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the double-standard
sometimes it's about offense
by reem al-omari (@Reemawi)

A few years ago, I joined a group of friends at a comedy club. The featured comedian talked about the woes of being a husband without a real job, not having medical insurance, a son who lived on mother's milk for way too long, and various other harmless topics that could be classified as funny, or juvenile at worst.

He was originally from New York, and since this was shortly after 9/11, he proceeded to talk about how airports handled security measures.

He said that only taxi cabs could drive into the airport area for passenger drop-off.

"There's a great way to keep Muslims away from the airport."

Laughter from the crowd.

Me and a few other people from my group responded with silence.

I had a hard time laughing at anything the guy was saying the rest of the time.

Nonetheless, I didn't demand a refund or that the comedian be reprimanded and banned from the place because, hey, anyone I would complain to would respond that it's a comedy club and that it's a place where people laugh at all kinds of inappropriate things. And they'd be right. Had I been at a serious lecture, for instance, and something along those lines was said, then the comment would have a deeper meaning, perhaps a bit more pre-meditated and deep-rooted. Maybe then I might say something to someone, but I doubt it. Being an Arab and a Muslim, especially post-9/11, I try not to jump to conclusions, and when I do I usually just get offended silently... (until you ask me, or turn it personal, then I'll lay into you pretty hard.)

The recent Don Imus frenzy, though I'm not educated on every detail, has brought one thing to light for me -- there is a double-standard to what we find offensive.

Plenty of groups have been verbally attacked, and those groups do protest, but few end up getting the offender fired, or reprimanded beyond having to apologize publicly and maybe a slight slap on the wrist.

Imus shouldn't have said what he said, but did he deserve to be fired?

I don't think so.

If he had said something about Asians, for instance, I doubt advertisers would've pulled out and he would've been fired. He might've received a slap on the wrist and been asked to apologize profusely on the air, but not fired. Could it have been a financial decision? Maybe. Could it have been Al Sharpton's and Jesse Jackson's involvement that got him fired? Maybe. But I think it's a much deeper issue than that.

I'm gonna backtrack a bit to last year when a Danish newspaper published comic-style drawings of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed, portraying him as a terrorist. A couple serious red lines for Muslims were crossed, and Muslims and their leaders all over the world reacted with riots and by boycotting Danish products. The controversy went on for a while. In defense of freedom of the press, the Danish newspaper and government refused to apologize for upholding their ideals. The controversy simply faded away one day, and Danish people still enjoy freedom of the press and Muslims are still regarded as terrorists. It's not that the Muslim likes of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson didn't intervene -- they did. It's not that Danish products, which are widely popular in the Middle East, didn't take SOME financial hit -- I'm sure they did. But nothing was done, nonetheless.

There is a double-standard.

This country boasts about freedom. Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press. These are all things that soldiers believe they are protecting when they go off to Iraq or Afghanistan. But unlike Denmark, this country cares more about the mighty dollar than it does about upholding its ideals of freedom. Perhaps mixed in with that, paranoia about what went down in the past in this country is what leads us to cater to certain groups' needs and not to others.

"There has been much discussion of the effect language like this has on ... young women of color trying to make their way in this society." These are the words CBS CEO Leslie Moonves in response to what happened.

I don't even know what that means in regards to general prejudice and racism. What I do know is that Don Imus' radio persona is one of being obnoxious, crass and almost inevitably insensitive. At least that's what I thought what a shock-jock was, hence, I don't listen to that type of stuff. Freedom should mean letting anyone say anything they want and letting those listening decide whether they want him/her to continue offending them by simply turning the dial, and let laissez-faire do the work.

The good news is that the Rutgers basketball team is working on forgiving Imus and that they want to "put this whole thing behind" them.

Should be easy without Imus on the air.


Reem lives and writes about it. She thinks that's what writers do, anyway. If it's not, then she also has a degree in journalism under her belt, along with the titles of reporter, editor (in chief, even) and, of course, opinion columnist.

more about reem al-omari


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published: 5.8.07


tracey kelley
4.20.07 @ 12:10a

Please send this to USA Today or some other monster news outlet. Please.

dorothy kyle
4.20.07 @ 12:05p

I agree with the fact that we are a double standard in this country. It only works to when it benefits someone or something of importance. And it never seems to be the little guy.

alex b
4.22.07 @ 4:48p

Reem... this column rocks. Freedom seems to be so subjectively upheld. The true standard of this country seems to be money.

And I've gotta say- like you, I probably wouldn't have laughed at anything else that comedian said. But if I were in your shoes (or if he'd made an extreme joke about little kids victimized on Asian sex tours) I probably would have told the comedian he wasn't that funny.

adam kraemer
4.22.07 @ 9:09p

Nice. I agree with what you were saying about freedom of speech, the press, etc.

But are you (and Alex) claiming that a comedian ceases to be funny because he makes fun of your own minority? Just checking.

Because I've seen some pretty funny Catholic comedians make some pretty funny Jewish jokes.

I think, if anything, other than becoming aware of a double standard, maybe the other lesson of the whole Imus debacle is that everyone needs to lighten up just a bit. In my opinion, being unable to laugh at joke told at your expense (or maybe just being unable to take an offensive comment in stride) is the first step toward zealotry.

I'm very much not accusing either of you of that, but considering a comedian unfunny because he tells bad jokes is not the same as finding him unfunny because he targeted your race, religion, or culture. If I took it personally every time a friend of mine, in jest, accused me of kiling Jesus, well, let's just say I'd have a lot fewer friends.

