Last week the Monitor considered the matter of radio host Don Imus’s firing and the hypocrisy that infused the affair throughout its eight-day life. Ironically, Bernard Goldberg – the veteran television newsman who with his 2001 surprise bestseller Bias blew the whistle on how liberal journalists routinely slant their reportage – has a new book out, Crazies to the Left of Me, Wimps to the Right, that includes an amusing, counterintuitive, anecdote about Imus.
What’s amusing and counterintuitive about it is that in Goldberg’s story, Imus, who made a career of spouting racist remarks until he was finally done in after targeting a group of young women who immediately won the nation’s sympathy and admiration, was taking the opposite tack – trying to impress a black man with what amounted to a putrid display of white guilt.
Goldberg recalls an interview Imus conducted with former pro basketball star Charles Barkley, author of a book about race relations titled Who’s Afraid of a Large Black Man?
They started out by talking about the death, the night before, of Coretta Scott King. [Barkley], who grew up in Alabama, told Imus how much she and her husband, Martin Luther King Jr., had meant to him.
This gave Don an opening to tell Barkley that, “In my view, just as a white man, it doesn’t seem to me that a lot has changed since those marches in Selma.”
…. This may be the dumbest single sentence uttered on the subject of race in the twenty-first century, and one of the dumbest ever. The march from Selma to Montgomery was in 1965. Imus was talking to Barkley in 2006. And not much has changed? Has Don been in a coma?
In 1965, blacks were marching in Selma because George Wallace, the segregationist governor, and the other bigots who ran Alabama, wouldn’t let them vote. Maybe Imus hadn’t noticed, but that changed.
Black people couldn’t eat at lunch counters with white people or drink out of the same water fountains. That changed.
Civil rights workers were being murdered and buried in earthen dams. That changed.
White racist sheriffs were turning vicious dogs and water hoses on black people. That changed.
The idea, in those days, that a black man or woman would someday be elected mayor of a town or city in the Deep South was beyond preposterous. That changed, too.
And so did a million other things, big and small.
But you see, intelligent white people like Don Imus say monumentally dumb things like this mainly because it makes them feel good. He might as well have said, “You see, Charles, I’ll say anything, no matter how stupid, just so I can show you my racial sensitivity – because that makes me feel like a decent human being.”
Goldberg goes on to speculate that while Imus knew how ignorant he sounded, he was more worried about looking like a racist if he didn’t mouth some ridiculous liberal bromide to prove his sensitivity and open-mindedness.
Problem was, Charles Barkley is neither a white liberal nor a black race hustler. Goldberg picks up the story:
When Imus asked Charles Barkley if he agreed that not much had changed since the days of Selma, [Barkley] said, No, he most definitely did not agree. Sounding a lot like Bill Cosby, he told Imus, “We as black people have become our own worst enemy. If you’re out there killing other black kids, selling drugs, having kids you can’t afford, and not getting your education, you just compound the problem. Racism exists. But there comes a point when you have to say enough is enough
Imus, as “just a white man,” didn’t have the guts to say any of that, even though he surely must have known that Barkley was speaking a sad truth. But then [Barkley] – unlike Don Imus and the other sissies who are afraid to talk honestly and openly about race – has both sense and courage, and precious little respect for guilt-ridden white men, or for the niceties of their hollow platitudes about race in America.
Goldberg’s new book is definitely worth a read. Of course, Imus’s groveling to Barkley was of little service to him a year later when he crossed the line of civility one time too many and the racial opportunists were only too happy to move in for the kill. This time it was the turn of another pusillanimous white man, CBS president Les Moonves, to play the guilty liberal, only to a much more demanding audience.