone who speaks take note, especially if you have a public platform of some sort.
4. There does appear to be a huge double-standard in our culture. If Chris Rock, an African-American comedian, were to use the same words, or some rap group (which they in fact do use the terms regularly) spoke in this way no one would probably do a thing. As a letter writer in Time magazine put it: ""Isn’t it time to say that race, gender, sexual orientation and nationality are off limits for cracking jokes?" Not off limits legally, but off limits for those who still respect human dignity, or the imago dei.
5. Some champion Imus for his philanthropy and then defend him accordingly for his comments. While I respect Imus’ apology, which appeared to be sincere, his good works do not cover his bad taste and poor speech.
6. It is odd to me that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who are anything but paragons of virtue when it comes to morality and speech, became the lead critics of Imus. I am grateful that a growing number of African-Americans do not feel the old "race politics" of these two represents the future. This is reflected in the tensions that exist around the Obama campaign as some African-Americans are not sure how "black" he really is, an odd criticism to those who have followed his actual life and work.
7. Hip-hop does often degrade women. For all the opposition to Imus, from the African-American leadership, where were the women? I, for one, think the comment about "hos" was worse than the "nappy-headed" portion of his mistake. This is so totally disgusting that the disrespect it shows for both race and gender is a double slam dunk. I wonder, as did letter-writer Ellen Linderman did in Time magazine, "if Imus had been talking about a men’s basketball team . . . (would) he have been so colorful in his comments." Face it, some men still have a huge problem with women who are successful. What is there about degrading women that makes men like Imus tick? And the same makes many other men tick as well.
8. Imus seemed contrite, and in fact apologized more openly and honestly (or so it seems to me) than either Jackson and Sharpton have done when they similarly failed in speech and action. The real praise in all this debacle goes to the Rutgers women who met with Imus and chose to accept his apology and forgive him. What a refreshing evidence of human grace and dignity.
9. We need to have a serious debate about good humor and bad humor. Any humor that puts down human persons in offensive ways is out of line. The Jewish tradition has much to teach us at this point. The difference is between satire and insult. Hip-hop music and people like Imus are not funny. I chose long ago to not listen to this type of stuff and thus do not care deeply about the genre at all.
10. Men need to pay much more attention to how their speech impacts real women that they know and associate with in their work places, even in their churches. I am personally a work in progress. I try very consciously to avoid offense in this matter but I have clearly failed. It is my desire to speak and live with complete respect for women, especially for Christian sisters. A few sisters, who love me as their brother, have helped me to see how to improve my speech patterns in the area of gender. This is not liberal nonsense and gender sensitive political correctness. The history of many Christian men is anything but admirable in this regard. In fact, it is Christian love to seek to correct this problem if I understand the Bible at all. If I cross the line please let me know. I sincerely want to be a leader in showing how we should respect for women in every way possible. I believe the words we use matter. The Bible tells me so.
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