Just my 2ยข.

alex b
4.22.07 @ 11:41p

Personally, I don't mind Asian jokes. I'm among the first to claim I'd sign up for a sex tour if it paid well enough. But I don't like extreme jokes about innocents (ie. pedophile victims) whose lives aren't a joke at all. For me, I draw a line at making fun of innocents, or using a sensitive event to further pick on a race.


reem al-omari
4.22.07 @ 11:50p

Well, I thought he was funny when he was talking about general stuff. He was hilarious, and I didn't decide that he in general wasn't funny JUST because of the comments he made. I did have a hard time laughing at everything else because I was still "under the influence" of what he said that I found hurtful and a bit ignorant. The rest of what he said was probably just as funny as the stuff before, but I was just still in a zone and wasn't in a laughing mood anymore. It was more of a mood thing than genuine "YOU'RE AN A-HOLE & I HATE YOU" feeling. I think it's important to see beyond the color of your skin and ethnicity, because if you can't do that, then you can't expect others to do the same, and you will have a huge complex on your hands. But sometimes, the time (i.e., shortly post-9/11), and place really affects your ability to see beyond that.
Thanks though for reading my column and sharing your insight and opinions with me. They are duly noted and appreciated! :-D

sandra thompson
4.23.07 @ 8:52a

There are a lot of people on the air I'd like to fire, Imus being one of them. The first amendment guarantees all of us freedom of speech, but it does not guarantee a radio show where we can spew crap over the airwaves owned by all of us. I think the firing was a combination of commercialism and morality (I hate that word morality). Most of the big sponsors had pulled out, and a lot of people were up in arms about the simple rudeness of it all. My daughter would have liked for the sponsor pulling out process to have gone on longer and proved that the mythical invisable hand of the "market" had intervened and not the morality police. I think I agree with that. Anyhow, good riddance....

reem al-omari
4.24.07 @ 1:06a

People are entitled to their opinions, no matter how horrible they are, and that's what free speech means. Ideally, freedom of speech covers all aspects of speech... agreeable and disagreeable statements. If you want people to watch what they say, then it's not freedom of speech now, is it?

adam kraemer
4.24.07 @ 1:37p

The first amendment guarantees all of us freedom of speech, but it does not guarantee a radio show where we can spew crap over the airwaves owned by all of us.

No, the free market system guarantees that. If no one listened to Imus or Howard Stern, they would not be on the air. It's that simple.

jeffrey walker
4.24.07 @ 1:47p

Not that this makes it okay, but since you brought up Asian jokes - recent Asian radio joke = indefinate suspension: check! Time will tell what their true punishment is.

sarah ficke
4.24.07 @ 2:24p

this country cares more about the mighty dollar than it does about upholding its ideals of freedom.

I think the central issue (well, one of them) is that freedom of the press = freedom for the press company less than the individual employee. "Freedom of the press" means that the government can't shut a media outlet down for publishing something objectionable politically or socially. However, that media outlet can police itself, which is what CBS did. Did they do it for the right reasons? Probably not. Had Imus distributed his remarks under his own company, he could claim freedom of the press and, of course, would not have fired himself.

I also have to say that whatever you want to call it, you can't call Imus's comment a joke. It wasn't a story with a punch line, just name-calling.

alex b
4.24.07 @ 2:28p

Heh Jeffrey, those are the standard-issue, fluffy Asian jokes that roll off my back. Heck, I've joked around about how I saw a restaurant in Chinatown called New Big Wang. But I suppose the post-Imus climate calls for punishment quickly.

jeffrey walker
4.24.07 @ 2:38p

Alex: Have you looked at the name of the Chinatown barber shop behind me in my photo?

here's my feeling: If people aren't supposed to be commenting about differences between races, why is there then an NAACP, or a latin grammys? How can people not talk about race divisions, when there exist race dividing organizations within America? It just seems a little problematic.

reem al-omari
4.24.07 @ 3:04p

There is NAACP and a Latin grammys for the same reasons there are Muslim Mosques and Catholic Churches. Noone is saying that there aren't differences between races and we're all the same color... we're not. The problem is when the differences are used negatively, and I hardly think that an organization such as the NAACP or the Latin Grammys is something negative... eh Jeffrey? I mean, if we went your route, we'd have to question why there's an American Idol and a German Idol!

alex b
4.24.07 @ 6:01p

Jeffrey, that picture ROCKS.

I think it is a little silly to hold off talking about race divisions with the presence of the NAACP or Latin Grammys. If anything, it isn't racist to talk about racial differences; it simply reflects who we are. Unfortunately, as with Don Imus, different degrees of humor and overall taste can turn talk quickly into something derogative. We know how to talk about race, but sometimes, folks like Imus say something dumb, or just at the wrong time, place, and climate (a la post 9/11).


annie smith
5.13.07 @ 3:41a

I somehow feel there is often confusion as to the freedom of speech issue. Freedom of speech is alive and well! Likely, via the internet, more alive and well than ever before.

We can't, however, yell "fire" in a crowded theater... There has to be some rules for safety...

Don Imus is walking free to say whatever he chooses, no government agency has arrested him. What is not (and never has been) guaranteed is distribution of that speech.

Speech is much like any art, if you want an audience, someone has to like it, or hate it enough to be attentive. But, generally to buy it, or distribute it for you, they have to like it.

I think Imus's firing was a financial decision by a business that is in business to make money. It's free market issues, a company deciding that he was no longer an asset to distribute. Imus could get on here right now and call me names! (He still has that freedom!) And each person reading it would probably have a different opinion on whether he was right or not! (: And then everyone is free to discuss it, following the rules of intrepidmedia, of course...since they are the distributors here....

I viewed Don Imus, as I view most talk radio as part of the "entertainment" industry. Perhaps the lines have blurred too much between "freedom of the press" which originally was for keeping the government in line and "freedom of the press" as in: any old talk radio person with an opinion.

As to the double standard...this is very thought provoking and I'm going to mull over what you have said tonight. Thanks Reem! I'm glad I found you!


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