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Burying Don Imus

Anatomy of a Scapegoat

Author:

Michael Awkward

Burying Don Imus

What the furor surrounding Don Imus shows us about unresolved race relations in the United States

In Burying Don Imus, Michael Awkward provides the first balanced, critical analysis of Imus’s comments on the Rutgers women’s basketball team and the public outrage they provoked. Written from the singular perspective of a black intellectual with both a long-standing commitment to feminism and a deep familiarity with—and appreciation of—Imus in the Morning, this book contends that the reaction to the insult ignored the nature of Imus’s contributions to popular culture and political debate while eliding the real and complicated issues within contemporary racial politics.

Burying Don Imus is not only the book America needed. It is the book America didn’t know it needed. Without the deeply contextualized knowledge that the author both possessed and went looking for, America would never have known how knee-jerk its condemnation of Don Imus was—this author included—and how existentially misguided its reaction was to the ‘Rutgers incident.’ Though I am thoroughly ‘dissed’ in it, maybe because of that thorough 'dissing' I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is both entertaining and illuminating.

Debra Dickerson

“That’s some nappy-headed hos.” With these now-infamous words, uttered in 2007 to describe the supposed appearance of the Rutgers women’s basketball team, the radio talk show host Don Imus became the improbable focus of a heated national discussion on race, gender, and the power of language. Excoriated in the media as racist and sexist, Imus quickly lost the corporate sponsorships that had made his show so lucrative and, despite a public meeting with the Rutgers athletes and their coach to apologize for his comments, was fired by CBS two weeks later. In Burying Don Imus, Michael Awkward provides the first balanced, critical analysis of Imus’s comments and the public outrage they provoked.

Written from the singular perspective of a black intellectual with both a long-standing commitment to feminism and a deep familiarity with—and appreciation of—Imus in the Morning, this book contends that the reaction to the insult ignored the nature of Imus’s contributions to popular culture and political debate while eliding the real and very complicated issues within contemporary racial politics. Awkward’s probing account analyzes the responses within the African-American community as reflective of deep-seated anxieties rooted in the collective trauma resulting from centuries of slavery, Jim Crow, and racial violence. Placing the controversy in multiple contexts, he addresses Imus’s public persona and the satirical intent of his show, and delves into such charged topics as the perception of women athletes in American culture, the tradition of racist humor, the sexist language of hip-hop, and the politics of black hairstyles. Awkward also juxtaposes the Imus incident with other recent controversies, including the rape accusations leveled against white players on Duke University’s lacrosse team in 2006, in order to demonstrate how sensational spectacles of racism play out in the media again and again.

Highly personal, eclectic, and illuminating, Burying Don Imus examines American society’s predilection for self-congratulatory, ineffective hand-wringing over issues of race and racism and its inability to engage productively with the historic oppression of African Americans.

Burying Don Imus

Michael Awkward is Gayl A. Jones Collegiate Professor of Afro-American Literature and Culture at the University of Michigan. He is the author of four books, including Soul Covers: Rhythm and Blues Remakes and the Struggle for Artistic Identity and Negotiating Difference: Race, Gender, and the Politics of Positionality.

Burying Don Imus

Burying Don Imus is not only the book America needed. It is the book America didn’t know it needed. Without the deeply contextualized knowledge that the author both possessed and went looking for, America would never have known how knee-jerk its condemnation of Don Imus was—this author included—and how existentially misguided its reaction was to the ‘Rutgers incident.’ Though I am thoroughly ‘dissed’ in it, maybe because of that thorough 'dissing' I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is both entertaining and illuminating.

Debra Dickerson

As you may expect, this isn’t just about Don Imus—this book is about our collective national racial quagmire. It’s a smart, reflective, and provocative challenge to conventional racial ideas, standards, and anxieties about race and gender in our mainstream consciousness. Burying Don Imus digs up and disturbs and will likely leave you unsettled.

Tricia Rose, author of Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop—and Why It Matters

This is an impressive look at the history of shock radio, especially Don Imus’ contribution ‘to popular culture and political debate,’ and racial politics. As a thoughtful perspective on a much-publicized event, this is an important book.

ForeWord

Awkward presents an unsettling and illuminating argument. An essential read for anyone interested in racial politics and gender and media studies.

Library Journal

A thoughtful, endlessly educational, and fascinating book.

On The Line

Awkward reveals himself and speaks his truths without a trace of self-aggrandizement; he models for us a poignant exemplar of the kind of personally revealing intellectual engagement so often absent from both classroom and public discussions of race and gender politics in the media.

Journal of Mass Media Ethics

Written in the first-person and as an Imus in the Morning fan, Awkward is not trying to make things easy. He takes great pains to showcase our raced, gendered, and generational interconnectedness and interdependence, with all its psychic discomfort and (pardon the pun) awkwardness. . . . Burying Don Imus is a valuable addition to any library in critical race studies, African American psychology, media studies, cultural studies, and interracial communication.

International Journal of Communication

Burying Don Imus

UMP blog: "The book America didn't know it needed."

8/19/2009
The book isn't a defense of Imus's comments, but an attempt to place them -- and the hysterical reactions to them -- within a larger historical and cultural context. When I was writing the book, I saw the "nappy-headed hos" controversy as the latest in a series of events that date back at least to the mid-1990s involving charges of white racism directed at blacks when our overarching racial narrative -- of whites always poised to mistreat blacks because of deep-seated animus -- is simply not adequate to explain contemporary motivations and outcomes on many occasions. Blacks' knee-jerk reactions to such events (the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is the latest case in point) suggest to me a troubled sense of beholdedness to a view that black Americans' place in the nation is static and unchanging, a view of history's unambiguous meanings for the present that blinds us sometimes to the possibly fuller and more nuanced meanings of such incidents.
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