Drop the Race Card
Apologies were everywhere week. And so was race. Radio talk host Don Imus was a busy man, saying he was sorry whenever and wherever he could. As his drama unfolded, North Carolina prosecutor Michael B. Nifong was also trying to save his rapidly vaporizing career, issuing an apology to three young Duke University lacrosse players as the rape charges he had brought against them a year ago were dropped.
The apology strategies clearly didn’t work: Imus lost his MSNBC cable show and his CBS daily radio show, while Nifong is
last facing charges that he engaged in serious prosecutorial misconduct, which could result in his disbarment.
Okay, these guys aren’t deserving of much in the way of sympathy. But what links both cases is the rank racial opportunism in both Imus’s firing and the Duke rape case, in which the Durham County district attorney shamelessly used race in an attempt to railroad three young men for his political purposes.
Remember the Michael Richards episode? In that case, America’s civil rights establishment — led, as usual, by Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton — mobilized in an effort to sell the premise that a down-on-his-luck comedian had somehow become a barometer for our nation’s race relations. The former “Seinfeld” star had
hurled the N-word at black hecklers during his routine. Civil rights leaders contended that this showed how prevalent racism is in our society. In full mea culpa mode, Richards went on Jackson’s syndicated radio show and apologized profusely, but Jackson simply used it as an opportunity to trumpet, once again, his claim that racism is alive and well in this country.
What remains of the once-proud civil rights movement justifies its existence by contending— despite widespread progress — that black people continue to live marginalized and victimized lives. This oft-repeated theme was the base for the ugly stew that was the reaction to Imus’s slur, and it was the operating theme for Nifong as he set about attempting to ruin the lives of three innocent men.
Several decades ago, when I was head of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, I would have joined with Jackson and Sharpton with little reservation to call for Imus’s demise. But somewhere along the way since then, reality intervened and I began to reject the view that America is a racist, hostile environment for people with my skin color. Further, I began engaging in the unforgivable sin — rejecting the orthodox civil rights view of blacks as victims.
The pattern of racial opportunism was well established by the time Imus offered his unsolicited comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team — a team that recently competed in the NCAA championship game. In his usual gruff manner, Imus said that the players are a bunch of “nappy-headed hos.” Let’s stipulate that this was a bad idea, and that it was bad for the obvious reasons — the team (not an all-black group, by the way) appears to be a collection of bright, articulate young women, undeserving of Imus’s drive-by attack. It was also a bad idea because Imus, a veteran of politically incorrect commentary, must have known that such a comment was bound to draw attention from professional protesters such as Jackson and Sharpton.
Predictably — like vultures awaiting the latest roadkill — civil rights leaders began to clamor for Imus to be fired. To hell with sorry! The National Association of Black Journalists (I hate to be a pest, but shouldn’t a group representing journalists take an objective stance?), along with Jackson, Sharpton and other black figures, turned aside Imus’s repeated apologies. Protests were organized nationwide, often in front of CBS and NBC offices, and Imus took the risky step of appearing on Sharpton’s radio show to ask forgiveness again, all for naught. There is something surreal about someone like Imus prostrating himself before the likes of Jackson and Sharpton to save his job. The widespread assumption in corporate America is that these civil rights figures are “leaders” of the nation’s black population. In reality, they have assumed this role through self-appointment and self-promotion. Polls have shown that only about 2 percent of blacks view Sharpton as their “leader.” As Juan Williams pointed out in his book “Enough,” when Sharpton ran for president in 2004, he couldn’t muster enough votes to win a single primary and couldn’t even carry his hometown of New York. Jackson also lost considerable luster in black communities after it was revealed that he fathered a child with one of his aides and it was alleged that he was “shaking down” corporate America for personal gain.
So, we are confronted with the specter of individuals who have little in the way of moral credibility, and have themselves made bigoted public comments (Jackson called New York “Hymietown” and Sharpton referred to Jews as “diamond merchants”), now presenting themselves as arbiters of public morality and good taste in broadcasting.Add to that the reality of today’s hip-hop and gangsta rap CDs and videos, which commonly use bigoted, misogynistic lyrics that make the assault on Imus appear hypocritical in the extreme. The phrase “them’s some nappy-headed hos” pales in comparison to rap lyrics that debase women and glorify the “thug life” in ways that trouble all but the most crass among us.
This is more than just a double standard; it is an agenda of racial opportunism that promotes the view that blacks are powerless victims of white racism. In this view, blacks are always in need of government intervention to save them from white hostility.
This is the view that Nifong exploited in his narrow quest for political survival.
As he prepared to run for reelection as Durham County district attorney last year, his victory was no sure thing. What elevated him from the pack of contenders was his aggressive stand on a developing case that was tailor-made for his purpose. An “exotic dancer” had said that she was raped after performing at a party thrown by members of the Duke lacrosse team. Because she is black and the three young men ultimately charged are white, the case soon became one of “racial justice.” That, at least, was the view of the Durham County black community, which Nifong and the civil rights establishment soon exploited.
Throwing aside the principle of “innocent until proven guilty,” Nifong campaigned hard in the black community, making it clear that he viewed the three men — Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans — as guilty of the alleged rape, and referring to the Duke team as privileged “hooligans.” This despite the fact that the accuser’s own statements disqualified herfrom testifying under the state’s legal definition of rape,that two DNA tests could not link the defendants to their accuser, a ndthat Nifong is now facing charges that he withheld evidence from the defendant’s lawyers, made misrepresentations to a judge and made unethical statements about the case in public.
All of this appears to have been in the service of Nifong’s relentless need to appease black voters and a civil rights establishment that was calling for the defendants’ heads to be delivered on a platter. But guilt for this attempted railroading must also be borne by the “progressive” political elements within the Duke University community who called for a full-speed-ahead prosecution — damn the evidence. The jury to which Nifong played was the black community of Durham. This strategy worked; he was reelected. But the case has come undone, because of Nifong’s own misbehavior and because of the dancer herself, whose ever-shifting stories and questionable past undermined her credibility. North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said that the case was “a result of a tragic rush to accuse and failure to verify serious allegations.”
While justice was finally served in the Duke case, what was accomplished by Imus’s firing? Jackson and Sharpton may have gained another notch on their civil rights belts, and an over-the-hill shock jock is standing in the unemployment line, but the plight of black urban communities remains untouched. Poor parenting is still taking place, cultural rot is still afflicting the lives of black urban dwellers, disproportionate fatherlessness is still a reality, and bad schools as well as high levels of crime are still facts of black urban life everywhere.
It’s easy to tackle a doddering old radio show host who has said something patently stupid. But it’s far more challenging to address things that are real problems for real people. Most urban dwellers couldn’t have picked Imus out of a lineup if their life depended on it. It’s no wonder that some critics, like me, argue that figures such as Jackson and Sharpton, among others of their ilk, are dinosaurs fighting only to maintain a patina of relevance.
As comedian Bill Cosby has observed: “There are people that want you to remain in a hole, and they rejoice in your hopelessness because they have jobs mismanaging you. However, your job is not becoming victims. We have to rise up and fight on all levels to succeed.” Amen, brother Cosby.