A new spirit in the air

The overwhelming response condemning the reprehensible comments of radio “shock jock” Don Imus is a reminder, if one were needed, that racism and sexism remain a virulent presence in the United States. But it also demonstrated that the 51 seconds of Imus’ comment concerning the Rutgers University women’s basketball team did not go unchallenged.

Although the mainstream media, in its coverage of L’affaire Imus, sought to “balance” its reportage with statements by guests of the show who had been insulted by Imus along the lines of “it’s show business,” as well as with references to the now-fired radio host’s numerous charitable efforts, as if to suggest that he wasn’t such a bad guy, the public wasn’t buying the line.

Indeed, the response to Imus indicated a new spirit of militancy that came as a shock to the communications networks broadcasting Imus, NBC and CBS, and to the corporate sponsors who have been financing his show for decades. The palpable outrage was not only from NBC’s employees of color — such as the “Today” show’s Al Roker who commented, “That could be my daughter,” about the young women Imus victimized — but also from wide sections of the population. It united progressive-minded whites with people of color, coming together to basically say “enough.” And that “enough” was directed not only at Don Imus as a broadcaster, but at those who feel that comments that dehumanize and debase are acceptable or can be ignored.

This certainly was the hope of NBC, whose original action was to suspend Imus for two weeks. The response of CBS was perhaps even more lame: they made no comment at all. Clearly, both corporations had their wet fingers in the air in order to determine which way the wind was blowing. Once they knew its direction, they fired Imus.

But the fact that these corporations waited, even if they waited for 30 minutes, reveals the core link between capitalism and racism. From a moral standpoint (and it is manifestly clear that corporate culture is inherently amoral), there should have been no scintilla of doubt as to the proper action. It was only when the corporate bigwigs felt the outrage, and felt their future profitability would be impacted, that they sent Imus packing.

This new militancy should be embraced and nurtured, and not only by people of color but by all of us. As with any virus, racism is a tough and destructive enemy in the body politic. In 2006, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported it received 27,238 complaints of racial discrimination in employment, a figure that when broken down shows 74.6 complaints per day. And this doesn’t include complaints filed outside the EEOC, nor would it include those who were discriminated against but who did not file a complaint for whatever reason — which typically involves fear of retaliation or loss of future employment, or a feeling that discrimination laws are inadequately enforced by a federal government under control of the ultra-right.

Nevertheless, this figure does indicate that people are willing to assert their rights. It will be interesting to determine whether the outcome of last fall’s midterm elections impacts these numbers when the 2007 figures are released early next year.

In the last analysis, it must be remembered that for every statistic, there is a person behind it. Capitalism has always been good at reducing people to raw data, and it is part of their comfort zone. Like the bombs that are dropped from 30,000 feet, it is much easier if you don’t think about the people on the ground, about who will feel the sting of the unquenchable thirst for profits.

It was showman and profiteer P.T. Barnum who said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” The response to Imus’ infamous minute of hatred shows that when it comes to racism and sexism, people aren’t suckers. As with the midterm elections, they’re willing, ready and able to fight back. May it cause the ultra-right and the corporate bean counters many sleepless nights ahead.

Lawrence Albright is a People’s Weekly World reader in Florida.