Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hey, Ho, Imus Has Got To Go

NEW YORK - APRIL 09:  Radio show host Don Imus...Image by Getty Images via Daylife
If you know me at all, you know I'm not normally one to call for punishment.  I also think I have a pretty good sense of humor.  I love all kinds of humor.  Things that many others find offensive, I can find the humor in.  But, in the case of Don Imus, I'm going to make an exception to both my rules.  I'm more than happy to tell you why, just in case you don't understand why I think this man should lose his job over his "nappy headed hos" remark.

First I have to admit, I am not a Don Imus fan.  I have never caught his show.  I've heard precious little about him up until a couple of days ago.  But, I do know this.  The man has a mainstream "news" (or entertainment or comedy program) on CBS radio and MSNBC.  It's debatable as to what type of show it is.  The line between comedy, news and entertainment has become so fuzzy, it's hard to tell.  But, since the show is put on by CBS and MSNBC as a quasi-news program, I think these companies are responsible for his speech.  I understand he's one of those irascible shock jocks that America seems to love. They seem to me to be a guilt-free way to allow hatred to spew forth under the guise of humor or free speech.  I'm cool with that, if that's your cup of tea.  But, Mr. Imus crossed a line (jumped way across it) with his remarks about the young women who play for Rutgers' University basketball team and for that, he should pay with his job.

Nappy headed hos is just about the worst thing a white man can call a group of young black women.  It insults their hair (one thing that Black women are particularly sensitive about).  And, it insults their sexuality.  It's racist and sexist all rolled into one.  It's possible that Don Imus is so insensitive and clueless that he didn't know the impact of the speech he used. But, this is as good a time as any for him (and others to learn).  They will only learn if serious consequences are paid by Don Imus.  And I think nothing short of NBC and CBS parting ways with him will show just how seriously those corporations take the feelings of the people who watch and listen to their shows.

This is not a free speech issue.  If someone wants to put Imus' tripe on alternative stations, goody for them.  He's free to say what he wants and we're free to react to what he says.  This is my reaction.  If NBC and CBS allow this, without some very serious consequences, they are complicit in it as far as I'm concerned. I'm hopeful that people will keep pressure on them and bring this situation to the right conclusion.

I'm not naive.  I realize that Imus will land somewhere else very soon.  I'm guessing probably with a better contract and more freedom to continue with his hate speech.  Frankly, if I thought the man was going to starve on the streets I wouldn't be calling for his firing.   I don't think his remarks rise to that level of punishment.  I don't think he will personally lose any money over this, even if he is fired.  I'm doubtful he's nearly as contrite as his apologies portray him as being or that he's really understood what he's done wrong.  But, a two week vacation suspension is barely a slap on the wrist.  I'd almost rather see them do nothing than to insult the women of Rutgers by pretending a two week suspension means anything.  The pattern is clear now.  Say whatever outrageous thing you want and the next day issue a "heartfelt" apology outlining how much you've learned from the incident and how you're not "really" a racist/sexist.  I'm sick of it.  As a black man, this is language I wouldn't use in a room with my closest friends over a beer.  I've never called a woman, any woman a "ho".  I can only imagine how I'd feel if my daughter were on that Rutgers basketball team.  Looking at Imus and hearing those words come from his mouth, over public airwaves and funded by corporate sponsors brings up some very unpleasant memories of a time most of us do not want to be reminded of.

I've heard two excuses for Imus' behavior and why he should not be fired.  I'd like to address both of those here and now.  The first thing is that black rappers use this type of language all the time with no repercussions and that the black community itself calls black people "niggers and hos".  So, they say, everybody should be held to the same standard.  As far as I'm concerned, a racist remark by a radio host on a mainstream program and the lyrics of a rap song or something said by a comedian somewhere are two very different issues.  As soon as Snoop Dog gets a radio show and makes a remark like that, I'll call for him to be fired, too.  We need to deal with the verbal violence committed by blacks on blacks every day.  But, that does not excuse Imus or give him permission to use this type of insulting, racist, degrading language.  White people have to understand that the problems within our community do not give them permission to pile on.  If you don't understand the language you're using and the implications of it, don't use it.  Ignorance is not an excuse for someone in Imus' position.  Others being equally guilty is no excuse either.

The second reason I've heard why Imus should be allowed to slide by is the people who are going after him (Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton) are no better than he is.  I'm not going to get into how I feel about Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton other than to say I never voted for either of them to represent me.  And, that I hate to take the same side with them on just about any issue.  But, that is a completely separate issue.  I don't care about who is calling for Imus' resignation or firing and he should not be able to slip by on this issue simply because the credibility of some of his accusers might be suspect.

Racism and sexism are still big problems in America even while institutionalized racism has largely been eliminated.  NBC and CBS putting up with this type of speech is not acceptable.  Every once in a while we get the opportunity for an educational moment.  This is one of those opportunities.  For a white man to call a group of young black women hos (and nappy headed hos at that) from a public platform needs to have serious consequences.  We need to send a clear signal that we will marginalize this type of speech and that it is not acceptable in the public forum.  I don't see anything short than a "Here's  your hat, there's the door, Mr. Imus." as a clear enough message.

In case you missed it, here's a link to the actual comment made by Don Imus:

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