Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Diversity Series (Commentary)

The Blame Game
By Mark Moran

The timeless and enduring issue of prejudice has once again been pushed to the front of the American consciousness. This revisiting of our culture's attitudes towards minorities resulted from WFAN talk show host Don Imus' referring to members of the Rutgers women's basketball team as “nappy headed ‘hos.”

After Imus' comments caught the eye of the media, he became a figurative punching bag for nearly every American news outlet. America took action to conceal its shock. Al Sharpton called for Imus' resignation, the Today Show ran stories on ethnicity in the U.S., and on news programs, the self-righteous expressed how surprised and offended they were. His comments were unprofessional, offensive, and he should be held accountable for them: but why did they shock America so much?

Our culture sends such mixed messages about the ever-so-taboo topic of race. When comedians like Sara Silverman, Dave Chapelle, and Carlos Mencia spout off slurs and reinforce stereotypes, Americans don't burn them at the stake in the name of equality. In fact, we not only let these comments slide -- we laugh at them.

Chappelle's Show and Mind of Mencia have produced big ratings for Comedy Central, and Sara Silverman recently landed a show on the same network. There is, however, a big difference between these comedians and Don Imus: their remarks were in the context of a joke. But we still laugh.

Stereotypes and comedic prejudice are the basis for some of television’s highest rated shows. We stand on moral high ground when it comes to Don Imus, but still sit in front of the television and eagerly absorb shows that promote stereotypes. We call Imus a racist for labeling esteemed student athletes “hos”, but we call Eminem an artist when he labels gay people “fagots”.

It's sad but true -- we seem to be hypocrites. The VH1 reality show “Flavor of Love” has been criticized by many for not only reinforcing stereotypes, but for capitalizing on them. Yet, “Flavor of Love” is the highest rated show in the history of the network. There seems to be a large gap between our words and actions when it comes to prejudice.

Like previous calls to action during controversy, this illogical leap between words and actions are ignored and something or someone is designated the enemy. Marilyn Manson took the heat for Columbine, and it seems that the Hip-Hop industry will take the fall for Imus' stupidity. Every outraged commentator on every news show is now blasting rappers for using the “N” word. Just like how Manson's dark, tortured lyrics brainwashed the Columbine shooters, the Hip-Hop industry apparently gave the thumbs up to Imus' ignorant remarks. It seems that history is once again repeating itself.

When the American public's emotions run high, they wait for someone to direct their condemning finger. To pick who will play our moral foe, news commentators merely need to choose an unpopular public figure and use a minimal amount of reasoning. This avoidance tactic rarely fails; the public ignores the holes in logic and throws their stones.

One could see where these outraged commentators are drawing this conclusion from: rappers often use the “N” word and misogynist words/attitudes are almost standard. However, this hypothesis is giving far too much credit to the power of Hip-Hop, or rather, music in general.

Music is indeed a powerful art form, but implying it has the ability to shape or create wide spread cultural ideals is beyond ludicrous. This aside, it sill makes no sense that rap music allowed Imus to feel comfortable referring to the Rutgers team as “nappy headed hos”. It's hard to imagine Don Imus getting his groove on listening to Biggie or 50 cent.

Singling out one thing, in this case Hip-Hop, as the root of the problem seems to be the most popular course of action because it's the easiest. If the Hip Hop industry is blamed for America's views of minorities, the issue of prejudice can be treated like a disease.

From here, the solution is simple and simplified: Hip Hop is diagnosed as the virus infecting America, the treatment is censorship, and the children along with our fear of self-examination is protected. It's as easy as pie -- one problem and one solution -- a solution that never addressed the real problem.

To recognize the problem of prejudice and hopefully solve it, we must give up our blinded blame game. The problem isn't Hip Hop, ethnic comedy, television or any one thing deviously brainwashing us. The problem is within each of us as individuals. Some rappers say the “N” word and send misogynist/homophobic/bigoted messages, some comedians tell ethnic jokes, and some television shows reinforce stereotypes.

What these critics who love to point the moral finger must realize is that these things exist because we want them to. The American public buys these records, laugh at these jokes, and loyally watch these television shows.

The question isn't how these things influence us. If critics truly think these people and institutions are promoting bigotry, the question is why does America desire it? Musicians, comedians, and television shows that promote hate aren't the source of the problem they are the results. American attitudes regarding prejudice did not and do not stem from one thing.

Slavery, oppression, power, history, censorship, tradition, imperialism, and capitalism are merely a few of the forces that shaped and continue to shape how America views/treats minorities. These things not only affect how America treats minorities, but also how its people in general regard those who are different from them.

Many of people standing on their soapbox chastising Don Imus are part of the problem. As they look to Imus to see what wrong with America, they avoid looking at themselves and their own biases. Fueled by his self-satisfying self-righteousness, Al Sharpton called Imus a bigot and demanded his resignation. Does Sharpton know what the definition of bigot is?

Maybe Al forgot some of the bigoted comments he's made. Maybe he's forgotten his lecture at Kean College in 1994 where he was quoted saying, “We taught philosophy and astrology and mathematics before Socrates and those Greek homos ever got around to it.” Not only is Sharpton a hypocrite, but also like many condemning Imus he is part of the problem.

We must look to ourselves first if there is any hope of living in a society where race, gender, religion, sexuality, and every other differentiation that can be made are non-existent. Blaming the entertainment industry, Don Imus, or even Al Sharpton for bigotry in America is a fruitless effort. The comments Imus made has given our country and its people the opportunity to address prejudice.

If we want any sort of change, we must look at the whole picture: at our history, our government, our culture, and ourselves. We must acknowledge our own biases and ask ourselves why we have them. We need to show the same amount of outrage we are showing Don Imus when our government oppresses those based on their minority status.

What do we expect to happen from blaming Hip Hop for supposedly creating a culture where demeaning slurs are accepted? By blaming Hip Hop will censorship ensue in the name of equality? The continuation of the moral blame game offers only a hoax disguised as an answer. America doesn't need any more smoke screens; we need some old fashioned honesty -- from our country, our culture, and ourselves.

So America, do you think you can handle the truth?

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