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Black Women: First Dissed, Now Disappeared

jnelsons Icon Posted by Jill Nelson

April 10th, 2007

It’s astounding that in the media conversation surrounding Don Imus’ characterization of the 10 members of Rutger’s women’s basketball team as “nappy headed ho’s,” Black women - other than those Imus imagines - are virtually invisible. Even when we’re the ones being dissed and dogged, when it comes to analyzing the situation, no one much gives a damn what we have to say.

(In the interest of full disclosure, MSNBC’s Hardball did try and book me, and I’ll be on Uprising with Sonali Kolhatkar on KPFK radio Thursday, 11 am Eastern time. I’m also included on an Institute for Public Accuracy press release out today(4/11).)

It was great to finally hear from Rutger’s coach C. Vivian Stringer and the women on the team at whom Imus’ comments were directed. They’ve generously agreed to meet privately with Imus at an undisclosed time and location and hear him out. (Now that’s one meeting I’d love to take!) Still, there’s an absence of the analysis and contextualization that can only come from African American and other women of color who are journalists, scholars, activists, and thinkers less directly but no less powerfully impacted by these events.

To deny a larger community of Black women voice is to perpetrate the pretense that what happened is aberrant and anecdotal. That all Don Imus need do for absolution is apologize to the coach and her team, privately, and presto! chango! problem solved. What’s really needed are women of color to place what occurred into the context of the larger system of sexism, racism, misogyny and contempt for women that pervades the culture.

It’s the same old “race trumps gender” game that we’ve played too long in black America, a spin that surely doesn’t work for those of us who are black, brown and have vaginas. I appreciate the concern for Black women on the part of Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and other Black men, but I’d feel a lot better if they gave up some of the face time and didn’t suck up all the air in the green room. Last night on ABC it was Spike Lee and WVON radio host Roland Martin. Earlier in the day, CNN featured NOW president Kim Gandy, Michael Eric Dyson, and again, Roland Martin. You’d think NOW’s Gandy could’ve suggested a Black woman feminist to address the issue, and it was disturbing that Martin pointed out the issue was sexism more than racism, challenged white feminists to speak up, which they are, but apparently felt no contradiction in speaking for black women. Don’t these people know any feminists of color whom they could suggest might be better suited to speak to the topic than themselves?

With few exceptions, among them baseball great Cal Ripkin Jr., who canceled his scheduled appearance on Imus’ show, it seems many of the good old white media and political boys are going into Voertrekker mode and circling the wagons around Don on this one. Attempts to mitigate and minimize Imus’ remarks by saying he was just trying to make a joke, repeating what he hears in the black community, simply mis-spoke, or suggesting that criticizing him is evidence of a “double standard,” or that he’s apologized so get over it, are disingenious, offensive, and reek of opportunism and the arrogance of white male privilege.

CNN reported on the presidential candidates’ response. No black women there: Shirley Chisholm’s deceased, and Carol Moseley Braun isn’t running this year. Not surprisingly, Clinton and Obama condemned, while Giuliani and McCain forgave and made it clear they’d be happy to ease on down the road to an appearance on Imus in the Morning.

It was a pleasure watching the spectacle of former Clinton employee and democratic strategist Paul Begala tie himself up in greasy knots braying about “forgiveness” and a “double standard” while debating republican strategist Amy Holmes. Begala clearly failed in his efforts to talk over and intimidate Holmes, a former speechwriter for Bill Frist and former staffer for the staunchly anti-feminist Indepedent Women’s Forum, who called Imus’ behavior “unacceptable” and said he should be deserted by his sponsors and fired. It was great for once to be able to agree with Holmes. Imus’ sexist and racist comments clearly trumped her usually deafening right wing mantras. Best of all was NewsHour anchor Gwen Ifill’s eloquent and on point op-ed in the New York Times. Ifill’s not the cleaning lady Imus once called her, but she surely mopped the floor up with him.

Still, so far it’s still a jive pseudo-apology game, as Imus’ comment April 10 - after apologizing a few times, appearing on Al Sharpton’s radio show, and receiving a two week suspension - that “I’m not going to play forever” made clear. You can toss that scraggly mane if you want, Don, but pressure continues to mount, sorry ain’t enough, and your failed “joke” is beginning to affect the corporations’ money.

The good news is that sponsors are beginning to fly the coop, led by Staples, Bigelow Tea, and Proctor and Gamble . Hopefully others - Cadillac, Jos. A Banks, Random House, Simon and Schuster - will follow. Next thing you know, the sound drowning out those chickens fluttering home to roost may be the sound of rats deserting a sinking ship.

(Readers can email Dan Mason, president of CBS radio at dan.mason@cbsradio.com, Chuck Bortnick, president of Imus’s ststion, WFAN radio in New York, at cbortnick@wfan.com; Peter Kosann, president and chief executive officer at the company which syndicates Imus, Westwood One peterj_kosann@westwoodone.com; and Dan Abrams, general manager at MSNBC, dan.abrams@msnbc.com, which simulcasts Imus. And it wouldn’t hurt to thank the sponsors who’ve pulled out for actually doing the right thing.)

At the end of a long day it was left to 360’s Anderson Cooper on CNN to bring on a progressive sister, Whoopi Goldberg, who characterized the affair as “disheartening…It’s like,” Goldberg said, “Five steps forward and twelve steps back.” Yep, and once again black women are left to bring up the rear, eating the dust of the patriarchs, well intentioned and otherwise, who’ve bogarted the lead.

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