The dehumanizing legacy of discrimination is rampant and any reasonable individual who heard what was said by Don Imus has to be reminded about how much more we need to do to untangle racism and homophobia from the institutions that perpetuate it and continue to give it a place on the national table. The Scarlet Knights have a unique opportunity today to do just that: to move beyond demagoguery and turn the conversation to the importance of changing entrenched ignorance into positive change born out of reflective thought. But before that can happen, the Scarlet Knights need to be armed with a clear understanding of the importance of their role in moving the conversation forward.
I’ve elsewhere noted how there is a “tiered spectrum” of allies and opponents in the battle against racism and discrimination. The allies don’t need to be convinced about the importance of achieving equality; they already know its foundational importance in democratic systems. The racists will likely never be convinced; their world is small, closing in, and imploding inward. It is only the ignorant, through convenience or stupidity, who can be moved — in all senses of the word — in the direction of reason. So to the Scarlet Knights I proffer this:
First, it is important to recognize all the important voices that have emerged in support of your team, your dignity, and your great accomplishments. These voices know racism and discrimination and they are to be commended for supporting you and letting you know they stand in solidarity.
Second, there are hearts too soiled by ignorance and arrogance to be reasoned with. The arc of the moral universe will prove them wrong and we should all take great comfort in that. But they stand outside of reason, and will never feel your pain as much as revel in it.
Third, there are the truly ignorant (in the most generous sense of term) who either don’t know about racism and discrimination because they’ve been too sheltered or because they love the world they’ve built so much that they keep this most persistent and inconvenient truth out of immediate sight. They may be white, black, Asian, Latino, but what they have in common is a nagging moral compass that inconveniently but incontrovertibly points toward justice.
In the influential political blog, Eschaton, the writer Atrios recently noted that, “Paula Begala [CNNs political analyst and democratic strategist] just told me that the Rutgers basketball team could turn themselves into heroes by forgiving Don Imus.” Though I turn to neither for my opinions, the observation left me wondering about the political future of the Scarlet Knights’ response to Don Imus’ pernicious ignorance. What would the record say if the team “forgave” him? If they did not? In the nationally tiered spectrum of lived reactions to racism and discrimination, who will be better able to see the light of reason?