Why is it so hard for Americans to forgive?

I've been thinking for a few days about what, if anything, I had to say about Don Imus and his offensive comments.

Unlike most opinion-mongers on the Internet these days, I wanted to give myself some time to digest as much information as possible before passing judgement on the situation. With the announcement yesterday that CBS has fired Imus over his racist and sexist remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball team, I'm left to wonder:

Why are Americans only satisfied when someone gets crucified?

We always want someone to pay, as if the only thing that can right a wrong is a pound of flesh. (Lawsuits, the death penalty, insurance settlements ... the list goes on.) But instead of looking at every injustice as an opportunity to punish the wrongdoer, why don't we more often look at injustices as opportunities to educate?

There's no doubt what Imus said is deplorable and absolutely unacceptable, but I find it unfortunate that the first reaction of grandstanding third parties is to call for the man to lose his job, as if that was the only thing that could harm Imus enough to right the wrong.

In the wake of the furor he caused, Imus was contrite and sorry. He courageously faced his critics when he just as easily could have hidden and waited for the storm to pass. But of all the people to respond in the media to Imus' epithet, the only ones to seize the opportunity before them were the very people Imus impinged: The players themselves, and their coach, C. Vivian Stringer (in photo, above).

As hurt as they were, never once did they call for his job. Instead, they chose to have a meeting with Imus -- private, behind closed doors, no media invited. They chose, in the end, to accept his apology, and begin the process of forgiveness, which brings its close friend -- healing -- with it.

"These comments are indicative of greater ills in our culture," the team's statement said Friday. "It is not just Mr. Imus, and we hope that this will be and serve as a catalyst for change. Let us continue to work hard together to make this world a better place."

And of all the "reverends" who have been so vocal in the wake of the comments, only one -- Stringer's own pastor, Rev. DeForest Soaries -- eximplified the compassion of his religion.

At a news conference later Friday, (Soaries) announced a plan to hold a town meeting within 30 days on the Rutgers campus involving educators, entertainers, young people and clergy to address a culture that "has produced language that has denigrated women."

"No African-American leader, no national leader should consider this a victory," Soaries said in reference to Imus' firing. "We have to begin working on a reponse to the larger problem."

For those that believe America has taken a step forward because Imus was fired, I beg to differ. Although no hero, is there any better man to share what was learned from this experience than the very man who had to learn the most from the mistake? Instead, the only message seems to be, "Don't say one wrong thing, or you'll lose your job." After all, when Rev. Al Sharpton suggested to Imus that he should not walk away from this unscathed -- meaning he should be fired -- Imus spoke a truthful response:
"Unscathed? Don't you think I'm humiliated?" Imus said. "Don't you think I'm embarrassed?"
No, America will talk a step forward when our society truly understand why words such as his are so hurtful -- something that will only happen when leaders use these incidents as teachable moments rather than opportunities to rage with rhetoric.


Dr Pezz said...

Sadly, dollars determined Imus' job. The moral outrage of the network deemed a suspension appropriate until advertisers pulled their money.

Also, an unfortunate truth is that many of the incensed groups and individuals are hypocritical in how they attack Imus' speech, but they don't campaign against this same type of speech in other forms.

As a journalist, I would imagine you might feel the free speech vein may be an as yet untapped angle to approach this story. When is the attacking, charged voice too much?

Nuss said...

I don't really see this as a free speech issue, at least not on the part of Imus. But since money was the driving force behind his dismissal, who was the driving force behind that? It was the loud voices of "outrage."

People like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have every right in the world to their speech, but as a journalist, I wonder: Do we have to make it so easy for them to have a platform?

That platform already bit the media in the butt once this week when everyone -- including Jackson and Sharpton -- did their best backpedal in response to all charges against the Duke lacrosse players being dropped. As journalists, we'd be wise to stay above the fray next time and just report the news.

Alas, I wonder if that time in American journalism has passed.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree with your post more. My initial reaction (since I can't stand Imus) was to want him fired as well. His actions were completely inappropriate and absolutely inexcusable.

Then I got to thinking about it later that night and Bill Maher popped into my head. As the host of a show called Politically Incorrect, he said something politically incorrect, albeit arguably quite true, and got fired. But the thing that differs in his case is that there was no greater ill of society that 'caused' him to say what he said -- no racism, no sexism, no homophobia, etc. He made a statement that enough people found unpopular given the current climate, a bunch of sponsors pulled their ad dollars and he lost his job for -- let me say this again -- saying something POLITICALLY INCORRECT on a show called "POLITICALLY INCORRECT!"

Now, there are two ways to look at that, as well as Imus', situation:

1) Being the very liberal, grassroots, pro-union, power-to-the-people sort of person I am, you can look at the firings as a victory for the will of the people to effect change on a grand scale through protest.


2) You can look at it as freedom of speech being controlled, once again, by corporate interest. As Neil Robison said on the first day: all news media in any form is a filler for the advertisements that come in between the content -- a delivery system for consumerism. The idea that Don Imus or Bill Maher actually had the freedom to say what they chose to say is naive; the outcomes prove that.

We do, indeed, have a culture that glorifies the payback; how else would we be able to start every war we have for the last 50 years (regardless of whether we're actually retaliating for something that actually happened)? How else would a film like Dirty Harry be considered a classic unless we believed in the utmost punishment for whatever wrong was done? How else could we think it A-O-friggin'-K for our current president to have allowed the execution of the most prisoners in a state's history while he was governor despite that he is fervently 'pro-life' and that there has NEVER been any legitimate study done in history that proves any concrete correlation between the implementation of capital punishment and the reduction of any type of capital crime -- while at the same time there have been numerous studies to show proof that many victims of execution at the hands of the government were actually innocent of the crime for which they were convicted?

My opinion, without getting too preachy, is once again, that we have bred critical thought out of our entire society. There are no shades of gray, there are just 'right' and 'wrong.' Not how wrong, but just plain wrong. Say something racial, lose your job. Say something unpopular, lose your job -- and then just go away. After all, Imus used rough vernacular that was most certainly racially charged, but it's not as if he called for the hanging of the entire squad from the nearest tree as if there was a Klan meeting afoot.

My point, and yes I'm aware that it has taken me a great deal of time to get there, is that incidents such as these need to be handled with at least a modicum of critical thought: make the punishment fit the action. A two-week suspension, a fine, and a pretty harsh tongue-lashing would've been enough, as it was deemed enough at the start. To simply martyr Imus for some 'cause,' thus possibly ending a career that I can only assume from the look of him has been ongoing since roughly the Taft administration, defeats the possibility of an ongoing dialogue about the topic. More importantly, it plays once again into the American way of life: to simply forget what actually happened -- and why -- and begin another new chapter of revisionist history as quickly as humanly possible.

Nuss said...

"To simply martyr Imus for some 'cause' ... defeats the possibility of an ongoing dialogue about the topic. More importantly, it plays once again into the American way of life: to simply forget what actually happened -- and why -- and begin another new chapter of revisionist history as quickly as humanly possible."

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Should I be scared that we agree about something other than sports?

Anonymous said...

I am.