Firing Don Imus won’t help, but it had to be done

It’s not just a matter of the Rutgers women’s basketball team and whether Don Imus is a racist.

On April 3, Imus referred to the team as “nappy-headed hos.” His two-week suspension, imposed by NBC and CBS, was supposed to begin on April 16. Before it could commence, however, MSNBC decided not to simulcast Imus’ radio show on the air. CBS quickly followed suit, announcing Thursday that Imus was terminated.

But don’t think that will silence him. Imus is sure to land another job elsewhere. If Howard Stern is any example, Imus might even land a higher salary. In case one forgets, Clear Channel Communications fired Stern for being “vulgar, offensive and insulting.”

It didn’t hinder Stern, however. He now has a $500 million, five-year contract with SIRIUS. If that sets any kind of precedent, it is that the mere firing of shock jocks doesn’t silence them or their speech. A different tactic needs to be taken.

That new tactic will not be easily defined. Aside from the fact that racism is a complicated issue with innumerable facets, the discussion of racism itself is largely taboo.

Just think back to the fiasco surrounding Michael Richards: His primary justification for his words was that he wanted to start a dialogue about race. If Richards is a racist, however, his primary justification associated a dialogue about race with racism itself – something that has already occurred in the minds of many. That’s what leads some people to boast about the fact that they’re “colorblind” – apparently forgetting that color blindness is a disability.

Hence the problem: By firing Imus, CBS and MSNBC have perpetuated America’s apparent inability to deal with racism aside from televised apologies and employment quotas. On the other hand, the two companies were equally cursed if they kept Imus on the air. There’s no doubt what he said was offensive, and MSNBC and CBS shouldn’t be hosting that kind of nonsense. However, a more comprehensive approach to the issue of racism is required if we wish to reduce the likelihood of these situations.

After all, the problem doesn’t begin or end with Imus or his former affiliates. Even if America banned the term “nappy-headed hos” and punished its use with death, the thoughts would still exist. And as unpleasant as it may sound, those thoughts may never go away. There will always be someone who wants to go against generally accepted standards of decency for attention. There will always be someone who will flout justice in exchange for money. There will always be an Imus on the air somewhere, no matter how many of them get fired.

And there will always be people willing to pay to listen.