Sorry, can't fire Don Imus
For the record, let me say that as the son, brother, cousin, nephew, etc., etc. of a host of black women, calling a group of black women "nappy-headed hos" is not good PR. It is not nice. It is not healthy. It is dumb, and mean, and racist on so many levels.
I can tell you that if I had used that phrase in reference to a group of black women, those to whom I'm related would have beaten me like I stole something.
But, as offensive as Imus' comment was, you can't fire him.
Why? Because we're all hypocrites. There is no consistency in this country when it comes to what we "allow" to outrage us.
Don Imus is a shock jock. For 30-plus years on the radio he has taken shots at everyone - white, black, Asian, and Latino, skinny, fat, apparently smart, apparently dumb, and so on and so forth.
And throughout most of his career, Imus, like other shock jocks, has occasionally said something that pushed or crossed the lines of comfort, even in the realm of dark humor.
But he's never been asked to resign. No one ever seriously considered firing him. And that's because his employers were making butt-loads of money on his show and his fans laughed with him, albeit nervously in some cases.
Look, I'm a firm believer in accepting apologies. But even I know that "oops, my bad" has a limited shelf life.
Still, only now, when it's popular to say "oops," and enter rehab or something, do we want to start firing people for saying stupid, mean, offensive things.
Should anybody be fired for stepping over this sort of line? Yes. Elected officials? Fire 'em. Military commanders? Fire 'em. Clergy? Fire 'em. Ambassadors? Fire 'em.
Those are all people entrusted with caring for people. Shock jocks are not entrusted with anything but our attention during morning rush hour. Neither are comedians, who also routinely say mean-spirited things about all sorts of people.
Don Imus is like the cad who meets the nice girl and talks his way in. But instead of telling him up front that he has to change his ways before the relationship can proceed, she nurtures his bad behavior and even encourages it, just so she can keep him. And then suddenly, after years like this, she tells him he's bad and has to go. Naturally the boyfriend is shocked. He wants to know what he did wrong and what he did that she didn't like. The answer is nothing, according to the standards she set for him.
In this case though, the collective girlfriend is the radio network owners, MSNBC, the pundits calling for his dismissal, and some of the general public. No one is shocked. Imus has been talking like this for years. Every now and then he's received a scolding. He's said oops. And the show has gone on.
Now, folks want to get serious with him and say, "OK, now we want you gone?"
Every time a public figure with a massive audience says something racist/sexist/whatever-ist hold them to an even standard. Otherwise, leave 'em alone and let 'em all say whatever they want.
Anyway, I can't take serious the Rev. Jesse Jackson's call for Imus to be fired. Jackson once referred to New York City as "Hymie Town," a racist reference to the city's large Jewish population. Jackson was given a second chance. He was allowed to explain himself. And after his apologies he was allowed to keep on keepin' on. So what can't Imus apologize, feel stupid, and move past it?
What if the public and Jackson's civic "sponsors" and spiritual "donors" had decided he should be cut off back then - no more big money speeches on college campuses, no book deals, no consulting fees or whatever you want to call them? He'd be up the creek without a paddle today.
Going after a radio shock jock doesn't impress me.
You want to impress me? Then gather Jackson, and all the other people who want to Imus fired and hold a protest outside the offices of every major record distributor and protest the albums on which every third or fourth word is bitch or ho and often in reference to black women. Protest those albums and threaten the record labels and distributors with boycotts if they don't stop making/selling that music.
That won't happen though, because we would all gasp and say "But that's hampering free speech! That's interfering with the creation of art, and hindering the creative process!"
So if people can get a pass under the mantle of art, - as in "Hey, I don't really feel that way. I was just being artistic!" - then radio shock jocks should get a pass too.
Don Imus is a doddering old fool. But he's demonstrated that for a long time, with lots of applause. Firing him now only proves one thing: that his employers and former fans are fair weather and willing to turn on him when it's the popular thing to do.
If the folks who want Imus fired are serious, then I call for a two year grace period in which every idiot who gets paid to talk for a living is given a chance to adjust to the public's delicate sensibilities.
If they act up after that, fire 'em all and kick 'em where the good Lord split 'em as they walk out the door.
In the mean time, don't act shocked by the actions of shock jocks. They call 'em that for a reason.