Friday, April 13, 2007

Freedom of Speech Rocks: The Downfall of Don Imus

Over the past week, the media has been falling all over itself to cover the melee stemming from Don Imus’ deplorable comments on his radio show. It was a much-needed break from the beyond-the-grave soap opera of Anna Nicole Smith. I, being trapped in a drab cubicle at a job that I loathe, followed it, stealthily scrolling through articles detailing the media blitzkrieg.

Three little words launched a national debate about hip-hop culture’s treatment of women, the history of the word “nappy,” and begged the question: What happened to free speech?

I stewed angrily. I was LIVID. In my 25 years as both a woman and a minority, I have been called a nigger, a slave (in front of my class of all white students in the fifth grade), an Oreo (black in the outside; white on the inside) to name a few. I know how it feels to seeth and boil and hate that history has mounted against you to create this entire canon of bigotry. It is the ultimate in double standards that one doesn’t exist for whites. I cannot, however, ever imagine how they handled that national kick in the gut after placing second in the nation in collegiate basketball. This is mortification on a global scale. And I applaud them for handling it like strong, intelligent women, even though they are teenagers.

I will be honest to say that before this debacle, I have never heard of Imus, probably because I'm not white or 112, I don't fall into his target audience. Plus I all but stopped listening to radio with the advent of the iPod and when it sold its soul to the caterwauling of Britney Spears.

After he was fired by both MSNBC and CBS, I have come to two conclusions: Imus was a scapegoat and freedom of speech is very much alive and kickin’.

I don’t to wax racist about the rantings of Mel Gibson, Michael Richards and even Isaiah Washington, because we all know hatred, outrage, yada, yada, yada. Imus is the first person to be in the position to punish. I boycotted Gibson’s “Apocalypto” (even though I probably wouldn’t have seen it in the theater). I boycotted “Seinfeld” (even though I didn’t watch it in the first place) and loved the nickname “KuKluxKramer.” I did watch “Grey’s” (BEST. SHOW. EVER. SERIOUSLY!) but I swear I glared at Dr. Burke every time and pretended not to listen to him. But Imus had a job. He was a repeat offender, and Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and company were angry that this kept happening with no consequences. I’m not going to pretend that money wasn’t a factor in his firing. Once Procter and Gamble pulled its ads, it was inevitable. In the end, I’m glad he was fired.

There are a lot of people shrugging and scoffing, “what’s the big deal?” There are a lot of people jumping up and down and pointing fingers hollering, “rappers say it all the time!” And then there are people on their soapboxes, pointing wildly to the First Amendment. Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing. I wouldn’t be a writer if I didn’t believe that we have the right to say anything. I am not going to say that someone can’t be a racist. Hate all you want. But the First Amendment doesn’t protect what happens after you say whatever you want to say. There are always consequences. Words like “nappy” and “nigger” are triggers. Just typing it caused a flare of pain in my gut and my heart. Imus said what he said using his freedom, and the people responded using that same freedom. More people wanted him gone, punished than didn’t—democracy at its finest.

There is also a huge difference in broadcasting your bigotry to friends and broadcasting it to the nation on airwaves that belong to a corporation.

I’m not worried about Imus. He’ll either retire or go to rehab…it fixes everything! I do wish, however, that people will stop talking about this incident, and congratulate the Scarlet Knights on their accomplishments and their courage under the scrutiny of a nation.

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