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Imus Protest! Unruly-Haired Hater

jnelsons Icon Posted by Jill Nelson

April 8th, 2007

I’m embarrassed to admit that it took a few moments for my outrage to kick in when I
first heard that nationally syndicated radio talk show host Don Imus had referred to the women on Rutgers basketball team - the astoundingly talented athletes who almost won the NCAA championship last week before being defeated by the no less amazing women athletes at Tennessee - as “some nappy headed hos.”

This is no surprise, since Imus’ insult was initially reported as simply the latest in the career of a man who, as the New York Times put it, “knows his way around an insult.”

I’ll say. He’s built a career on offending women, people of color, Jews, Catholics and gay people. He’s created a niche as the angry white man who’s willing to call a spade a “nappy headed ho” or, in the case of PBS anchor Gwen Ifill, “a cleaning lady.” The fact that he went after the 10 Rutgers basketball players, two of whom are white, all of whom are young, gifted scholar-athletes and champions, isn’t even a new low.

The truth is that as a woman, a woman of color, and specifically an African American woman, the insults come so fast and furious that there’s always the danger of becoming overwhelmed and de-sensitized.

Sad to say, but I’m used to hearing black and brown women being call “bitch” “ho” “skank” “skeazer” “gold digger” or some variation of all of the above in popular songs and music videos. “Norbit,” Eddie Murphy’s current movie, may be the most recent example of a black man putting on a dress and playing the fat, ignorant, loud, brown-skinned black woman as an object of ridicule and revulsion, you can bet it won’t be the last. And check out “Flavor of Love,” VH1’s hit show in which women demean themselves in an effort to get Flava Flav - brought beneath low since his high as a member of the seriously political rap group Public Enemy - to choose them.

What these three have in common is that they demean black women, earn handsome profits for their corporate sponsors, and for the most part exist devoid of criticism.

Maybe that’s because usually it’s a black or brown man doing the name calling. Apparently, being verbally insulted and dogged by our black or brown “brothers” is okay, although I’m not exactly clear why. Byron Hurt’s insightful documentary, Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, is a black man’s critical look at the misogyny, homophobia, and violence that characterizes much of hip hop - and draws explicit connections between damaging hip hop content and the corporate music industry’s take-over of mainstream hip hop.

I’m tired of racist, sexist haters like Don Imus hiding behind the notion that they’re courageously being “politically incorrect” and striking a blow against evil “political correctness” by using hate speech. Word up, Don: being racist, sexist, and disrespectful towards women and others isn’t cool, hip, or a revolutionary act of politically incorrect subversion, it’s plain wrong. Period.

Ditto for those rappers, fans, producers, profiteers and others for whom tales of a hard knock life, drug dealing, and contempt for women seem too often to be the foundation upon which success is built.

In what’s impossible not to view as the requisite next step in a cynical dance, a few days after his remarks Imus issued an “apology,” but as my mother said in cases of grave offense, “Sorry isn’t enough.” Still, it’s likely all those ten Rutgers ball players and the rest of us will get, since CBS Radio, who syndicates Imus’ show, and MSNBC, which simulcasts the show on cable, make too much money off Don Imus’ offensive behavior to demand more from him than lip service.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for any criticism from the journalists, politicians and others with something to sell for whom a visit to Imus in the Morning translates into greater visibility.

The National Association of Black Journalists, Angela Burt Murray, editor-in-chief of Essence Magazine, and a growing chorus of people of color and women have called for Imus’ dismissal. There’s no word from recent Imus guests Tim Russert, John McCain, Joe Lieberman, or Barack Obama, no surprise since Russert and Imus share a parent company, and McCain and Lieberman can’t risk losing face time in the corporate media by actually standing for a principal that might hurt the corporate pocketbook. As David Carr writes in the N.Y. Times (4/7/07):

“Mr. Imus is one of the most popular radio hosts in the country, with millions of daily listeners on more than 70 stations around the country. The television simulcast of his show on MSNBC is surging in the ratings-’Imus in the Morning,’ which the network simulcasts with the New York radio station WFAN, gained 100,000 viewers in the last year, for an average daily total of 358,000, according to Nielsen estimates.”

Which leaves Brother Obama to stand up for the sisters. I’m waiting.

Of course, one thing Imus has in common with many rappers - nappy headed bros? - and elected officials is understanding that there’s money to be made from insult and invective. Not to mention little risk insulting women, and colored women at that.

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