Welcome to Operation Reach B.L.A.C.K.

Operation Reach B.L.A.C.K. is a Pan-African Blog with an acronym that stands for Building Leadership Awareness and Cultural Knowledge.

The goal of this blog is to become a "Blog of Black Thought" focusing on matters of social, economic and political awareness through education (re-education), self-affirmation and cultural expression. Above all, this blog will DEMAND respect and appreciation for one another as black men and women.

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(Opinions, Observations, and Commentary)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Imus is Not the Issue / Imus and the Dependency of Reactionary Politics

(Parts 1 and 2 of a piece I posted over at JJP)

I’m sure you’ve all heard of Don Imus’ most recent case of foot-in-mouth disease. Seems Imus has a sweet spot for black athletes. The latest controversy involves comments Imus made about Dallas Cowboys cornerback, Adam “Pacman” Jones. ESPN covered the story, here.

The controversy came Monday when word broke that the troubled cornerback wished to officially drop his nickname, “Pacman,” in hopes for a fresh start. Anyone familiar with the NFL knows that Jones has been the poster-boy for everything wrong with the league for the past couple of years. His career of unquestioned talent has been spoiled by numerous arrests, suspension and multiple encounters with the league commissioner stemming from a shooting that took place at a strip club last year.

Suffice it to say, Jones always keeps the media on its toes. So, after hearing a quick rundown of the player’s rapsheet, old Imus couldn’t help but perform his journalistic duty by asking the most important question:

Imus: “What color is he?”

Answer: “He’s African-American.”

Response: “Well, there you go. Now we know.”

Now how’s that for consistency? Slightly more than a year since calling the Rutgers Women’s Basketball team, “nappy-headed hos,” good ole’ Imus is back like clockwork for another foray into black stereotypes. And doesn’t the media just love a repeat offender like Imus. It’s simple to follow and anything involving race is ratings gold.

For what it’s worth, Imus issued a clarification. . .

via Reuters:

"Obviously I already knew what color [Jones] was. The point was to make a sarcastic point. . . What people should be outraged about is they arrest blacks for no reason . . . There's no reason to arrest this kid six times, maybe he did something once, but I mean everybody does something once."

Do you buy that excuse? Me neither.

Of course, people are outraged. And why shouldn’t they? As one sports commentator said this morning, given his less-than-stellar career in race and gender relations, Don Imus lost the benefit of the doubt a long time ago.

Undoubtedly, many of us hear Imus' comment and detect an implied “duh” quality that conveys a familiar, “well, what do you expect from a nigger” type of sentiment.

This does, however, bring a few questions to mind . . . Are we surprised by this? Why should we be surprised by this? And why am I not inspired to join the next round of protest that may come as a result of Imus’ most recent comments?

This is what I’m getting at: Are we missing a larger opportunity whenever we’re confronted with a situation like this?

Imus and the Dependency of Reactionary Politics

Enter Rev. Al Sharpton . . .

Like clockwork, Sharpton released a response saying,

via ESPN:
“We will determine in the next day or so whether or not [Imus’] remark warrants direct action on our part.”

Brotha Al . . . respectfully . . . please don’t.

Such a response assumes a mandate from the black community that you may or may not have, to convey a consensus message that may or may not exist. I don’t begrudge Rev. Sharpton’s passion. However, I certainly wish that he and other black leaders would begin to invest in more proactive forms of leadership.

This is a lesson we’ve learned far too often when we make moral arguments that lack reciprocity. By that I mean it’s too easy to change the subject to debates of double standards and fake cries of “reverse racism” and “oversensitivity,” when you’re vulnerable to the same criticisms you levy against others. Fact is that, following the Rutgers situation, Rev. Sharpton issued an edict of zero-tolerance that we in the black community were not and still are not willing to embrace (and for good reason).

Following the Rutgers incident, we quickly realized how hard it was to institute a zero-tolerance approach to offensive language when we failed to anticipate the response we’d get once critics turned their attention to similar language in rap music, comedy and other forms of popular black culture. Let’s be clear . . . this post is not a critique of rap music. Though I see the need for reform, I maintain that black culture should be held responsible to, and ONLY to, black people. It’s a matter of autonomy.

Instead, this post has more to do with the style, rather than the substance of modern black protest.

Looking back on the Rutgers incident, the following seems quite clear: We weren’t ready for the internal conversations our response to Imus’ bigoted and sexist comments triggered once he effortlessly morphed our objections into a national debate on rap music. By extension, this invited the inescapable stereotyping of black men and women through a different means. Ironically, objections of racism and sexism resulted in a national debate focusing on black pathologies perceived in hip hop culture.

