Nappy-headed schmoOh, blog, dear blog, I've been neglecting you. I'm racing toward a deadline on my script right now, so I've been keeping you at arm's length. Then, a couple of days ago, when I was thinking about posting, I gave myself a concussion (my head + underside of my son's wooden loft bed = pain and puking). But I can't stay away from you. I want to touch quickly on two topics that have been dominating the news.
First, the Virginia Tech jerk.
It's normal for everyone to navel-gaze and point fingers after something like this happens. One of the best classes I ever took in college was a course called "The Psychology of Justice." In that class, I learned about a phenomenon that is incredibly pervasive and persistent across all cultures: the Belief In A Just World. Belief in a just world often means that we deserve what we get, and we get what we deserve.
However, in cases like the Virginia Tech shooting, it's clear that the victims didn't deserve what they got. That doesn't mean Belief In A Just World goes away. Instead, the BJW theory says that great evils must have great causes.
The space shuttle doesn't blow up because a piece of rubber got cold—it blows up because of a culture of failure and the incompetence of an entire space agency and perhaps because of humanity's hubris… You know what I mean?
In this case, BJW says that video games, isolation, access to guns, non-access to guns, popular music, coarsening of culture and ultimately society itself is to blame for the tragedy at VT. Of course, the problem with BJW is that it's not true. The world is not just. Existence is not fair. Great evils sometimes happen for the most mundane reasons. The poor people who died at VT died because a mentally ill person made the insane choice to kill them. And if someone chooses to kill you, they are going to kill you, and there's nothing you can do about it. They might use guns, they might use gasoline and fertilizer, they might use poison…
…not a very comforting thought.
But that's life in an unjust, unfair world.
Of course, one can imagine Don Imus thinking to himself, "If only this asshole could have done the shooting a week earlier…I'd still have my job."
Frequent commenter Kevin Arbouet has a post up on the Imus situation. I agree 100% with Kevin that this is not a free speech issue at all. No one has the right to a radio talk show. The government didn't fire Imus. He's free to say "nappy headed-ho" all day long without fear of imprisonment or fines.
Now, when this whole thing went down, I was honestly puzzled. Imus has been saying stupid crap like that for years. So has Howard Stern. Have you heard the stuff the comedians say on the Friar's Club roasts? Hell, any four second sample of Lisa Lampanelli's act is waaaay worse than "nappy-headed ho's."
Should Imus have been fired? Yes, but years ago. For sucking. My view of this latest debacle is that it's an example par excellence of our nation's inability to discuss racial issues honestly. We have two cultures. The first culture is soaking in racial humor, racial observations, the n-word, bitches, ho's, racial suspicion, racial resentment and occasionally racial hostility. The second culture is a color-blind, multicultural rainbow coalition where no one sees race, no one ever says or thinks anything "offensive," and we all live, work and play in a bridge-of-the-Starship-Enterprise-like world of ethnic harmony.
The first culture is true. The second is a fraud. We all burble along in the first culture, until, occasionally, someone makes a stink. It's not always Jesse or Al. Sometimes it's the ADL, sometimes it's the guy from the Catholic League, sometimes it's GLAAD, sometimes it's O'Reilly yapping about the coarsening of culture. At that point, everyone suddenly pretends that the first culture is the anomaly, and the second, fraudulent culture is the reality. Somehow, we begin doing rhetorical backflips to denounce true culture as transgressive against a fictional culture that has never been and probably never will be.
But why Imus? Was Imus' "nappy-headed ho's" comment funny? No. Was it accurate? No, not even close.
The reason Imus said that comment is obvious to me: he thought he was sounding "cool." See, perversely, Imus is not part of true culture. He's out of the sphere of what is current. His attempt to be a part of that culture immediately rang false, and I think that's what caught people's attention.
If Howard Stern says, "Nappy-headed ho's," no one blinks. I guarantee it. Why? Because Howard has been manufacturing this kind of relaxed culture for years. Not Imus. When Imus tries it, it sounds tinny and fake and creepy.
Of all the stuff I've read about this affair, the best and most honest perspective is from this guy. I don't agree with everything he says in his piece (I don't have a stake in the cultural battles between black men and black women), and I think he's too hard on Cosby in particular, but when I read his essay, I thought, "Points for honesty."
When it comes to discussions of race in this country, we're in dire need of a Diogenes.