He’s Back: What Don Imus has Learned

The Don Imus imbroglio was one of the first posts on this blog, so I thought that since he’s back on the air now, and once again getting coverage in the major news outlets, it would be worth a few minutes to revisit the issue. The New York Times reports that Imus is “chastened,” but what has he learned, if anything? Well, one of the lessons Imus, or his handlers, have learned is the importance of black faces in prominent places. Two of his new staffers on the show, Karith Foster and Tony Powell, are African American. When Imus introduced the two he said that they would join him in conducting:

“an ongoing discussion about race relations in this country.”

See? Fixed. All better now.

But, wait. What about the specifically gendered nature of Imus’ remarks? No comment from Imus on that aspect of his comments, and no attention in the mainstream press that I can find. Indeed, the New York Times reports that NOW issued a statement in support of Ms. Foster yet still critical of Imus; however, I wasn’t able to find any reference to that statement on NOW’s website, and the provided by the NYTimes just leads back to all the NYTimes articles about NOW (annoying). The issue of gender is nowhere to be found in the rest of the coverage I could find about it. This piece from Newsday frames the entire issue as a “debate” over “offensive speech” and “who can say what,” which seems only a small part of the issue but seems to be the favorite cliché to use when discussing the Imus debacle. In terms of lessons-learned, this is what the New York Times had to say:

“For all his bravado, Mr. Imus acknowledged that he had been chastened and, at times, humiliated these last few months, and that he deserved his punishment.
‘I think things worked out the way they should have worked out, he said. ‘We now have the opportunity to have a better program, to obviously diversify the cast.’
But, he added, ‘the program is not going to change.’

So it seems Imus learned the lessons of George W. Bush (and Condoleeza Rice) well: if you’re a white person that wants to say and do offensive, damaging things and not be held accountable for your actions, then obviously you’ve got to “diversify the cast.” My point here is not to call into question the politics or intention of Ms. Foster, Mr. Powell or even Condi Rice (well, ok Condi a little bit). My point is to take note of a strategy common to those thinking within the white racial frame, as it were. Rather than really examining the content of his offensive remarks and trying to understand what was offensive about them, or even trying to understand the political and economic inequality that makes the remarks so hurtful, Imus makes the move that so many other elite whites make: he “diversifies the cast” in the shallowest, most token-ish way possible, and calls that the “lesson learned.” Yet, the program remains “unchanged.”

Sadly, it seems the lessons Imus learned were all the wrong ones.