Age is not an excuse for racist behavior

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 6, 2007

On Monday, radio personality Don Imus returned to the air.

The 67-year-old fell from grace eight months ago when he made an on-air reference to members of the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos.”

The episode brought about discussion on race in America. He has apologized and said his rehabilitation began the day he was fired when he met with members of the Rutgers team.

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Some justified Imus’ actions by declaring that kind of content was part of his niche, which is irrelevant.

Some tried to justify Imus’ words by making it a free speech issue, which it is not. No one was saying Imus couldn’t say those hateful words and he wasn’t arrested and he didn’t go to jail.

He was certainly free to speak his mind and NBC was certainly free to fire him, as it rightfully did.

What’s great about America is that the government cannot restrict what we say. However, America is also a place where freedom of speech allows the public to speak out against those who say stupid things.

It’s unclear if Imus is being accepted back because of his age. It seems there is a segment of society that gives seniors a pass when it comes to racist remarks or racist behavior, letting it slide because “they grew up in a different time” or “things were different back then.”

That is utter nonsense.

Because, you see, to say someone is racist solely because of their age is a terrible injustice to that generation.

It’s important to remember that today’s seniors were the people who were on the front lines of the civil rights movement. It was a generation full of courage and idealism, a group of people — black and white — who changed this country.

People had choices on which side of the fence they would stand. Those who made that commitment to fairness and equality should not be cheapened today when we give people of that generation leniency “just because of their age.”

Racism is not defined by a calendar. It is not defined by a person’s upbringing. It is not defined by a person’s race.

Each of us makes decisions on how we treat others. We are all accountable for our behavior and it comes down to a simple choice, do we treat people fairly and respectfully or don’t we?

Don Imus’ comments eight months ago were unacceptable and everyone should be hopeful that he is sincere when he says he’s a changed man.

But if it turns out that he is not, there shouldn’t be any excuses made for him.

Rick Greene is the managing editor of The Ironton Tribune. He can be reached at (740) 532-1441, ext. 12, or by e-mail at