UNCIVIL RIGHTS

Drop the Race Card

By Joe R. Hicks
Sunday, April 15, 2007

Apologies were everywhere last 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 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.


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