Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Feeling Kind of White

I'm white. I'm middle-class. I'm middle-aged. I'm straight. Shit, I've even returned to organized religion.

When stuff like the Imus flap comes up, what legitimacy can I find? I've read and thought fairly deeply about issues like white privilege and the foundational aspects of racism in today's America. I'm aware of the 360 degree aspects of discrimination, and that Hispanics, Asians, women, and dozens of other identifiable groups of people face daily snubs and subtle hindrances that prevent them from participating as fully in society as they ought.

So, when Imus calls a bunch of talented young women - girls my daughter's age - "nappy headed hoes", I feel the anger, and I can pile on like everyone else.

I can also sit back in my intellectual easy chair and distinguish this mob scene from an attack on free speech, and mock those who are somehow trying to make this about how hard it is for rightwing hatespeakers to get along in this confusing world. Yes, there are plenty of blatantly stupid people I can play with. It's a simple and kind of pointless diversion.

But I don't think that I can jump in with stuff like Jason Whitlock did this morning:
I don’t listen or watch Imus’ show regularly. Has he at any point glorified selling crack cocaine to black women? Has he celebrated black men shooting each other randomly? Has he suggested in any way that it’s cool to be a baby-daddy rather than a husband and a parent? Does he tell his listeners that they’re suckers for pursuing education and that they’re selling out their race if they do?

When Imus does any of that, call me and I’ll get upset. Until then, he is what he is — a washed-up shock jock who is very easy to ignore when you’re not looking to be made a victim.

No. We all know where the real battleground is. We know that the gangsta rappers and their followers in the athletic world have far bigger platforms to negatively define us than some old white man with a bad radio show. There’s no money and lots of danger in that battle, so Jesse and Al are going to sit it out.
It's not my role to write stuff like that, but I can quote it and admire it.

I know some people think it's all about race. They're wrong. It's about power, and class, and money, and gender, and every little thing about who we are as a society and as individuals. It is all so mind-bogglingly complex that when you have an over-privileged asshole who calls talented young basketball players names, it's a joy to know exactly how to react.

I can do that, but I don't feel as comfortable taking on BET or Mencia or Chris Rock. I don't want to be that patriarchal defender of the status quo quoting approvingly from Cosby because he blames "those people".

Stupid people like Imus give us the clear case, where our outrage can be full-throated and pure. It's a frustratingly gray world. Was service slow because the patron was black? Maybe, maybe not. Did the white guy get the job because he "comes off more professional"? Maybe, maybe not. But there's no maybe about Imus this time.

Imus is kind of a scapegoat. I don't know what to say or think about rap music and gangsta culture. I don't always know where to draw lines between being open-minded and tolerating wrong-headed misbehavior. I don't even think I necessarily get to draw those lines. But I know that I can beat on Imus, and feel pretty good about it. By focusing all the attention on Imus, the rest of us can kid ourselves and think we've taken a stand against racism, while ignoring the thousands of petty discriminations we see (or choose not to see) every day.

As a middle-class, middle-aged, white, straight male, I look at it all and I hear a racially tinged song by the Refreshments in the back of my head:
Everybody knows
That the world is full of stupid people
Well I got the pistol so I’ll keep the Pesos
Yeah, and that seems fair
Seem fair to you?



Anonymous Keith Sader said...

Y'all don't know what it's like
Being angry middle-class and white!

Thank you Ben Folds.

4/11/2007 8:24 AM  
Anonymous travelingal said...

A really excellent post, Dan.

4/11/2007 8:36 AM  
Blogger Stacey K said...

A very thought provoking post Dan.

4/11/2007 9:45 AM  
Anonymous JKander said...

Your insight and poignancy in this post is far and above what we usually see from our newspaper columnists.

This definitely goes in the "me at my best" section of your sidebar.
Keep up the good work.

4/11/2007 9:45 AM  
Blogger KC Sponge said...

Far from mild, you have the most provoking blog around. Thanks for keepin it real . . .

4/11/2007 9:59 AM  
Anonymous antimusite said...

Very interesting post. As a straight white middle class guy, I have similar feelings of queasiness.

I'm with you, I can easily jump on the bandwagon of anti-Imus-ites, but I'm also with you in that I don't think this gives me an excuse to proclaim myself as a non-prejudiced person.

I'm on the fence as to whether or not I think the guy should be fired.

I think experience and reputation counts. He's long since established his fan base and his audience. Ergo, it would be much easier for me to say, "hey, he screwed up, he's outta there!" if he were 20 years old and just starting out. As a media executive, I'd have to say that because the 20-year-old would be primarily resting upon MY reputation (or the overall "name" of the Media Outlet), and I'd go down in flames.

But a part of me says "let the guy stand on his own", and not fire him. See if the political candidates and other guests turn down his requests for interviews now. When that happens, the execs will be forced to say, "hey, you're not bringing in the Big Guys, so you and your show get the axe."

I'd just like to take the responsibility for what happens next off of the "straight middle class white guy"'s shoulders. For, whatever the execs hand down to Imus now, the conspiracy theories will abound, given the fact that "it's all controlled by straight middle class white guys".

