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Sharpton, Imus and the Politics of Correctness
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al sharpton

Exactly what has Rev. Al Sharpton done for the Rutger's Women's Basketball team? Given them a voice? Brought their attributes to light? Highlighted their intelligence, feminism and humanity? Made them a target for more negativity? All of the above? None of it? What he has done for certain is repeated the negative phrase once uttered by Don Imus, hundreds, maybe thousands of times in re-runs of his interviews on various media. Has he not therefore, perpetuated that very negative term?

A few summers ago we went to war with Saddam Hussein. I was in Minot, ND visiting some old college theatre friends at a late-night party. You know the type of party; heck, some of you were there! It's the type where we all relive olden days, slap back a few brews, and vent. Well, that night an old buddy of mine went off on a tirade about President Bush. This was not unheard of in a college theatre party-crowd in 2003, it's clearly no longer only a liberal, artsy, leftist thing to do.

However, he insisted on going down the "oil hungry/war hungry/Halliburton" argument we all tend to get sick of and avoid if possible. I cannot lie: I don't totally disagree, I just that I think it's simply rhetoric. It doesn't require much more than watching a couple hours of CNN to repeat this type of dialogue and sound pretty intelligent. That's the funny part. My friend is intelligent. I like him and respect his opinion -- however, the deadly combo of the influence of beer and young, impressionable and adoring college theatre kids around did not add clarity to his thought. God love him, I'm about to say something I hope if he reads he won't take the wrong way.

In his nearly one hour "vent" he imitated George W., "quoting" him as to the negative and blatantly obvious reasons for going into Iraq. And, he began to use a derogatory phrase for people of Arabic descent. Now, it would be hypocritical of me to repeat the word in print, given the point of this essay -- I'll just say he was referring to Arabs based upon a simplistic description of what they wear on their heads. The younger people laughed quite a bit. Especially every time he used that word. At one point, I jumped in, somewhat sarcastically, and I'm sure he knew in hindsight that I was illustrating a point, "why did he say that word so much?" And, then, "well, then what should we do about it?"

He responded, chuckling, with, "wait -- sounds like you're with them." I responded, jokingly, "well you're either with us or with the terrorists..."

Not as many people laughed.

I counted that night, and he actually used the derrogatory term 13 times, each time getting louder and more rambunctious. It became performance. I was embarrassed that I counted, and told myself not to make an issue of it, but here I am three years later, still bothered by it. Had he introduced a new term in these young persons' heads? Had he helped us all better understand the complexity of the war? Had he made the term funny by masking it as "I'm only quoting George W?" Had he made it better or had he perpetuated the negativity?

Now, I don't use his name for a reason. Naturally, he's a friend, and what would that really do for me or him? I always love seeing him and enjoy most of his opinions, though I know we sometimes disagree. I don't want him to think I'm some right-wing attack-machine against freedom of speech. And I assume he wouldn't want me to think he's really like that; that I should understand his reason for using such humor to illustrate his opinions.

The forth anniversary of the war has come and gone, and still I see too many left-leaning politicians, voices, friends and colleagues barking about things that are wrong and not taking action. I wish those who complain would do more clarkschpiell-esque projects and (not to kiss David J.'s butt), offer solutions! Or, heaven forbid, start a action campaign, be a part of a charitable organization, join a service group, volunteer in your community, get out and do, then use your voice for positive statements. Rather than say "well, so and so said this and that," use language like "I believe the answer lies in x, y, z, and here's what we can do locally to influence that." This is the kind of action, not words, we need to see more of from the likes of Al Sharpton. But, even my college friend would probably agree, Al's reason is only political, and therefore he'll continue to repeat the negative phrase until the next controversy he can exploit comes along.

Does quoting someone else give you license to repeat such offensive terms? In the end, Al Sharpton actually A) said the awful phrase more often than Don Imus, B) made a national stink of it, C) perpetuated it and repeated the term and D) made it infamous. And, if you watch Bill Maher's Real Time, you might have seen that he actually E) seemed to get a charge out of saying it, for you know what reason: politics. Did he help the women's self-image? Does Don Imus have the right to say this under the 1st Amendment? Are we becoming too politically correct?

The bubble of "don't even go there" has grown to such a tremendous size that we can barely crack a joke anymore without wondering if it came out wrong. I don't condone nor defend Don Imus. However, I do like Chris Rock, and I laugh when he makes white jokes and refers to them as "the type of chip-like bread product one might use in soup." (Am I allowed to say "cr**ker," since I'm white? I'll err on the side of caution.) If we try too hard, we're inevitably going to contradict ourselves. If I judge my friend or Al Sharpton, I'll expect to be judged myself. However, what we might all do is loosen up, say what we believe, and correct ourselves when we've said something offensive. Meanwhile, if the Al Sharpton types intend to do away with negativity, they should find more positive ways to confront the issues than to perpetuate the same negative terms.

end of essay
Kirk started off working as an actor in Los Angeles. In 2001, he moved back to North Dakota and started his own company, 40 Below Productions, which eventually became Communication Corps, Inc., producing a wide range of media projects. In the past 10 years Roos has produced about 100 commercial and video projects, working a great deal of work with non-profits with an emphasis on media management. Roos has also produced about a dozen original shows and helped develop numerous non-TV events. He's is nearly done with his latest project, a documentary on the subject of Kurdish-Refugee turned U.S. Diplomat, Herro Mustafa, American Herro. He lives in Fargo, ND with his wife, Bryn, and daughter, Clarashea. | more essays by Kirk
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