Radio host Don Imus made headlines recently with an off-the-cuff remark about a college basketball team which showed a lack of respect, or hatred for, both African Americans and women. The remark was a classic example of what I have called “the root of all evil.”
Racism and misogyny first objectify people by treating individuals of each group as identical instances of an “object,” and then assign a negative emotional response to the imaginary objects. The peril, which many in our society are rightly reacting to, is that the talk show host’s listeners (or other talk show hosts) might emulate Imus and that the emotional response might be followed by negative action (commission of evil acts).
Unfortunately, as the saying goes, that ship has already sailed. Several right-wing radio and television hosts such as Rush Limbaugh have openly promoted hatred of women, ethnic groups, and homosexuals, but with no comparable public outrage. That Don Imus is raising such a stir now may be due to his more mainstream reputation: the others are already marginalized, appealing to a known base of listeners who welcome hate talk while everyone else writes them off. Imus now faces this same marginalization, because society can’t allow his behavior to be legitimized for the rest of the media.