Listening to the radio this morning, I heard that Don Imus, freshly back onto radio after a hiatus of some months, made a statement yesterday regarding "Pacman" Jones.
A refresher: Adam "Pacman" Jones is a football player, recently signed to the Dallas Cowboys to play defensive back. He has had a rather difficult past few years, having had multiple run-ins with the police. It is in fact, true that he is more known for the incidents than for his play on the field, though he is reportedly a talented player.
So, on Monday, Imus, who lost his last job over ill-advised comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team, asks his on-air reporter "what color is he?", the reporter replies with "black", and Imus' response is to say "Well, there you have it." How they got to that point, the course of the on-air conversation, is not something I've been able to find online yet.
Imus has since said that what he was meaning was that if Jones was arrested for doing something wrong, he would more quickly get a reputation for such things than a white player. His quote is that "What people should be outraged about is that they arrest blacks for no reason".
It is certainly true that African Americans do have a higher rate of arrests in this country than whites. It is certainly true that there is a much higher rate of African Americans who are in prison that whites. Imus, in his own defense, speaks true statements.
It is also true that folks are going to hear Imus a certain way. Because of what he has said, and what he has been portrayed to say, when he does refer in any way to American race relations, people are going to sit up and notice, and not positively. Because it's Imus, others have seen fit to comment (including, admittedly, me, here.) Sharpton has weighed in, and Jones has said that he will be praying for Imus, that it was disappointing. For Jones, it probably was dissapointing, whether Imus meant to get mileage and comedy fodder out of Jones' troubles, or that Imus had reverted back to his earlier attitudes. Either way, Jones is again not getting attention for his on-field skills.
Imus may have meant exactly what he says he meant, that he is remarking on the inequalities in the American jurisprudence system, in a sarcastic manner. His court ordered sensitivity training may have actually taken root.
But it seems to me that the wiser course may have been to not say anything at all. He must know full well that there is a segment of the population who is monitoring his speech for more evidence of racism. Like it or not, until he joins the church triumphant, he will be known as a racist. When he does pass, every obituary of him will refer to the Rutgers incident somewhere in the first two paragraphs.
It definitely needs to be highlighted, every day, that African Americans still have a tougher slog than Anglos. The possibility of an African American president has caused an uptick in white supremacist website traffic and calls of curiosity and interest. The Secret Service was part of Obama's entourage earlier than any other candidate in US history. Our nation still has prejudices, and we still have to talk about them, deal with them, eradicate them. We aren't doing it quickly, forcefully, or efficiently enough.
Imus, whether his defense of his original comment was honest or not, just isn't the guy who gets to make offhand sarcastic comments about race relations in America. He's just not the right guy.