It all started with a call from Yves Hughes, Jr., co-coordinator of the Oak Pak International Film Festival.
“Hey Stan, when I heard the controversy over whether Don Imus should be fired for calling the Rutgers’ basketball team ‘nappy-headed hos,’ I just knew you were writing a column with the answer.”
“I don’t know, Yves, if our readers would think it’s local enough,” I said. “Local letters to the editor seem more interested in mall development than moral development.”
The same day, I heard from the local NAACP director, Dorothy Reid, who never mentioned the controversy, but I got the feeling she was making herself available in case I was moving forward with a column. Dorothy was ostensibly asking if I would judge the upcoming ACT-SO competition. I agreed.
Then I talked with Ryan G., a recent OPRF High School graduate, now a student in my Columbia College “Culture, Race and Media” class, who knew before everyone else that this topic would kickoff our class. He once wrote how upset he was in high school to see young Jewish teens have their religious caps snatched off their heads by Christian bullies. Ryan G. today talked about the long-lasting hurt that comes when young innocents have acts of hate bestowed upon them by ignorance. Then his peers chimed in. They debated how MSNBC and CBS had both suspended Imus for two weeks only after advertisers started pulling ads, and whether their move was based more on money than morals. As you guess, all of the students decried the racist and sexist remarks. They said that where there is a pattern of racism and sexism, there are often anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim, anti-Catholic, anti-gay sentiments as well.
There appears to be evidence of complaints from those quarters during Imus’ checkered 30-year career. All felt he should be suspended. Only half felt he should be fired. Some cited First Amendment rights in a libertarian argument. Others said the Rutgers team was steering away from the firing call in hopes of meeting with the controversial cowboy hat-coiffed, $10-million-a-year talk show host to find out which reservoir his hate speech really comes from. The team met–and later forgave–him, showing more class than his news organizations.
One student, an African-American woman, hinted the only just punishment would be for Imus to be kicked in his anus by the demographic group that he disparaged. She mused that might be my fate as well as a quick firing if I were to call the New Trier girls swim team the same names on my WNUA radio talk show.
My youngest son, Jordan, visited my show two weeks ago when I spoke with Rebecca Walker, the author of Black, White and Jewish, and more recently, Baby Love, a book that discusses the racial, religious, and personal conflict she had with her famous mom, Alice Walker. Jordan said he heard people discussing the Imus matter at Brooks Middle School. His only question was when would Imus get fired? His brother, Amman, asked, “Is Imus an idiot, a fool or both?”
My wife wondered, as did a local CNN commentator, “Where are the national women’s movement spokespeople on this issue?”–a point my advertising executive neighbor wanted to know as well.
Nzingha Nommo, owner of Afri-Ware Bookstore on Lake Street, sent me an essay where she not only called for Imus’ firing, but added that local citizens should use boycott as an economic leverage to ensure equity and fairness.
Chicago Sun-Times columnist, Monroe Anderson, whom I last saw at George Bailey’s 60th birthday party at FitzGerald’s, wrote that the suspensions were fine, but firing Imus, perhaps a bit much.
Then, over the weekend, Imus was fired–finally–from both news organizations, but not before Rev. Jesse Jackson, who led the push for the firing received 10-12 death and bomb threats to his Rainbow-PUSH headquarters on the South Side. This especially worried my family and me because our neighbor to the south is Rev. Steve Sanders, a Rainbow-PUSH board member. The thought of Rev. Steve, as we call him, being blown up by a terrorist, sent shock waves through our house. It reminded us of how Dr. Percy Julian’s home was firebombed not once but twice by racist cowards apparently upset that a rich, famous, educated, black man had moved in. It reminded us of all of the local hate crimes before that and since, including when my black neighbor to the north had the “n” word painted on his garage in the mid-’90s, and whose white neighbor behind him helped remove that hate speech.
I thought about how I was reluctant to write words about this incident that has sparked a national conversation on racism and sexism because I just was not sure if readers would think it’s local enough. What do you think?