Don Imus’s recent outrageous remarks about the women’s basketball team from Rutgers’s University is just the latest chapter in outrage remarks made by public figures and getting play “ad infinitum” on the media. I have to admit to being even more outraged that some news shows (including “The Today Show”) actually played the clip of the remarks rather than just referring to them. Isn’t that just sensationalizing and capitalizing on those remarks and actually a cynical play on racism?
I am purposely using the term hate speech here because it isn’t just racism that is the problem lately, it is sexism, it is homophobia, it is anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic.
Let’s be clear that I am sickened by the tirades (they are not just off-handed remarks) from the likes of Mr. Imus, the so-called comedian- former “Seinfeld” star- Michael Richards, “Grey’s Anatomy” star Isaiah Washington, super-star Mel Gibson, and basketball star Tim Hardaway.
The list goes on. Do the media help create a dialogue to discuss these remarks that are indicative of a larger societal ill or do they use these remarks for their salacious ratings bonanza? This morning “The Today Show’ devoted most of it’s first hour on the issue- more than it ever devotes to a post mortem of “The State of the Union Address” the day after that annual important speech by the President of the United States. Maybe the producers and co-anchors,Ms. Viera and Mr. Lauer, envisioned a debate about the issues but instead it became the usual accusatory, vilifying talking heads yelling over one another and not listening – the swamp where these “conversations” inevitably devolve.
But I have to admit to being equally outraged by the hypocrisy and double standard emanating from the mouths of self righteous men like the Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Mind you- I admire much of the work of both of these men, but it isn’t that long ago that they were race baiting and making remarks equally offensive.
Let’s look at Al Sharpton. He was the defining figure in the Crown Heights Riot that occurred after a car accident involving the motorcade for the Lubavitcher Rebbe killed a young boy named Gavin Cato. A riot was sparked after a private Hasidic ambulance came to the scene and, on the orders of a police officer, removed the Hasidic driver from the scene. Gavin Cato and his cousin Angela were picked up soon after by a city ambulance. Caribbean-American and African-American residents of the neighborhood then rioted for four consecutive days fueled by rumors (in part driven by Sharpton) that the private ambulance had refused to treat Cato. Sharpton became the de-facto representative for the Cato family. During the funeral he referred to “diamond merchants” considered a code word for Hasidic Jews for shedding “the blood of innocent babies” leading marchers shouting “No Justice No Peace”. Sharpton did not start the riots but his rhetoric was seen as inflammatory and unhelpful in easing the tension between the black and Jewish communities. A visiting rabbinical student from Australia by the name of Yankel Rosenbaum, 29 years old, was killed during the rioting by a mob shouting “Kill the Jew”. Mr. Sharpton’s remarks AND actions were not only inflamatory- but incendiary.
What about Jesse Jackson? Jackson has been criticized for some of the remarks he has made about Jews and Jewish issues: that Nixon was less attentive to poverty in the U.S. because “four out of five of Nixon’s top advisors are German Jews and their priorities are on Europe and Asia”; that he was “sick and tired of hearing about the Holocaust”; that there are “very few Jewish reporters that have the capacity to be objective about Arab affairs”; In addition Rev. Jackson had referred to Jews as “Hymies” and to New York City as “Hymietown” in January 1984 during a conversation with Washington Post reporter, Milton Coleman.
Just because Reverends Sharpton and Jackson made anti-Semitic remarks does not mean that they cannot be offended by Mr. Imus’s remarks- they should be. But they should not be sitting in godlike judgment over Mr. Imus with such righteous indignation. That is just hypocrisy. It seems that prejudice lurks in their hearts as well. On “The Today Show”, Ms. Viera asked Reverend Jackson to balance the Imus issue with his own “Hymietown” comment. He changed the subject. If Reverend Jackson was truly concerned about a real dialogue on hate and prejudice he would have addressed this issue and admitted that the issue of prejudice is endemic to the fabric of this country and we should address this larger issue.
Oddly enough the one glaring omission in all of the accusations and mea culpas going on due to the Imus fracas is the horribly sexist context of Mr. Imus’s remarks. Everyone has picked up on the racism but the misogyny that oozed from these remarks has been virtually ignored! It saddens me, but doesn’t surprise me that the misogyny is not being addressed.
Let’s be honest. Hate is part of the fabric of this country and sadly the world. People should be held accountable for their speech, but speech comes from something deep within that we are not addressing when we simply wag fingers with sanctimonious judgment at offensive speech. Beyond the unconstitutionality of it- banning hateful speech or being required to use the absurd “N word” as opposed to “nigger” when reporting an incident where the real word was used, is like putting a band aid on a severed aorta. Our society- the whole world, for that matter- needs to have a dialogue about why our hearts go there- not why our mouths go there.
If we could figure why our hearts hold these feelings and were able to fix that- we wouldn’t have civil strife or war and I don’t see those being eradicated anytime in my life time or any lifetime in the future. So much of our prejudice comes from our hardwired distrust of the unknown- those that aren’t part of our tribe, or our pack- ”the other”. That’s from our reptilian brain’s need to survive and be on guard when anything that isn’t part of our experience comes into our lives. But we are more than our reptilian brains- we have a brain that is capable of comprehending that attempting to understand the unknown and acceptance of the “other” is more likely to achieve survival than the distrust associated with our more animal instincts.
But we won’t get to that level of discussion as long as we vilify each other for our remarks rather than talk about WHY we all have hearts that make our mouths capable of saying such heinous things.