Manhattan Institute scholar John McWhorter, who writes on race in America, says that a new outrage over racial slurs occurs about once a month:

“Writing about this kind of thing a little while ago, I predicted that there would be a new episode the following week. I was off by seven days. Now it’s Don Imus on the coals for saying that the women on Rutgers’ basketball team are “nappy-headed ho’s.”

We know the drill. Reflective sorts have been tsk-tsking over Imus. Condemning him. Imus, just suspended, will be trotted out as one more example that on racism in America we’ve come a long way, but we have a … (need I even finish?).

“And what will the point be? What, really, is the goal of these monthly performances over something someone says in passing and usually in jest…”

Nobody decent wants to dismiss Imus? ugly remark uncritically. But McWhorter says that these cycles of outrage are distracting African Americans from more important matters:  

“However, the quest for an America where no one ever makes passing observations that are less than respectful of minority groups is futile. And why are so many of us so obsessed with chasing that rainbow anyway? The truth is that black people who go to pieces whenever anyone says a little something are revealing that they are not too sure about themselves.

“Imus hosts a radio show and a lot of people listen to it. During a few seconds last week he said something tacky. The show went on, as did life. Black people continued to constitute most new AIDS cases, black men continued to come out of prison unsupervised. And we’re supposed to be most interested in Imus saying ‘nappy-headed ho’s’?

“What creates that hypersensitivity is a poor racial self-image. Where, after all, did Imus pick up the very terminology he used? Rap music and the language young black people use themselves on the street to refer to one another.

“What Imus said is lowdown indeed, but so is the way blacks refer to each other. And life goes on.

“Street theater is not strength. It saps energy better put to other uses. The focus we’ll be dedicating to the next gaffe sometime in (this time I’ll give myself a little more wiggle room) May will mean that much less commitment to addressing black people’s real problems.”