Imus: Wading Into the Waters of Rage

Wow. So, there you have it: The public voice of dissent can actually affect big business.

Don Imus got a slap on the wrist, and after advertising dollars listened to the voices of outrage clamouring over the warhorse deejay’s comments about the “nappy-headed hos” on a college b-ball team, he’s been uncerimoniously canned, without even a final chance to say goodbye.

I see it from two POVs. One, the right to freedom of speech. Two, basic decency.

I’m proud to live in the most multicultural country in the world, and I’m a staunch feminist. I’m as open-minded as the day is long, and I’m partial to ethic foods as well as foreign cultures. It’s what makes us Canadians who we are, after the floodgates opened in 1971 (thanks to P.E. Trudeau –R.I.P.– the same PM who spearheaded the policy to keep government out of the bedrooms of adults and made it legal to be homosexual) to your tired, your hungry, your poor — what the US has purported to be, we have become: the single-most multicultural nation in the world, one that believes in a “cultural mosaic” and not the proverbial “cultural melting-pot” of our neighbour to the south.

What’s that mean? It means we encourage our immigrants to keep their culture but also to celebrate those cultures of their neighbours. We are a nation of cultures — the plural, not the singular — and we’re pround of it.

Does it make us less likely to get loyalty and a pursuit of Canadiana from our immigrants? I don’t think so. In fact, I used to teach ESL (English as a Second Language) and I remember my eyes getting misty last summer when an 8-year-old boy I taught told me of his family gaining their Canadian citizenship the weekend prior. He looked at me, this tough little stoic manly-man boy, and in his broken English, told me that he cried when they became Canadians, and that it was “the most proud day of my whole life!”

By celebrating their cultures, we celebrate our own.

That said, I’ve made racist comments and racist jokes. A staunch feminist, I routinely scoff “women” when talking things over with others. I’m off-colour more often than I’m on, and it’s part of what makes me such fun to know. Thing is, the people around me know that these flippant comments I make are jokes, not seriousness, and they know I’m beyond tolerant — I’m the original “mosaic” Canadian, and always will be. Hell, it’s like George Carlin and my buddy GayBoy always joke, “I’m not racist — I own a colour TV.”

So, Don Imus fucked up. Clearly. But he kept arguing how he was a good person who said a bad thing, and I absolutely believe that. Did he deserve to get fired? I guess he did. Shit happens to us all, and it’s how we respond that makes us who we are. And because he’s a good person, as he claims, I’m certain he will better himself and improve his worldview as a result… should the world be willing to forgive and forget, which I would hope they will do.

But I guess that what bothers me about it all is that I’d like to not live in a world where we’re to be accountable for every word we utter. We live in an age where our thoughts and feelings are ushered out to our fellow man without a moment’s hesitation — be it by blogs, podcasts, letters to the editor, YouTube, and more — and the blowback can be legion. I always joke that what I love about blogging versus real life is simple: The Backspace Key.

Oh, to delete and forge on! What a thing of beauty! But radio, live, to boot, is an entirely different beast. We all sputter things daily without fully thinking them out, but because broadcasters are given the “dead air is death” mantra — fill, fill, fill!– they’re accountable for every syllable they muster. But stream-of-consciousness broadcasts sometimes lead to the very offense committed by Don Imus. And now he needs to pay the price.

He’s right, too. There’s a difference between his utterance and the vitriolic venom spewed by Michael Richards, who unleashed an angry tirade against African-Americans in the club he was performing in, who’ll probably never work in Hollywood again. Context and emotiveness are huge when it comes to uncivilised utterances. We need to respect that.

Granted, I’ve never heard the broadcast, thus I spew smoke from my ass, but still. I don’t think he should be on the air. I’m pleased the people have spoken and action has been taken. I wish the same venomous public opinion could be rallied behind the War in Iraq, but god forbid I should be asking so much.

For now, I’m quietly happy that blacks have spoken out in angst and exacted some change in society. The Million Man March may have been four and a half decades ago, but from this Canadian’s point of view, so much still needs to transpire in the US. One small victory for black rights, and an earful from big business, is something to be praised, even if someone who is a “good person” like Imus should be caught in the crossfire. Collateral damage is expected.

Your thoughts?