It goes without saying that Don Imus got just what he deserved for his unconscionable slander of the beautiful and classy young ladies on the Rutgers basketball team. But just as unconscionable and disgusting was the behavior of our unelected Black spoksmen. Once again they’ve taken a slanderous affront to the Black community and used it as a photo op, only to disappear back into the shadows once the camera lights went out. Watching these self-appointed Black leaders going from talk show to talk show trying to look soberly concerned over this issue made me want to throw up. Their behavior betrayed the worse kind of self-serving gluttony for attention, and the entire circumstance of this episode demonstrates the unacceptably high price the Black community is paying for its lack of engagement. As I’ve mention before, the time has long past where we can allow one voice to speak for millions. It’s time that we take control of our own destiny, where the voice of millions can speak as one .
Watching those professional irates sitting before the cameras trying to act like they could barely restrain their outrage looked so disgustingly phony and hypocritical that it actually served as a distraction from the seriousness of what Don Imus said about those sisters. Think about it. That shaggy-headed, cowboy-hat-wearing sucker called those innocent daughters of the Black Community “Nappy Headed Whoes!” That wasn’t the kind of comment that you protest over; that wasn’t the non-specific use of the n-word—that was the worse kind of specific, and scurrilous slander against Black womanhood that any man could utter. You don’t simply protest that sort of thing—those are fighting words.
And Don Imus isn’t the only one who should loose his job. When they start slandering Black women over the public airways, it clearly demonstrates that it’s time to draw a line in the sand. This isn’t the first episode of this kind. I’m still smarting over Larry Elder trying to defend the fact that the head of the Los Angeles Police Commission called Congresswoman Maxine Waters a bitch. That sister has dedicated her life to defending us, yet, we allowed that episode to simply slide by the wayside. We should have not only ran that turkey, and Larry Elder out of town, but went on to raise so much hell with KABC’s sponsors that the media would never would have forgotten it. If we had done that then, we wouldn’t be having this problem now. But instead of doing that, we simply sat back in our apathetic cocoons and allowed our unelected “Black spokesmen” to use it as a photo op. It’s disgusting. No wonder we don’t get any respect.
Earlier in my career I put my job on the line and spent two years of my life, learning Administrative Law as I went along, just to get rid of one White manager who did less than Don Imus to a sister. For close to two years I spent my days trying to protect my job from this manager, and half my nights in the legal library (they didn’t have FindLaw at that time—the internet was in its infancy). The case was initially thrown out, but I appealed and fought it all the way to Washington, D.C—and I didn’t even know the sister at the time. But I did know this—if we can’t protect our women, we have no reason to exist. Clarence Thomas was the head of the EEOC at the time, so obviously, even he agreed with that, because we were allowed to prevail. That showed me that some things are so fundamental that they even supercede political divides Yet, we came very close, yet again, to letting Don Imus get away with slandering those young sisters in the very worse way over the public airways.
As I surveyed the various networks I constantly heard Imus apologists saying in essence, Imus made a mistake, but he’s actually a pretty nice guy. They tried to bring up all the charitable work he’d done, and pointed to every instance where he even smiled at a Black person, in their vein attempt to paint him in the most favorable light. I could only wonder what their opinion of him would have been if he’d called their mother, wife, or daughter a nappy headed whoe, but they weren’t looking at that, and I’ll tell you why—because the Black community is being judged by the world’s perception of the people that we allow to represent us. Evidence of that can be found in the fact that even as they were trying to paint Imus in the best possible light, and minimize the seriousness of what he said about these sisters, they were also doing their very best to steer the discussion towards remarks made by unelected Black leaders in the past. They were trying to distort the image of these innocent sisters by loading them down with the baggage of these flawed Black leaders. The only thing that kept them from pulling it off, and allowing Imus to get off with a slap on the wrist, was that they grossly underestimated the class and dignity that would be displayed by the coach and young women on the Rutgers basketball team. In this case, the class demonstrated by these young women served to offset the damage that was done by the flawed character of our unelected Black leaders.
If it seems that I’m being rather hard on our unelected spokesmen, it’s only because the truth is often hard. But I want to emphasize that I’m not prepared to go as far as a growing number of critics who contend that these brothers are pimping our people, because I have no way of knowing what their motives are. They may be great guys, who only want to perform a service for their people. But frankly, I don’t know what would possess a brother to believe that he’s so much more enlightened than the Black masses that we need him to speak for us every time someone pulls out a Polaroid. I have a problem with that. I see it as arrogance. I think most people see it as arrogance. Then the media takes the character flaw of that one individual and paint us all as self-serving and arrogant--and therefore, free game for public ridicule and scorn.
The other problem I have with unelected Black leaders is when we sit back and allow others to speak for us, the assumption is, they represent the very best of us. Then if they’re found to be flawed, that can be used to portray the entire community as flawed. The Republicans use that tactic all the time. Even though Bill Clinton was undoubtedly one of the greatest presidents we’ve ever had, the Republican Party uses his personal issues to smear the entire Democratic Party as being immoral and lacking in family values.
Then there’s the problem of who chooses our Black leaders. There’s only two ways that a Black leader can be chosen—either we elect him ourselves, or we allow the White media to choose him for us. But of course, the media can make Howdy Doody a Black leader if they choose to do so-- all they have to do is run to him with their cameras rolling every time an issue arises in the Black community, it’s simply a matter marketing. So what’s to prevent them from choosing a clown to represent us, or even Judas? Put another way, since this is the very same media that brings us Rush Limbaugh and Larry Elder, what incentive do they have not to provide us with a clown?
If you think my analysis is a stretch, I’ve got a challenge for you. First, think political spokesman. Then, think nappy headed clown. Now, what picture pops into your head? These attitudes toward our people don’t pop up out of a vacuum, they’re being conditioned.
Eric L. Wattree