I wanted to stay away, but the media coverage has been overwhelming. Here are my thoughts on the key questions.
Others Use the Terms, So Where is the Line Drawn
Only Don Imus chose to apply the stereotype to the women of the Rutgers Team. This issue is not about the words; it is his conscious decision to apply an unjustified stereotype to the group of young women from Rutgers.
The media wrongly, focuses on the words and talks about demeaning women. They seem to forget (who am I kidding they desire easy ratings), there was a second team of women on the floor. What Don Imus did, was call out the dark-skinned women on the court to separate and demean for no other reason than their physical appearance. Treating light skin women (white as the lightest) better than dark skin women is a human behavior that crosses ethnic groups (i.e. the Japanese culture) and period of time (starting at least with the introduction of African slaves into European based cultures, if not before).
There is no line to draw because the Imus remark was personalized, premeditated attempt to use prejudice for personal gain. Personalized attacks always get a greater reaction than non-personalized attacks. Victims, who are perceived as a non-threat, or even better, living the American dream, always get better treatment than victims who are perceived as threats, or embarrassing in their behavior.
I taught Diversity Awareness for a year and a half, and one of the privileges I’ve had in life is listening to approximately 400 people discover and come to grips with the roots of their prejudice and biases. In my experience, and those of the other trainers I worked with, we all know the same negative stereotypes. It is common knowledge. That is why the focus should not be on the words Imus used, but on the individual judgment that those words were appropriate.
If the media wants to do a good job, ask Don Imus one question.
Why were those words appropriate for the Rutgers team and not the Tennessee team?
Should Imus Be Fired
It is not for any of us to judge. In fact, I argue many of those with the loudest call for him to be fired, are merely seeking their own claim on power and influence: A problem not unique to politicians unfortunately.
The media and other talking heads are letting off the hook the management that pays Don Imus. Management has to demonstrate the organizations values; what they will and will not tolerate. Then that management needs to stand up and state in a manner for its customers to see, what they define as appropriate adjustments in how they run their business. The apology from Don Imus is the most irrelevant event on the planet; Just the same as Michael Richards apology a few months ago. It’s future actions and future consistency that count.
The real tough questions are for management
- Do you condone Don Imus display of racial bias?
- What is management changing about its business practices with Don Imus and other employees because of the public display of bias from your firm?
- What actions did management consider as too strong of a punishment in this situation?
- What actions did management consider as too little punishment in this situation?
- Please explain why your chosen path is appropriate?
Management has to address the environment that allowed Imus to reach this behavior. It is naive to presume that Imus is the lone individual in this arena.
Freedom of Speech vs. Responsibility for Actions
I am unapologetically a proponent of free speech. And, yes, I believe we have to make room for the speech that we abhor.
The calls and actions of those who want to “send a message” come dangerously close to censorship. Typically, I cannot agree. The employer and fans should hold Don Imus accountable, for both groups have a conscience decision to make on the circumstances in which they continue their relationship with him. Both have a right to make demands on the continued relationship.
However, no one has the right to preclude him saying what he wants when he is publishing his thoughts himself.
Redemption & Forgiveness
I hope this society does not lose site of redemption and forgiveness as qualities of a civil society. It may really upset you that a hate-monger can make a living espousing their views, but that does not prevent them from some day at the future redeeming themselves, or waking up and changing their ways.
When I here people express outrage and demand an immediate firing, they worry me, because they in effect espouse a belief that for some crimes against society, one strike and your out is a good policy.
This view is usually held right up until the point that they are accused of the one strike. If Don Imus says he is sorry, note the fact. Watch future behavior. Make adjustments in your interaction. All these steps and more are prudent.
However, to condemn and punish without trial, jury, or chance for repentance, is not a society I want to live in. The unintended consequences of all the do gooders are very very scary. There is no stability or predictability in a society where one mistake and you lose is the standard. We should keep it out of ours.