Dick Cavett would not get my Mom.
The former talk show host recently defended Don Imus’ free-speech right to defile black women, who are especially defenseless targets.
My mother, the late Iris C. Dawkins, had this thing about honor, honesty and respect. She would have put Cavett in his place, as she did a teenage boy who once snatched her embroidered handkerchief. This was in the 1930s. Young Iris went home to her Papa and demanded that he defend her honor. Papa went to the boy’s house with Iris. The contrite boy apologized and returned the hankie. Iris then lit a match and incinerated her property.
Cavett, who was witty 30 years ago, now writes like a mean version of Andy Rooney. And he’s wondering why people like me are not welcoming Imus back to the airwaves.
Welcome Imus back for what? To insult more black women? When he caught hell and was ultimately fired by CBS radio for his “nappy-headed ho’s” swipe at the Rutgers University basketball women last spring, the shock jock thought he’d get away with another bald-faced lie. A decade ago he said “it was nice the New York Times has one of its cleaning ladies covering the White House.” The serial race-baiter was then taking a shot at Gwen Ifill.
Ifill’s a big girl, too distinguished a newswoman to have dignified Imus’ venom. So in 1998 she ignored what Imus said and let the insult go until, under fire for the Rutgers comment, Imus tried to deny the Ifill remark. For lying to the public about her, Ifill laid Imus bare in a New York Times op-ed. Media watchers also reminded consumers that Imus broke a promise he made to Pulitzer Prize winner Clarence Page to stop making racist comments about blacks.
The shock jock did not know who he was messing with. Ifill is a child of “’Zonians,” the short-hand used to describe Caribbean people like my mother who grew up in the Panama Canal Zone and who carry a fierce sense of honor, honesty and respect.
But Imus, and supporters like Cavett, the latter annoyed that Imus was sacked and doubly annoyed that many blacks are resisting his return, can’t comprehend the deep well of anger. When Imus took a swipe at those 19-year-old Rutgers women he did so because they were pristine, retired Newsday editor Les Payne told me recently. I agree with Payne.
Insulting the politicians and pundits who suck up in order to get face time on Imus’ show is not the same as kicking student athletes when they’re down. What outraged people’s senses – including many folks of good will, black, white and other – was evidence of another assault on the reputations of black woman. Last April’s attack has parallels to the pre-civil rights days when Southern white men had authority to sexually molest black women, and black men often were powerless to act, a license that is taking a long, long time to revoke.
Black men like me have a duty to protect our mothers, wives, daughters, girlfriends and co-workers from verbal insults and worse, physical assaults. That’s what my Grandpa had to do when my mother said she was dishonored back in that Victorian-like era.
I’m not happy to see Imus’ return to the airwaves in December, however Citadel Broadcasting is going to make his return happen.
Let me be clear: I’m not for permanently banning the shock jock from the airwaves. I don’t believe in eternal damnation. I believe in redemption and second chances, even though I’m skeptical that Imus learned anything from his timeout. Let Imus work, but let’s definitely monitor his behavior. Keep Imus on a short leash. If he pulls another stunt like that over-the-top insult of student athletes, I’m for smiting the shock jock with even greater force than what was exerted in April.
Think of what my late Mom did to that handkerchief.