In the past 18 months, we have had several major
opportunities to engage in a meaningful national dialogue on
race. And each time it has taken exactly 5.3 seconds before the
conversation is deflected and blame is laid elsewhere - usually
on Black people themselves.
If we look at the public outbursts of Kanye West,
Michael Richards and, most recently, Don Imus, we will recognize
a similar pattern of deflection and denial. All three were squandered
opportunities in which words unleashed could have inspired us
to turn inward and honestly reflect on how racism lives inside
of us and is reflected. And most importantly how these words
manifest systemically - where the real damage lies.
Instead of trying to isolate and demonize Don
Imus for a supposed ‘slip of the tongue,' how about examining
the myriad ways in which Black women - and all people of color
- experience being treated like ‘nappy headed hos’ in
education, health care, employment and criminal justice? While
Imus’s words were repugnant, insulting, demeaning - and
the list goes on - they are symptomatic of something much deeper
For a few moments last week, verbal champagne
was sprayed over the airwaves, celebrating victory. Whites and
non-whites rejoiced that a powerful, entitled white male, was
at last challenged and held accountable for degrading and demeaning
speech against young women of color. And initially, it seemed
there was consensus that these weren't just words of attempted
humor gone awry, they were indictments on women, specifically
African American woman, that historically have been dismissed
with the explanation “I was just being funny.”
It was like setting your watch to ole' faithful
for the moment that Imus, like Michael Richards issued the predictable
and hollow defense: “But I’m not a racist” as
if there were any doubt that these words could have been uttered
by anyone who was not racist. And again, as if it were even possible
to be white and not be racist. And yet this “but I’m
not a racist” caveat is our first line of defense. Always.
The second line of defense, after denying culpability,
is deflecting responsibility and placing blame elsewhere - thereby
eliminating the prospect of an honest discussion. What a perfect
opportunity to blame the voraciousness of Rev’s Al Sharpton
and Jesse Jackson for pouncing on the words of a white radio
personality while the real culprits escape unscathed: And like
magic, Don Imus begins to recede into the shadows so that the
real culprits may be devoured by the pundits: Black rappers and
hip hop artists.
And now African American rappers - victims of
white supremacy themselves - who are rewarded handsomely for
misogynistic and degrading portrayals of Black women in videos
are to blame for Imus’s remarks. That it is predominantly
white recording companies who perpetuate these artists, while
ignoring multitudes of other artists who are not supplying them
with thuggish portrayals of Black culture, does not seem to be
of concern. That 80% of the consumers for gangsta rap are white
kids from the suburbs, does not seem worthy of note.
How long will it take before we extract our collective
heads from the sand and recognize that white supremacy is rooted
in economics. There are no studies of health care, education,
employment and criminal justice that do not reflect that people
of color are disproportionately (and negatively) represented
in the lower margins of all these areas which measure economic,
social and physical well being.
The words spoken by Imus are but a symptom of
the collective racism that permeates daily life in America. Economics
has always played the starring role in racism/white supremacy,
which is why, when mega dollars are involved, grandiose gestures
of conscience will be made. When Imus’s sponsors began
to pullout, it was time to issue a public gesture of contrition.
Not before. And NBC, to their credit did fire Imus, but only
after the dollars started disappearing.
Ironically, just eighteen months ago, when Kanye
West stated on NBC that “George Bush doesn’t care
about Black people” during a televised benefit for the
victims of Katrina, West's comments were cut from the west coast
feed - as if he had uttered an obscenity. West did not call the
president’s daughter a ho, or insult him. West simply
made a statement that was packed with emotion and based on his
observations of the Bush’s policies in addressing the disaster
- not to mention the current policies of the administration which
reflects major cuts for programs benefiting minorities.
Within 48 hours after West’s statements,
First Lady Laura Bush denounced all critics who say race played
a role in the federal government's slow response to victims of
Hurricane Katrina, calling the accusations "disgusting."
Rather than inviting West to the White House and
engage him in a meaningful discussion about race and inquire
about what inspired him to make such a strong and passionate
statement on national television, she chose to make him the villain.
The media followed suit and West became "the angry Black
man" sputtering irresponsible and "disgusting" accusations
during a national crisis. Well done Mrs Bush.
Within a span of two weeks, former Secretary of
Education under Ronald Reagan and drug czar under George Bush
senior, William Bennett vehemently denied he is racist. On his
radio show, Bill Bennett's Morning in America, Bennett
stated, "You could abort every Black baby in this country,
and your crime rate would go down.
Although he followed it up by saying "That
would be an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible
thing to do, but your crime rate would go down”.
Unlike his wife’s almost immediate rebuttal
to Kanye West’s comments in which he was called ‘disgusting’,
it took several weeks after the firestorm for the president to
issue a statement simply stating that he “believes the
comments were not appropriate."
And then there was Michael Richards' verbal assault
on African American hecklers during a comedy routine which resulted
in a national gasp of horror, wherein he lost bookings and was
publicly scorned. For one moment it seemed like white Americans
might perhaps see the Michael Richards in ourselves and possibly
engage in a meaningful discussion; the conversation got flipped.
As luck would have it the defense and the "real" issue
became Black comedians themselves and their use of the “N” word.
And once again, rather than reflect inward, we pointed outside
ourselves and identified the real culprit: Black people.
And once again, the airwaves were filled with
numerous pundits, including African American experts, who are
more than willing to redirect the discussion where it apparently
will stay (for now): outside of white America.
Why is it so difficult to admit to the Don Imus
that lives within each of us? At what point will we stop pointing
the finger "over there" and accept that if one is white,
and raised in this culture, that it is impossible not to be racist?
When will we understand that it is only to the degree that we
acknowledge and disrupt the internalized racism - which resides
in all whites - that we will become "less racist".
It is only after we become adept at disrupting
internalized racism, that we can tackle the more difficult task
of addressing systemic injustices that effect people of color
- even when some loud mouth talk show host isn’t spewing
invectives on the national airwaves. And it is possible that
Don Imus - and those of us who who admit to the 'inner Imus '
- just might actually become less racist as a result of this
public debacle. But only if we resist the temptation to point
elsewhere and face that there is no "there" over there.
When it comes to systemic racism and the relentless
perpetuation of white supremacy, denial and deflection are dynamite
in the proximity of fire. It is only a matter of time before
Ms. Secours new
documentary film "College On the Brain" (When
your realize that your dreams are the dreams of your community
you can't just beat the odds... You have to change them)
premieres at the Nashville
Film Festival this week and next - Friday, April 20
at 4:30pm and Tuesday, April 24 at 4pm at the Green Hills
here to read any of the parts of this series of commentaries.
Molly Secours is a Nashville writer/filmmaker/speaker host
of her Beneath The Spin radio program at 88.1 WFSK at Fisk.
Her websites are mollysecours.com and myspace.com/mollysecours. Click
here to contact Ms. Secours.