Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Plea For Civility, A Plea For Respect

Just about everyone I know who has used a microphone more than once has regretted something they've said into one [Almost every night I turn mine off after saying something, and think, "What in Hell was that all about?".]. It's not that those of us who use microphones are, as a class, stupid. It's just that, like most humans, the words sometimes come directly from the mouth WITHOUT proper filtration in the brain. And with the added amplification Mr. Microphone provides, the prospect of many people hearing our latest stupid moment increases exponentially. Plug that microphone into a radio or TV station and, well, you do the math.

All this is on the table because of a couple of incidents from recent days. In one, talk-show host Bill O'Reilly, not the most subtle speaker in the best of times, suddenly unloaded on his guest, fellow talker Geraldo Rivera, to the point that Rivera was obliged to "reel him in" in self-defense [I don't know about you, but when Geraldo Rivera is the "voice of reason", the Apocalypse must be close at hand...]. In the other, radio talk-show host [Isn't it interesting that all this mayhem is happening on talk shows? And people wonder why I have no desire to do one!] Don Imus used a racially-charged word in reference to a women's college basketball team. In both cases, the offending party apologized for his action. O'Reilly was given no public punishment [the cynical division of the Public figured it was all a publicity stunt, since Rivera works in the same trade as O'Reilly], while Imus is currently sitting out a two-week suspension.

Let's leave the O'Reilly incident [I'm with the cynical division of the Public on this one, personally] and move on to the heat Imus has taken.Before we go any further, a statement: DON IMUS USED AN UNACCEPTABLE WORD, OR PHRASE, IN REFERENCE TO THAT WOMEN'S BASKETBALL TEAM. He needs to re-evaluate his beliefs and phraseology. Sensitivity training may be appropriate. That being said, I do NOT believe that Don Imus is a racist. I think he has an unfortunate tendency [as do many in the "chat-for-cash" (no offense meant to those in the sex phone trade) business] to use provocative language in the name of getting attention.

Now, what has Imus done to resolve the situation? First, he apologized. Good start. Next, he accepted an invitation to appear on another radio program, this one hosted by the Rev. Al Sharpton. Maybe not such a good idea. A black co-worker notes that Rev. Sharpton represents himself as a, or possibly the, leader for America's Black People. The co-worker feels that Sharpton is not an official voice for anyone or anything except his own agenda [his opinion, not necessarily mine]. As an admittedly uninformed observer, I think that the Black populace of this country is a diverse collection of peoples, and therefore would be hard-pressed to settle on any one person to serve as "leader" or "spokesperson". I reserve judgement on Rev. Sharpton's agenda, and if, for that matter, he even has one. Still, coming forward to hear different viewpoints on his remark is certainly a valid step in the "reeducation" of Don Imus.

Another issue that has arisen is the amount, and seeming ferocity, of "hate" words used by Blacks to punctuate their own conversation. Oddly enough, much of it seems to be directed at members of their own racial community. As a White person, I've never understood it. Some people say that, given the current verbal environment, Imus didn't say anything terribly offensive. That does not excuse his comment, nor does it mean that only Whites can offend Blacks with racially-motivated speech, EVEN WHEN THAT SPEECH IS BLACK-TO-BLACK.

It's time to clean up our words, and show RESPECT for each other. Only in that way will we merit respect for ourselves.

-Mike Riley