Our VoiceNews & Politics

Is Don Imus Racist?

Sarah Viets • Jun 25, 2008

Tuesday morning, Don Imus, a national radio host for MSNBC, got slammed a racist. (Again)?!

Here’s the gist:

The sports announcer on Imus’ radio show, Warner Wolf, rehashed why the Tennessee Titans suspended Adam Jones (also known as Pacman) for the entire 2007 NFL season, and Jones’ recent involvement in a shooting in a Las Vegas nightclub. In response, Imus asked, “What’s color is he? Wolf answered and said, “He’s African American.”

(And here’s where it gets juicy.)

And then Imus said, “Oh, well there you go. Now we know.”

“Now we know?” What the heck is that supposed to mean?

Let’s not forget, last year Imus got slammed for calling young African American women basketball stars “nappy headed hoes.”

But instead of attacking Imus’ behavior, I’d rather talk about his comment. What’s Imus saying?

I think his comment has two different interpretations:

Here’s the 1st:

Since African Americans commit more crimes than white folks, its not surprising Adam Jones has been arrested six times.

And now the 2nd:

Since Adam Jones is African American, it’s not surprising he’s been arrested six times. Why? Not because African Americans are more likely to commit crimes, but because some folks assume African Americans are criminals because black people are more likely to be dishonest, untrustworthy, and break the law

In other words, police officers arrested Adam Jones because he’s black. They arrested Jones because they assumed he’d committed a crime, not because he actually did anything wrong.

Now, some of you are probably thinking, “That’s not true, the majority of black folks are dishonest and dangerous because African Americans commit crimes.”

But what about white Americans?

If you hear someone say that Black folks commit the majority of crimes - without asking why crime exists or without looking up any facts – they’re indirectly saying Black Americans are more likely to break the law and act dishonestly because they’re black. In other words, someone is using negative personal characteristics to define black skin.

Moreover, if you hear someone say African Americans commit the majority of crimes - which means you’re also saying black folks commit more crime than white folks – the person is also inadvertently categorizing white Americans as trustworthy and “well-behaved.”

So, if hear someone say there are more black criminals than white criminals, they’re also creating a stereotype about black and white Americans. And these stereotypes are popular. They are widely accepted and used to explain personal behavior. Moreover, crime isn’t linked to under funded and overcrowded schools, limited head start programs, lower income levels.

It’s kind of how people cited bible verses to justify slavery. But when that got old, white folks turned to biology. Folks said its okay to buy and sell black people like cattle because they’re not as smart as white folks. They said black folks are biologically inferior to whites . But when folks couldn’t use science to rationalize the “Whites Only” signs posted above water fountains and bathroom stalls, folks turned to culture.

Let me put it another way:

After the 1964 Civil Rights Act, racist ideas didn’t vanish; people didn’t stop categorizing blacks and whites differently. White folks didn’t stop searching for explanations to explain personal behavior. Folks’ arguments just changed. Instead of citing biblical scripture or scientific data, some folks started saying Black culture causes criminal behavior.

So the next time you hear someone say Black culture breeds dangerous, dishonest, and criminal behavior, remember that the person’s argument isn’t any different than before. They’re still using stereotypes.

And since people make culture, the person is still saying it’s easier to trust white people because they’re white, and black people are dangerous because they’re black. The individual just re-framed his/her argument so it’s accepted.

In other words, thank stereotypes for stories of triumphs, not hard work. Black stereotypes help white folks land jobs and promotions, influence whether or not politicians feed money into crime bills or public education and deter police officers from stopping white drivers behind $50,000 cars.

As a young white American woman, I don’t want any stereotypes attached to my white skin. I want to walk into any job interview, classroom, professor’s office, or crowded street without anyone using my skin color to categorize me. I want to earn my keep because of me, not because I’m white.

I can’t think of anything more un-American.

As for Don Imus, I’m not sure what he met, and it’s hard to believe his intentions when you examine how many racial slurs jump out of his mouth.

But I will say one thing:

Don Imus, your cowboy hat and Carhartt jacket makes me think of America’s beautiful countryside, open dirt roads, and spending Sunday mornings farming with my dad.

I just wish your words represented my American memories.

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