Hateful words have a way of consuming those who utter them. Hateful words also have a way of damaging people’s sense of self and their self-esteem. We see both coming to play in the case of Mr. Don Imus and his verbal victims. But really, it is difficult, if not impossible, not to be angry at what Imus said about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. His depraved remark was not only vile, it is impious and reprehensible. Whether it was said in jest or during unguarded moment, or whether it was part of his usual shtick, it doesn’t really matter. Such mean-spirited vulgarity could inflame and worsen racial tension; therefore, it must never be tolerated. And so is vengeance.
Vengeance should have no place in the current discourse. That the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are both at the forefront of this “hang him high and hang him dry crusade” is something of a surprise. And disappointing. It is disappointing because both men are well respected at home and abroad. Both men are considered part of the “American conscience,” and are also considered good Christians. Forgiveness is a central tenet of the Christian faith. No man or woman who intends to inherit the kingdom of God must fail to forgive. He must not call for unjust punishment.
That Don Imus sinned is not the question. That his comment was injurious to all concerned, and detrimental to race relations in this great country of ours, is not the debate. What Christians and Muslims and all those who bow before God should concern themselves with — here and now — is whether Imus confessed and apologized.
He confessed. He apologized. He must have apologized a dozen times or more. Day after day, and at every juncture, he has been apologizing and begging for forgiveness. What more does Reverend Jesse Jackson and Reverend Al Sharpton and others want from Imus? What else is he to do? Go into social exile? Commit Harakiri?
Don Imus is no different from a large number of people in this country who find pleasure in crudeness, indecency and tastelessness — deriding others on account of their race, gender, nationality, sexuality and creed. But in so many ways, Imus is also different: he is a good and decent man, gracious and benevolent.
Racism and painful racial remark is a big problem in the United States — problems that must be stamped out — but certainly not through highhandedness. We need to engage in collective introspection. Why, for instance, are we readily accepting of scatological music and movies that debase women and groups we disagree with? Or are we just now aware of the sexism, racial bigotry and clinically offensive languages in the media?
Don Imus must be ashamed of himself. From all indications, he is also embarrassed beyond belief. Look into his eyes, listen to him, read his body language and you will see a man who is genuinely sorry for his callous remarks. He does not have to lose his job. And he does not have to go into social exile. No, there is no cause for that. One of the last things Don Imus must do is to meet with the Rutgers women basket team (to offer an in-person apology).
The punishment that has so far been meted out to him is enough. Enough is enough! Why stomp on a man who is down on his knees? To continue to clomp him is unjust, un-American and violates the teaching of Jesus Christ. Asking for his resignation or that he be fired from his job is too hash a punishment.
In decent and highly developed societies (such as ours) punishment must fit the crime. In this case, shame and embarrassment and atonement are sufficient punishments. To ask for more would be excessive. With this matter, we are about to move from what is right and proper into social-licentiousness; we are about to cross the decency line and move into an atmosphere of bold-face lynching. That is not the American way. Enough is enough! Let Don Imus keep his job.