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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

Imus and The Race Debate

Saturday, April 14, 2007

NPH had a good conversation with a friend yesterday about what is actually at stake, culturally, in the Don Imus controversy (Imus was fired by CBS on Thursday). Our friend thoughtfully articulated the position that what Imus said was flat-out racist and exactly not the kind of thing that "just anybody" is likely to say at any given point. Our friend is right. Our friend is smart.

What NPH was playing with was the notion that Imus' crime was as much a crime of misappropriation as it was of mis-belief. It's not, NPH wants to suggest, that the shock jock was caught out in revealing something with his mouth about his inner character, something that is reprehensible and intolerable for anybody, least of all someone in Imus' profession. Instead, he took the liberty of appropriating a piece of cultural slang in an inappropriate way (read: he's white) and in a very inappropriate context.

There is racism behind that kind of misappropriation, no doubt. But it's a particular kind of racism, a sort of privileged, lazy, careless racism. That's not the same kind of thing as the neo-nazi brand of militant racism, racism that is full of hate and that seeks to destroy people of any race not their own. Racism is racism, and NPH thinks people are morally bound to oppose it in all its forms. Yet NPH also thinks that there's some room for nuance in a case like this, so that we don't paint a dopey loud-mouthed entertainer with the same brush as we paint The Klan.

This Week's On The Media has a great interview with Leon Wynter pursuing this very tack. Wynter, who blogs at The American Race, grants that Imus' misappropriated a piece of cultural slang, but also adds that more than "slang" is at stake. The phrase Imus used has a history, a history of crushing African American women beneath the weight of white European standards of beauty. NPH has to acknowledge that our "nuanced" position took no account of that.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:02 AM


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