Collectively, we weren’t prepared for the contemptuous backlash from white conservatives who retorted, “What about you.” It was too easy for them to argue that we had no moral authority because there was no consistency between our words and our actions.

The media sees no value in complexity. What resulted was a conversation that, while overdue, lacked proper context due to a rushed attempt at a moral consistency that may have been lacking from the beginning.

It was at that moment when we lost the moral authority behind our outrage and, with it, the power to control the debate. And it was with the short-sightedness of zero-tolerance, knee-jerk, reactionary politics that we exposed our vulnerability to charges of hypocrisy. These were charges of hypocrisy and insincerity that came back one year later when that same media had a chance to condemn a black man, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, for transgressions that, while different from Imus in context, were far too similar in the practice of short attention spans and gotcha politics that we accepted when it was Don Imus under scrutiny instead of one of our own.

Even more, in case you haven’t noticed, white media LOVES debating Sharpton because past controversies, such as the Tawana Brawley and Duke rape cases, make him an imperfect vehicle for otherwise reasonable and sincere messages. Much respect to Al Sharpton, but he should know that a story involving him is a story ABOUT him. Again, too much distraction.

Finally, it’s important to understand the perspective through which such controversies are viewed by the media. “Racism” is not some stupid comment by a shock jock on the verge of retirement. No, racism is the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in our nightly news, local broadcasts and cable networks. And while we’ve made some progress to see more black faces in a year when the first African American has a shot at the White House this does not change the fact that most if not all major news broadcasts are hosted by white men.

Again, this is not a matter of justified outrage, but a question of focus. As I see it, constantly focusing on the Don Imuses of the world inherently marginalizes the scope of racial bias in the media, which leads to far worse transgressions than stereotypes and offensive rhetoric. Political correctness is fool’s gold whilst the true treasures of ACCESS and SELF-DETERMINATION lay dormant; nothing more than mere aspirations for some future generation to tackle.

Again, where should we be focusing our time and attention? Is the extent of black liberation and respect limited to that which “offends” us? Or is there a co-equal, perhaps even dominant, branch of our collective struggle that begs us to look within to build the image, life and community that we hope to see?

Need I remind you that we are more than “offended?” We are incarcerated . . . we are dying . . . we are sick . . . we are underemployed. As a matter of fact, we are a lot of things before we even get close to being “offended.”

We’ve got much larger problems than being “offended.” And we’ll never get close to solving those problems unless and until we abandon the reactionary (and quite passive) politics of being “offended” and place more time and resources into the proactive, self-determinative politics of black empowerment.

Firing Don Imus from CBS and MSNBC was not a matter of black empowerment, but rather a success in white punishment. There’s a difference. The latter focuses on white influence while the former pushes towards black agency. And I fear that a reliance on such protest as we saw after Rutgers will only deepen the chasm between awareness and empowerment that many of our black leaders experience today.

It would only serve as a distraction from bigger issues with more significance. . . a distraction that steals life from the innovation and creativity that has always been the backbone of our survival as a people.

In truth, I cannot take offense to that which holds no significance in my life to be offended about. And, while I dream of a day where others might respect my diversity, I know that my survival as a black man does not and cannot wait for that magical moment when white apologizes to black for all of its transgressions. I’d be waiting for the rest of my life if I tried.

Our government won’t even apologize for slavery. What makes you expect an apology for hurt feelings? As if anyone other than black folk ever truly cared about the hurt feelings of black folk?

I make no excuses for Don Imus. However, I do admit that there is a small part of me that appreciates open bigotry, not for its hate, but for its honesty. At least I know where we stand with people like that. At least I’ll know how to prepare; what to look out for; what to expect. It’s oft-times far better than the false sense of security brought about through forced coercion resulting from efforts to shame white corporate institutions into disciplining white radio jockeys on behalf of white consumer dollars . . . oops, I mean black outrage.

Where’s our focus? Our focus should be on proactive means to obtain full power and self-determination of our image, culture and message. I’m tired of waiting for someone to apologize, or “tolerate” my diversity. I’m tired of begging white corporations to fight on our behalf.

You don’t shame the Don Imuses of the world . . . you confront them. You challenge them. It’s not easy, but we must carve out our own space for black expression. We’ve started that in the blogosphere. And I’m excited to see what the Black Television News Channel has in store for us when it launches next year.

Don Imus is not the issue. I refuse to give him that much power. Unlike a politician, he has no control over my life and well-being as a black man in America. And, though I’ll continue to hold a higher standard when it comes to our elected officials and concerns for their safety (see O’Reilly’s tasteless comments about not wanting to “lynch” Michelle Obama) I will take solace in one ultimate form of self-determination the next time I hear Mr. Imus . . .

I will change the channel.