IMO, nothing Imus can now say or do will make me believe "he'll never say or do that again". But I don't think he's a bad person. Everybody's got a screw loose here and there, and everybody has prejudices. And I can't say for sure if he should get slapped for "not following the rules" (i.e. saying what he said on the air). "The Rules" in life are so damned bizarre to me, that my motto is more along the lines of "Just Don't Get Caught.... and if you do, hire a great lawyer and spin the roulette wheel."

4/11/2007 11:02 AM  
Blogger Spyder said...

I personally think Imus should have to fund a scholarship for young athletic women of color. And the scholarship SHOULD NOT have his name on it.

4/11/2007 11:08 AM  
Anonymous heidi said...

One of the best points ever:

"By focusing all the attention on Imus, the rest of us can kid ourselves and think we've taken a stand against racism, while ignoring the thousands of petty discriminations we see (or choose not to see) every day."

4/11/2007 11:42 AM  
Anonymous Danny said...

Jason correctly puts the whole thing in perspective, which is something no one else seems to have done.

For whites, it was the standard opportunity to revile a "racist" from their own race and earn brownie points with the socially-correct crowd. I mean really, is this what we need to be diverting attention towards from news and events with ACTUAL importance, or is it just a way to prove to others (and maybe ourselves a little bit) that we have come a long ways from our grandparents generation of segregation.

For minorities, it's the standard opportunity to ignore their own problems (both self-imposed and imposed by society) and focus anger and frustration on an rambling idiot. I'm not black, and therefore that previous comment may earn me a label as a racist, but it's just what Jason said, and the truth isn't a racial issue (is it?). should run Jason's column on it next to Jemele Hill's race-baiting, pathetically-written column just to provide some breadth to the discussion that this Imus episode has sparked, lest we think that everyone of a particular race has the same mindset about the situation.

4/11/2007 11:48 AM  
Anonymous mainstream said...

I tend to oversimplify, but Imus lives by saying outspoken shocking things purely for entertainment value asnd to make lots of money.

So he once again wentover the line, and a few other outspoken people called him on it. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

The state of the world is no better or worse off with OR without the guy's radio show.

And we're still stuck with the same problems.

4/11/2007 4:28 PM  
Blogger Xavier Onassis said...

Did any of you happen to catch Al Roker's statement that it was time for Imus to go? The response to his blog post was mostly "Hey, black people say it, so can white people! or It was a JOKE, get over it!"

All of which made it clear to me that we have not come as far in the last 40 years as I had thought.

Actually, that's not quite accurate. We DID come a long way.

But the likes of Rush Limbaugh, James Dobson, the Fox Network, Ann Coulter and a fragmented media where people can get their own ill-informed, bigoted views reinforced without any opposing opinions have dragged us back to the antebellum days that they love so much.

4/11/2007 6:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But I know that I can beat on Imus, and feel pretty good about it.

Just yesterday everyone was calling Tim O'Reilly a scumbag because he suggested that people in the media (ie blogs) should have some civility. Now everyone is on Imus' case.

Kind of ironic isn't it?

4/11/2007 8:07 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

It's only ironic if you are very careful not to allow a single thought to cross your brain, because as soon as you allow that to happen, you realize that there is really nothing about the posts that is inconsistent.

4/11/2007 8:20 PM  
Blogger emawkc said...

Mainstream is right. Imus lives by shocking the public and getting lots of attention which he translates into lots of money.*

Thank God we're not letting him get away with it this time.

*For the record, Sharpton does the same thing.

4/11/2007 8:56 PM  
Anonymous mainstream said...

Good point, Emaw. Sharpton does do the same thing, by and large.

Note to Dan and all the other middle aged white guys (and by the way, don't be so hard on yourselves, they say 60 is the new 40):

Get some drama in your life! geez. If an Imus blowup causes you guys to immediately go into some strange self-questioning super-drama guilt-trip overdrive whatever-it-is your doing, something in your life needs to change.

try getting laid a little more often, maybe watch the Sopranos...

4/11/2007 9:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So you call Tim a scumbag because he posts a blog article about how he believes people should converse. Then the next day you do the same thing as Tim. Guess that makes you a scumbag too? Or are you saying it is ok for you to critique how people should speak in the media, but not ok for anyone else?

4/11/2007 10:24 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Mainstream - Thanks for the advice, but I don't actively seek to avoid thinking. If I ever decide to do so, I'll seek your help.

Anonymous - There are so many ways to address your lack of comprehension, I don't know where to start. Go back and read the post about establishing "managed civil dialogue". You'll see that I don't complain about him suggesting how people should converse. I do have an objection to him trying to impose a code on the rest of us. You'll also see that I don't say that speech shouldn't be criticized. Quite the opposite.

4/11/2007 10:48 PM  
Anonymous mainstream said...

Now Dan, I never encouraged you to stop thinking, only to get over the middle-aged angst.

4/12/2007 7:33 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

No angst here, Mainstream. Perhaps a little lack of clarity in my own thoughts on race and society, but that's not angst - that's just honesty and intelligence. Only the dishonest or uninteligent are confident that they have all those issues sorted out.

4/12/2007 7:42 AM  
Anonymous mainstream said...

Point well-taken, Dan. You're articulate and express, better than I can, many important dilemmas and issues.

4/12/2007 8:34 AM  

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