Only one question remains now that the other shoe has dropped and CBS Radio has followed MSNBC's lead and cut its ties with Don Imus: Now What? Will this story begin to die a long, slow death that results in no meaningful change and is simply about the actions of one person? Or will it be the spark that lights an intelligent discussion on the tenuous balance between freedom of speech, striking a blow against racism and sexism, and responsible use of public airwaves? While my heart hopes that we are at the dawn of a new era of American societal discourse, my cynicism cautions me to not hold my breath.
The heat is now on those who called for, and received, Imus' head to take their scalp and do something responsible. Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have taken their customary place at the front of the publicity line, but they now run the risk of being the greatest of hypocrites of all time if they don't continue this budding movement to decontaminate the airwaves by moving on to the "artists" and companies who produce the vile lyrics and other forms of "entertainment" that do far more damage to Black communities than Imus ever did. Imus' crass racism, practiced in scattershot fashion over the years, is no match for the visual and lyrically imagery presented to America by far too many "artists" whose only skill is identifying the lowest common denominator and playing to it for all its worth. They, and the music and movie companies that make millions on this commerce, must be compelled - by any means necessary - to end their trafficking in cultural debasement for the sake of the almighty dollar. Otherwise, all this fuss about Imus will be little more than a gratuitous career hit on one racist.
Of course, there is the all too inconvenient truth that millions of people, without regard to race, revel in this kind of stuff. Many African Americans defend the debasement of women, for example, on capitalist, free speech grounds. This is Sharpton's moment to stand up and speak truth to forces throughout the country who feed this beast. Unfortunately, there is only limited evidence that he has the courage to do so.
It's easy to criticize Sharpton. As a former FBI informant who supplemented his income by snitching on Blacks, perpetrated the Tawana Brawley scandal, and established himself as a preeminent self-promoter, Sharpton is a ball of contradictions. On the one hand, he is an eloquent spokesman for the disenfranchised. On the other, he is a man of brazen ambition and deceit who won't let facts or good taste get in his way. The enormous self-importance with which he carries himself is unjustified and exemplifies much of what is wrong with Black leadership. Leadership should be about more than speaking loudly and forcefully. That said, he deserves credit for ensuring that Imus was held accountable for his actions. It is doubtful that MSNBC or CBS Radio would have taken the steps they did were it not for Sharpton and his jihad against Imus.
Now that Sharpton et. al. have reached their goal and have a trophy to hang up on a wall, let's hope that this is just the beginning of a new movement to increase our societal dignity.
Michael K. Fauntroy is an assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of the recently published book Republicans and the Black Vote.
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