The Race Police Need to Lay Off Imus

Some of us are too pre-occupied with taking offense. We should be careful about limiting free speech, since we may be the next victims.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Although I didn’t think it was possible, the latest Don Imus controversy is almost as ridiculous as the first one. Imus recently made an off-hand remark on his radio show about Adam “Pacman” Jones’ string of arrests, noting that “Pacman” was black. “There you go,” he said. “Now we know.” Some people chose to infer that Imus meant that Jones’ blackness lay at the heart of some inherent criminal proclivity. Suddenly people are up in arms, ready to gather a posse, fire the torches and go after Imus. Again.

Never mind that his explanation is completely plausible. Since his kerfuffle after he referred to the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy headed hoes,” there have been people out there unfulfilled by Imus’ public, ugly mea culpa, unhappy with his dismissal and completely predictable return to the airwaves. These people, consumed by the business of taking offense, have been waiting for him to say anything that could be construed as racist, ready to pounce and take him down. Again. He may say something insensitive to blacks in the future, but his latest sound bites don’t rate.

I found his comments about the Rutgers team insensitive but only slightly off-sides. Imus commented that the girls team was a little mannish and rough-looking (real talk). These observations were not altogether shocking or fresh; black commentators have said similar things about other female basketball players for years. And even though his jibe was consistent with his other shtick designed to rile sensitive ears, Imus should not have called those young women names—they didn’t have a knock coming. He apologized. His mistake then, as now, was trying to explain himself.

Once you begin apologizing, you can never stop, and it will never be enough for some. So he has allowed himself to be put under the thumb of the preacher-pimps and race cops who make a living off the misery and discontent of the black bourgeoisie who believe it is their responsibility to decide when and how much black people should be offended by the white man’s ignorance.

They sit in country-club canteens parsing language and reviewing tape in hopes of finding evidence of racism. Then someone can ring the BlackFone™ and have the Rev. Al Sharpton rush to the scene of the crime with a trunk full of T-shirts demanding an apology, maybe even shake loose a donation or two for good measure. When Sharpton’s on message, he’s sharp, but who can tell anymore? Sharpton is an uneven activist who has trained the media to turn to him as the arbiter of race and Pope of Blackness. America waits breathlessly for his ruling on this week’s racial injustice. Most of America. Not me.

Imus is in the business of talk radio, and his business is caustic wit and irreverence. But if Imus can’t order a cup of coffee—black—without a special dispensation, without the need of some kind of interpreter or co-signer, then soon he’ll be out of business, along with a lot of other folks. Black folks. Because when you start trying to censor other people, you’re next.

Jimi Izrael is a blogger for The Root.