Ties Between Imus, Duke Rape Case
ALEX COHEN, host:
This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Cohen.
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
I'm Alex Chadwick.
Two big domestic stories this week set on the unstable landscape of race. First, Don Imus' racist comments, the fallout from that, with the Rutgers women's basketball team; then yesterday, the announcement that remaining sexual assault charges against white Duke lacrosse players are going to be dropped in a case involving their treatment of a young black woman.
NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams is back with us. He's not just a senior correspondent for NPR. He's also the author of the bestselling book, "Enough," which examines the ongoing American conversation on race. Juan, welcome back.
JUAN WILLIAMS: Good to be with you, Alex.
CHADWICK: Draw a line for us between these - if you see a line - with these two stories.
WILLIAMS: I do. I think these stories are very much connected. I mean if you look at the American racial landscape as you described it, it's a landscape in which we have a very difficult time having conversations. People fear if they're white that they'll be called racists. I think people who are black, Hispanic, fear that they're always be perceived as having a chip on their shoulder if they bring up conversations about race.
There's a lot of conversation that take place at the dinner table in private among people of the same group, but rarely across racial lines. So what happens is, when we have racial conversations, it's usually as a result of some eruption, almost like a break out of pimples or something.
And you think back in terms of American media landscape and you think of Rodney King or you come forward and you think again of the Imus situation or the Duke lacrosse situation; you say, oh, there's an example of race, class, privilege in American society, an opportunity for people to try to have conversation, but it becomes very difficult, very stilted and oftentimes leads the very separate perceptions of the same set of facts.
CHADWICK: You know, I'm struck by the fact that there are two teams of young college athletes involved in these stories, one almost entirely white and one entirely black. Imagine these two sports teams talking to each other.
WILLIAMS: Isn't it something, Alex? I'm struck - I had the same thought yesterday. I was looking at the front pages of several papers in America yesterday. On the front pages were the Rutgers basketball players, the women from Rutgers, all seated up on some sort of stand looking at the camera.
And then today there you have the three Duke lacrosse players seated and they're looking. And I think in the way you could put them looking at each other, but looking past each other. I don't think that you would have young, white men of privilege, you know, lacrosse being a prep school sport, upper class sport is the way it's perceived, if not from Duke - I don't think they have too many interactions with black women, and especially not poor black women, and then you have middle income to low income black women on the Rutgers team and I think they don't have too many interactions with upper class white males.
There's lots of stuff that goes on in the rap music, you know. Obviously the young white males are the biggest consumers of rap music, and I think it feeds stereotypes in for the young black women, the ones who the rap music is so derogatory about it. I think they would feel, you know, I dance to it but they want to distance themselves from the kind of lyrics that are in it.
Imagine, though, no real connection, no sense of the real people involved in these stories, no sense of people striving for athletic excellence, although they're both quite excellent. You know, they're top-ranked Division I teams.
CHADWICK: Yeah. You know, do you see anything developing here? Because Don Imus is in serious trouble. Big American companies are walking away from his program, which has made a lot of money for a lot of people.
WILLIAMS: Well, you know, it's interesting. I think at this point, what I see, you know, looking in from the outside, I think the difference is you have, for example, a black man running American Express or you have a black man running Time Warner.
There are people in position to make decisions now who are people of a different race than maybe a couple of years ago; you have workers there who are putting pressure as well as the advertisers. That's the big difference here and I think that why Don Imus' level of invincibility has been wiped out.
CHADWICK: NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams. Juan, thank you again.
WILLIAMS: You're welcome Alex.
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