Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search


Getting Along With Each Other Is Not War Or Law

Flotsam & Jetsam
Getting Along With Each Other Is Not A War Or A Law

By Editor Sam Smith

IN FOLLOWING the Imus affair, I have been struck by how few of the participants had any experience in improving intercultural relations. It reminded me of the TV coverage of the Iraq war where military experts are constantly being called upon to explain how to achieve peace. Peace experts are virtually non-existent.

Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are the military experts of the civil rights movement, knowledgeable on how to conduct a war but neither skilled nor particularly interested in achieving peace. Their approach has often worked well in dealing with politicians and corporations but it is about as useful dealing with street prejudice in the white community as the US Army is at improving relations with Iraqis by breaking down their doors in the middle of the night.

Thus we find ourselves with Imus gone but an untold number of his four million listeners and viewers angrier over ethnic matters than they were before it all started.

And there are other costs. Peter Wallsten, writing in the LA Times, points out something the critics of Imus have overlooked: "The fate of the controversial shock jock is stirring quiet but heartfelt concern in an unlikely quarter: among Democratic politicians. That's because, over the years, Democrats such as [Harold] Ford came to count on Imus for the kind of sympathetic treatment that Republicans got from Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity. Equally important, Imus gave Democrats a pipeline to a crucial voting bloc that was perennially hard for them to reach: politically independent white men. With Imus' show canceled indefinitely because of his remarks about the Rutgers University women's basketball team, some Democratic strategists are worried about how to fill the void. For a national radio audience of white men, Democrats see few if any alternatives. "This is a real bind for Democrats," said Dan Gerstein, an advisor to one of Imus' favorite regulars, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). "Talk radio has become primarily the province of the right, and the blogosphere is largely the province of the left. If Imus loses his microphone, there aren't many other venues like it around."

Of course it didn't have to happen that way. Imus could have been suspended and in the recovery rather than in the punishment would have been the redemption. Instead, they handled it just like they handle our foreign affairs. Kill the bad guys no matter how much it costs us.

There were exceptions but they got little coverage. For example, the black site Redding News Review reported that, "An Atlanta pastor is urging forgiveness for irreverent talk-show host Don Imus and inviting him to the city to dialog about his racial slur. The Reverend Markel Hutchins, a minister and civil rights activist, told Redding News Review: 'I want to enrich him with the black perspective and experience that he probably has never had an opportunity to see, and no other city offers that like Atlanta. He has probably never seen that and neither has his audience. Hutchins said that other civil rights activists are engaging in 'racial arson just because it grabs headlines.'

"My basic position is the persecution is disingenuous and largely hypocritical," said the minister, who stressed that blacks have to get back to using Martin Luther King and Jesus as models. 'Someone has to raise their voice and say this type of persecution is illogical and doesn't serve the interest of African American people or people in general.'"

But that is not how the game is played.

I was reminded during the past week of a conversation I had long ago with the then editor of Washington City Paper, David Carr, who is now with the NY Times and a major Imus critic. I was telling how I had to learn, in moving from being a conventional reporter to editing a newspaper in a 75% black neighborhood, not to treat ordinary citizen activists in the tough way I was used to treating major politicians and other big shots. Carr yelled back at me, "That's bullshit. That's patronizing," and quickly hung up.

But I still think it was a good lesson. It joined what I had learned as an anthropology major about cultural antipathies and reinforced what I had learned at home and in a Friends school about respect for others. Unlike Carr, I had come to appreciate the many and contradictory corners in which truth lay, often unnoticed or unapproved by those of us in the media.

In his marvelous book, Respect, Richard Sennett (who grew up in the Cabrini Green housing project) notes that for radicals in his generation, making bureaucracy the enemy "still did not reveal how to make friends with those who were not radicals. . . The struggle to break apart institutions failed to bring the New Left closer to people unlike ourselves."

And he concludes, "In society, attacking the evils of inequality cannot alone generate mutual respect. In society, and particularly in the welfare state, the nub of the problem we face is how the strong can practice respect towards those destined to remain weak."

The problem is particularly acute among liberals who are increasingly separated from the weak either by ethnicity or by class. It has brought a major shift in the priorities of liberals - with a shrinking interest in those policies that truly help the weak and a growing condescension towards those who do not share their cultural enlightenment. Much of what was going on during the Imus affair consisted of upscale liberals and media establishing their own virtuous credentials, an act which, aside from its boredom, does little to improve matters.

We don't need more military-style experts to guide us towards better cultural relations. We don't need more laws, more punishment, more sanctimony, more lectures. We need a politics that helps the weak discover their real enemies, which is to say not those of a different ethnic or sexual character struggling like themselves to make it, but those in power who are holding back both black women college basketball players and white guys without a college education at all. Those like those politicians, corporados and media types on TV last week telling us that if we just deal with this ethnic slur everything will be okay.



Since 1964, Washington's most unofficial source
1312 18th St. NW #502 Washington DC 20036
202-835-0770 Fax: 835-0779

© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Julian Assange: A Thousand Days In Belmarsh
Julian Assange has now been in the maximum-security facilities of Belmarsh prison for over 1,000 days. On the occasion of his 1,000th day of imprisonment, campaigners, supporters and kindred spirits gathered to show their support, indignation and solidarity at this political detention most foul... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: The Mauling Of Novak Djokovic
Rarely can the treatment of a grand sporting figure by officialdom have caused such consternation. Novak Djokovic, the tennis World Number One, has always had a tendency to get under skin and constitution, creating a large following of admirers and detractors. But his current treatment by Australian authorities, and his subsequent detention as an unlawful arrival despite being granted a visa to participate in the Australian Open, had the hallmarks of oppression and incompetent vulgarity... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Voices Of Concern: Aussies For Assange’s Return

With Julian Assange now fighting the next stage of efforts to extradite him to the United States to face 18 charges, 17 of which are based on the brutal, archaic Espionage Act, some Australian politicians have found their voice. It might be said that a few have even found their conscience... More>>

Forbidden Parties: Boris Johnson’s Law On Illegal Covid Gatherings

It was meant to be time to reflect. The eager arms of a new pandemic were enfolding a society with asphyxiating, lethal effect. Public health authorities advocated various measures: social distancing, limited contact between family and friends, limited mobility. No grand booze-ups. No large parties. No bonking, except within dispensations of intimacy and various “bubble” arrangements. Certainly, no orgies... More>>

Dunne Speaks: Question Time Is Anything But
The focus placed on the first couple of Question Time exchanges between the new leader of the National Party and the Prime Minister will have seemed excessive to many but the most seasoned Parliamentary observers. Most people, especially those outside the Wellington beltway, imagine Question Time is exactly what it sounds... More>>

Gasbagging In Glasgow: COP26 And Phasing Down Coal

Words can provide sharp traps, fettering language and caging definitions. They can also speak to freedom of action and permissiveness. At COP26, that permissiveness was all the more present in the haggling ahead of what would become the Glasgow Climate Pact... More>>