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Other voices: In retrospect, Don Imus really should have known better

In retrospect, Don Imus really should have known better

Every so often, an exceptionally talented person, like Imus, will surface from within our midst as one of those fortunate human beings whose career captures national attention. As a broadcast journalist, Imus has developed a skill set to effectively consolidate social issues and present them in a format that influences the values of many listeners throughout our nation. A remarkable career by all accounts, it was made by mastering the art of assessing and expressing the sociopolitical pulse of our country. His is a career that is built upon the cumulative effects of gaining knowledge through time and experience



By now, we know that Imus has been in the business for the better part of 30 years. He is an expert at what he does. His presentation of Americanism through a journalistic microphone is what he does best. He instinctively senses public opinion in the world around him. Or so it seemed.

The recent Imus proclamation of “nappy headed hos” is reminiscent of a not-so-distant past when stereotypical images of persons of color were readily projected and accepted as the norm. The memories of those images are fresh. To this day, many good people are still at work to heal the racial wounds of our history. But every once in awhile, an occasional surprise comes from left field to remind us that there is still a lot of work to do.




For example, the 1980s surprised us when we witnessed the downfall of Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder. Jimmy the Greek was a nationally renowned CBS sports commentator, that is, until he chose to express his views about breeding African Americans.

More recently, we were reminded of the relationship between reputations and consequences following the perceived racist macaca monkey comments by Sen. George Allen (R-Virginia) to a young Indian American staff person. And, again, we were reminded by the anti-Semitic remarks and subsequent apology by actor and movie producer Mel Gibson.

And if that wasn’t enough, out of nowhere came the breeding views expressed by our own Gov. Schwarzenegger, which prompted a series of apologies for his remarks about hot Latina and black blood mixing. To this day, there are those who still question his clarity to differentiate between Mexican Americans and Mexicans. Clearly, his assimilation views leave one to wonder.

In each of these occasions, the journalism industry and Imus have attached themselves to these newsworthy controversies. That’s the nature of the profession. Each time, Imus has seen the repercussions that come with each verbal misstep. And yes, Imus, Inc., was alive and well and alongside the apologies that followed comedian/actor Michael Richards’ use of the “N” word.

But, you know, Imus really should have known better.

Yet, somehow, we almost empathize with him. We almost feel his humiliation. In some way, this conflicting sense of compassion for something we know is wrong may come from our own sense of security when surrounded by family and friends. It’s difficult to describe, much less admit. It’s that moment when we hear that proverbial slip of the tongue. It’s the joke or point of view that reminds us of times past, when it was easier to be politically incorrect. And at that moment, uneasiness sets in, and the comfort of our souls is kept in check. Our sense of security begins to disappear.

But unintentional or not, the Freudian slip of the tongue is becoming less of an excuse in our world today. And as an expert of deciphering American culture, Imus should know that we are still on a national learning curve. So until the next great blunder comes our way, as I’m sure someday it will, there’s something surprisingly good that comes from all this. And that’s the opportunity to express our gratitude to Imus for a job well done.

So, thanks Don Imus – thank you for an invaluable lesson on yet another chapter of American life and culture. But you really should have known better.

Reyes Ortega, Ph.D. is a professor and counselor at Sierra College who lives in Auburn.


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