Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Don Imus is a rascist

I recall an incident from my childhood. My father grew up in Hawaii, and so as many transplants to the mainland do, he kept in close touch with other Hawaiian expats. As a result most of the celebrations I attended as a child (Hawaiians are GREAT for celebrations) were very large and very ethnically diverse, as are Hawaiians themselves.

At one of these celebrations, while running around with a bunch of the other kids (Hawaiians are also great for letting kids run around) my parents pulled me aside and asked me about a word I'd used towards another of the kids. They then told me that was a bad word and that I should never use it again.

The odd thing is that to this day I can't recall as an actual memory what the offensive word was. Though in retrospect I suspect, from my parent's tone and the context, that I had used the N word.

I bring this up because it strikes me that even in the most liberal and loving of communities, bad old ideas are passed on generationally and perhaps subconsciously. Unless that is, one's parents are quick to nip it in the bud (thank you mom and dad).

I bring this up because of the recent contretemps by Don Imus. And while the words in question were short of the N word, they were still patently offensive.

What interests me about this situation isn't this singular episode, but the fact that for Imus, and for those like him, such "slips of the tongue" are hardly isolated events.

And what interests me even more is that such people as well as their defenders seem to always use the same defense.

"X is really agood person, he didn't really mean anything by that shameless insulting racial slur." Or words to that effect.

Washington Post staff writer Lynne Duke takes a look at the psychology of such behavior.

Of his "hos" comment, Imus said pretty much the same thing yesterday on "Today." "It was comedy. It wasn't a malicious rant. I wasn't angry. I wasn't drunk. I wasn't stating some sort of philosophy. As I stated yesterday morning, I'm not a racist. And I've demonstrated that in my deeds and my works."

This is the classic appeal to the "authentic self," says Orlando Patterson, a Harvard University sociologist. In other words, trying to override bad behavior by pushing the notion that deep down you are a good person. It goes like this:

"You've just got to believe I'm a good person. You've got to believe me. I'm telling you and this is the truth."

"It's a kind of arrogance, if you ask me," says Patterson.

This lack of honesty, this denial, could be a reason this unfortunate phenomenon of bilious public language keeps happening again and again and again, Patterson said.

Most insidiously, the perpetrator (and his "honest" defenders) inevitably believes his own defense. It may be a kind of arrogance, but it's indeed, I believe, heartfelt.

My own analysis from the George "Macaca" Allen incident:

But I strongly suspect that Mr. Allen, his wife, friends, acquaintances would swear on their mother's graves that Mr. Allen doesn't have a rascist bone in his body. And they would (and I expect will) do so quite honestly, believing in the truth of their words.

But they would be wrong.

One of the main effects of the civil rights revolution has been to drive obvious rascism underground, especially among the educated, and very especially among politicians [and media personalities-CK]. And so, those pols muzzle themselves, falling back into a kind of code, a wink-wink, nudge-nudge that indicates to white audiences that a politician isn't referring to "our" kind of people. As Mr. Allen might put it "real (white) Americans". Chuckle, chuckle.

And the worst thing is, they do this unconsiously, not even admitting to themselves the rascist attitudes behind their words.

Try this syllogism on for size: Rascists are bad people. I am not a bad person. Therefore I am not a rascist.

The only way to stop such insidious behavior is to call it by its name.

So let us not mince words: George Allen is a rascist.

And so are millions of Americans.

And so is Don Imus.

Even if he won't admit it.

Even if we won't admit it.

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