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                                       politics + culture

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Imus and free speech

Our tolerance of Don Imus's "free speech" rights does not mean that we should allow him to use corporate speech to defame, debase and degrade the Rutgers basketball team on public airwaves without expressing our own free speech rights in return.

In fact, the widespread political protest of Don Imus defamatory language and its sponsership and endorsement by several major media corporations is EXACTLY the kind of political free speech protected in the Bill of Rights. ie. Criticism of powerful public figures and elected officials is THE CORE of free speech.

Would Imus's free speech supporters silence those who are protesting Imus? Apprently so, since they ask those of us who disagree with Don Imus to silence ourselves in the name of tolerance and free speech.

Tolerance of the rights of bigots to speak does not imply that we should not make direct political protest of that speech and its consequences. In fact, exactly the opposite. Even if it causes discomfort and awkwardness. Even if someone loses their position of power.

Sorry, but I think anyone caught up in defending Imus and minimizing the significant social consequences of his words is naive about racism in the United States to the extreme. This is not a "free speech" issue. This is not about "tolerating" Imus. This is about hatred and bigotry...even if that bigotry was expressed in a callous and offhand form. This is about the living legacy of racism against African Americans in this country.

Don Imus is an ignorant, cynical buffoon. Sure. But tens of millions of African Americans had to go to work this last week and deal with the consequences of this buffoon's words. Parents had to explain this all to their children. Young Black women around this country got a lesson in what passes for acceptable to our nation's "elite"...many of whom have appeared on Don Imus's show.

The Bill of Rights and the liberal spirit of tolerance in no way implies that we should remain silent when our brothers and sisters are debased and degraded by a multi-millionaire shock jockey. In fact, exactly the opposite. That is the essence of free speech. That is speaking truth to power.

The real victims in the story have always been the Rutgers basketball team, and by extension, the broader African American community slurred by Imus' words...and, finally, all of us who strive to live with tolerance and respect for each other, including lots of regular people on all sides of this issue who don't always speak perfectly when it comes to race but whose free speech rights are at the core of our democracy.

Tolerance and free speech does not mean standing in silence in the face of bigotry.

If Imus well-paid and corporate-sponsered career is affected by his choice of language, that is, sadly, one of the consequences of living in society that values democracy and free speech over privelege and power.


  • For myself, I never have liked Don Imus and after I heard of his treatment of PBS's Glen Ifil (New York Times), I'd have to say I'd be glad to see him turned out to pasture.

    By Blogger Vigilante, at 10:38 PM  

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