Mesmeric power of 'white racism'

A black American reflects on the Imus affair By Joseph C. Phillips (

When I was a boy, my father charged me with cleaning up a mess in the bathroom. Thoroughly disgusted, I tried every way I knew how to avoid touching anything. The delay angered my father until finally in exasperation, he hollered, “You are going to touch much worse than that in your life!” He was correct. I have in my life touched much worse. The lesson learned was in all things we must keep our perspective.

Following an off-color joke about the Rutgers women’s basketball team that fell terribly flat, radio host Don Imus was fired from his program at MSNBC and a short time later was also released from his contract with CBS radio. One need not like Don Imus or approve of what he said in order to wonder if perhaps the punishment and the accompanying hysteria didn’t exceed the crime. On the other hand, we are living in a nation whose moral equilibrium has been turned topsy-turvy. And the culprit is not hip hop music or the hypocrisy of the post civil rights establishment. The moral offense that supersedes all other considerations is white racism and the guilt and victimhood that accompany it.

A woman in Seattle is caught on video tape in a drunken, profanity laced tirade in which she calls an Arab convenience store clerk “un-American” and “Gandhi.” She then grabs him by the throat committing a battery. Once sober and facing charges, she releases a statement assuring the witnessing public that she is not a racist. No matter that she is a sloppy drunk, with a mouth like a sailor and a batterer, she must make it clear that she is not a racist.

A sitting United States senator must defend himself against charges that 20 years ago he used the N word. Imus hasn’t changed his act in 15 years. For Leslie Moonves, CBS CEO, to feign surprise at the content of the Imus in the Morning program strains credulity. What did change is the now very public possibility of being tagged with the label of racist.

The exploitation of that fear is what is known as the race hustle and few are as adept at it as the reverends Sharpton and Jackson. But hey, don’t hate the player, hate the game! Both men are free to pass judgment on issues of race in spite of their own transgressions because their blackness makes them immune to charges of white racism. This immunity along with the amazing ability to be in front of every microphone in sight is the only source of their power.

A nation blind to race and focused on character and virtue is frightening to men like Sharpton and Jackson. The only virtue they possess is their rather deft wielding of the sword of white racism. Disaster for Sharpton and Jackson would have been if the Rutgers team had issued a statement along the lines of, “We don’t know who this clown is, but we are not going to allow his ugliness to distract from the beautiful women we are and the positive things we are doing.” But the power of white racism was too strong and they were lulled into victim hood replete with emotional hand wringing, claims of lives scarred and seasons ruined and appearances on Oprah.

They will in their lives experience much worse.

This sword, of course, cuts both ways. The Teflon that shields the race hustler offers similar protection to the rap artist. The real irony is the very thing that accuses whites is the same thing that makes the identical language in much of the popular culture intractable. As deplorable as we may find the language, our protestations gain little traction because they do not carry with them the weight of white racism. The black community cannot bring to bear the same deadly weapon on members of its own community. That is the real sad and unfortunate realization of this entire affair.

For our own sake, the conversation that will happen following the fall of Don Imus must at some point include the end of white racism. At some point, we must find a way to assuage our guilt over America’s original sin without destroying the foundations of our culture and falling further into the multi-cultural abyss. That is not an argument in favor of incivility or ugliness. It is, however, a plea for some perspective. ----------------------------- Denver native Joseph C. Phillips is a Hollywood actor, a syndicated columnist, a regular on Backbone radio, and the author of He Talk Like a White Boy, available wherever books are sold.