Be Somebody,

Be Serious


  • Anonymous says:
    June 24, 2008 at 9:00 PM

    Damn good post.

    I find the controversy over Imus' latest comments to be a bit odd. The headlines might as well read: "Known Racist Makes Racist Comment"

    Really, how is this news anymore, and who cares that much. You are right, there are much, much larger problems to be solved. Of course, Imus and those like him need to be addressed, but it's less of an urgent, outrageous, breaking news situation than it is something that needs steady, long term pressure, attention and analysis.

    I find this similar to the fracas over Dobson's attack on Obama. How did that make the front page of cnn.com? That one should have been headlined: "Religious Hypocrite Makes Religiously Hypocritical Attack on Obama"

  • Politics&Wisdom says:
    June 24, 2008 at 9:02 PM

    Brilliantly written. I couldn’t agree more.

  • KarmiCommunist says:
    June 24, 2008 at 9:28 PM

    Hi, B-Serious...Karmi here, from the JJP blog, where I saw the first part of this post.

    Some quick points, thoughts, and questions:

    "Though I see the need for reform, I maintain that black culture should be held responsible to, and ONLY to, black people. It’s a matter of autonomy."

    "No, racism is the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in our nightly news, local broadcasts and cable networks."

    "Political correctness is fool’s gold whilst the true treasures of ACCESS and SELF-DETERMINATION lay dormant; nothing more than mere aspirations for some future generation to tackle."

    That sounds weird to this 'white' man. Like you want a separate gov't for blacks and whites, but expect more access into areas that you can choose!?

    A kind of integration of your choosing, and segregation when you want it?!

  • B-Serious says:
    June 24, 2008 at 10:16 PM

    First, to everyone, thanks for visiting my blog. I love the company and appreciate the feedback. Feel free to keep coming back and tell your friends.

    @ anonymous,

    Thanks for coming. I agree with you. Part of leadership is knowing how to pick and choose your battles. We get caught in a cycle of symbolic politics where "racism" is reduced to a list of naughty words and redemption is cheapened to a mea culpa on a black talk show and a donation to the United Negro College fund. It's more complex than that. Yes, we should voice our objection to offensive rhetoric . . . but it's not like we can't multitask. There's a need for proactive politics. Not to mention the fact that a lot of these controversies are highly predictable. Kinda like we're chasing our tales.

    @ politics&wisdom,

    Thanks for coming. And thanks for the kind words. Feel free to come again and tell your friends.

    @ karmi,

    I see this as a matter of culture, not solely politics. Don Imus has no political influence over me as an individual.

    What are we asking for here? We're asking for (1.) respect and (2.) diversity in the media. You can either ask for it or you can create it yourself. This is about empowering black people, not discriminating against white people.

    This is not about a separate government (that's unrealistic) nor is it a plea for segregation. It's a call for self-determination within the black community. It's a critique of black political strategy.

    For example, J.C. Watts' creation of a "black cnn" strikes me as being self-determinative. Rather than wait for inclusion into the mainstream media, Watts and others will create their own. I probably don't agree with his politics, but I love the idea. It's empowering and proactive. It stands in contrast to the reactionary politics of shaming corporate interests to act on your behalf.

    The purpose behind this post was to stress the need for more proactive politics.

  • KarmiCommunist says:
    June 24, 2008 at 10:42 PM

    @ B-Serious

    Thanks for clearing that up for me. I see your main point/s now, and they absolutely make sense, e.g. why bother to waste energy on a moron like Imus.

    I respect J.C. Watts a lot, and like the idea...well, to a point. Not a "black cnn", but a cnn with a focus on Black Issues. Like Rush focuses on Conservative issues. A woman's show that focuses on Women Issues.

    What would the reaction be...say for a "white cnn" that focuses on White Issues? I don't really care, since cnn may already cover such issues, but just a thought.

    You may be onto something here. I think that the Rev. Wright & BLT topics have upset many whites...it did me, since I had thought that we were over that kind of crap.

    The old ways are probably not going to work any more...so to speak.

    That's my 2-cents of input...

  • Acanthus says:
    June 24, 2008 at 11:53 PM

    CNN IS a white CNN.

    What does Rev. Wright, and whites getting upset over him have to do with it?

  • RobinCool BayouBoogie says:
    October 21, 2008 at 4:11 PM

    Hello Mr. B-Serious:

    To answer your question at the beginning of the page.. the way in which I found about this site was via an email I received at work today. It was entitled "Why White America perhaps fear Michelle Obama more than Barack" Fortunately, within the body of the email, the name of the site in which the initial piece was found: Jack & Jill Politics was the name of thie site I Googled.

    It's really rather amazing is all I can say for now; today is my first day.




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