Life as I know it… plus commentary

the face of racism?

with 10 comments

Don ImusHere’s a face that’s been all over the news lately.  If you’ve been under a rock lately, Don Imus called the Rutgers University women’s basketball team some “nappy headed hos”.  As a result he’s lost pay, his advertisers, and now his livelihood.  After watching the events from this all unfold, I have one thing to say.

Everyone needs to chill-the heck-out.

First of all I’m not going to defend Imus’ comments.  He’s a radio personality and should have known better than saying something as stupid and offensive as he did.  I will ask this though… was his comment really racist?  Tobe racist, his comment would have to show that he thought his race was superior or another race was inferior.  I don’t think that calling people “nappy headed hos” does.  A nappy headed ho is someone who doesn’t take care of their hair and is a person of questionable morality.  I’ll go with N.O.W.’s declaration that the statement was sexist.  At least here we can see that calling someone you don’t know a ho is clearly a gender based insult.  You want to hear real sexist slurs using the word ho?  Listen to rap lyrics.  Like smelling smoke and finding fire, if there’s a ho lyric, you’re sure to find the B word as well. 

I thought CBS’ decision to suspend him without pay for two weeks was a just and appropriate punishment.  It fit the crime, so to speak.  Many, many people immediately called for his dismissal.  Looking at the big picture of our society, this is really a systemic symptom.  We’re no longer willing to engage in real and deep dialogue.  Fire him! Get rid of her!  Off with their heads!  Isn’t that what we’ve come to?  Instead of really wrestling with the deeper issues of what’s going, we make things go away tidily and summarily.  People in this country have honed an attitude of defensive attacking.  We all feel that we should never hear anything, see anything or have to tolerate anything that offends us.  Offends?  For some people, it’s a matter of anything that annoys them.  (Yet, when was the last time you heard someone call for a rap artist to quit?)

I think one of the “crimes” Imus committed is he co-opted another culture’s terminology.  I am positive Imus never heard this word growing up.  If he’s like me, he’s been introduced to the phrase and others like it from watching movies like Friday and The Cookout and Undercover Brother or TV shows like Living Single and Martin (a big ol’ HAAAAAAYYYY to Shawneequa!).  Phrases like “nappy headed ho” get tossed around like a hackey sack on a college campus. And others… I havd no idea about weaves and activator and Soul Glow except from the movies.  And there’s a problem with this… these movies give you the feeling like these phrases are OK to say, mostly because everyone in the movies and TV throw them around and everyone laughs.  This is hardly the case in real life though.  Try saying some of these things in Skid Row or South Central and not be part of the culture.  Good luck with that one.  What Imus did was use a phrase that he heard, assumed it was OK, and got called out by the culture that claims ownership of the phrase.

As the world gets smaller and everyone becomes more intimately familiar with different cultures through film, tv, radio and the internet, there’s going to be some bumps and rattles and rolls.  This is a good thing and we’ll understand and appreciate each other more… but only if we dialogue about it.  Otherwise it’s only a matter of time before all of us get fired for something we said.


Written by arnold

April 13, 2007 at 11:18 am

Posted in Culture

10 Responses

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  1. not me. i’ve taken up a vow of silence.


    April 13, 2007 at 11:48 am

  2. Good points, Arnold. I agree with you, but searching for a solution in our PC society of make-believe reality is pretty discouraging.


    April 13, 2007 at 11:01 pm

  3. So the “nappy headed” part of his comment wasn’t racist? How often do you hear that applied to white people? Asians?

    Snoop Dogg, who is by no means someone I hold in any esteem for his morals, did make some valid points in his rant to MTV: “”It’s a completely different scenario,” said Snoop, barking over the phone from a hotel room in L.A. “[Rappers] are not talking about no collegiate basketball girls who have made it to the next level in education and sports. We’re talking about ho’s that’s in the ‘hood that ain’t doing sh–, that’s trying to get a n—a for his money. These are two separate things. First of all, we ain’t no old-\bass\b white men that sit up on MSNBC [the cable network home to Imus] going hard on black girls. We are rappers that have these songs coming from our minds and our souls that are relevant to what we feel. I will not let them mutha—–as say we in the same league as him.”

    There’s a debate about whether minorities should reclaim language that had previously been used as slurs, or if they should allow them to stand as slurs so that their historical significance is not diminshed.

    I personally am sick of the hyper-PC atmosphere we have, but I’m not sure what the solution is.

    Peggy C

    April 15, 2007 at 3:52 pm

  4. If Snoop Dogg can say what’s on his mind about a bunch of “n*&%#@ h*s,” then certainly Imus can say the same thing. In our two faced society though, Snoop Dogg makes the money for being lewd while Imus gets fired. I won’t say what he did was right, in fact, it’s disgusting, but so is Snoop Dogg and all the other rappers who put this crap out in the public and give people like Imus the idea to say it.
    What’s the solution? Let’s have a higher attitude of speech, meaning if we hear crap spoken in rap songs that allegedly gave Imus the impetus to say what he did, then let’s treat it like the crap it is.
    I don’t think Imus should have been fired either. Maybe this society needs to stop being so sensitive and PC. And we should also quit listening to that rap crap.

    (And I know that those words do have historical significance, but it doesn’t mean that every black person speaks them either or condones them. I have a dear friend who is black and his family would NEVER talk like that.)


    April 15, 2007 at 7:56 pm

  5. Peggy, for clarification. I didn’t say the remark wasn’t race specific. I just dont think race specific remarks are necessarily racist. If someone said Asians get high scores on tests, that would not be a racist comment though it’s race specific. To me, racist comments suggest a superiority somehow and pointing out that someone’s hair is different is not racist.

    I will concede though, that while I am using the dictionary definition of racist, that the definition of racist in how it’s used today may be changing.


    April 15, 2007 at 9:17 pm

  6. I think “a bunch of nappy-headed hos” from a white man is a racist remark given any definition (unless that definition requires the person to actually say the words “my race is superior to yours”). As always, there is more to the words than the simple dictionary definition of them. Which is what I guess makes this so confusing.

    On one hand, I don’t think he really meant that the women are sexually promiscuous. It seems like he was making a passing comment describing their appearance rather than talking about their character or habits. But he was absolutely demeaning the women on that team as well as any other black woman within earshot. He is a shock-jock and this is how he speaks. I understand that we have become super-sensitive to being offended, but if we agree that it is still possible to be offensive, we have to view this as offensive.

    Incidentally, rappers use that language in kind of an “in-house forum,” so to speak. True they are using the same ugly words, but it is absolutely not the same thing. There’s much more to this than literal words and dictionary definitions.

    the kyle

    April 16, 2007 at 11:57 am

  7. “In house” only works in house. Like in small group conversation.

    I’m going to guess most reasonable people would say that record albums, as well as radio, TV, movies and the internet dont count as “in house” forums.


    April 16, 2007 at 3:41 pm

  8. Kim, I don’t listen to rap, and I agree–I think those words are crap, too. But there are an awful lot of people willing to pay money to hear that crap. That is the ONLY reason it continues to be used. If the audience for it dwindled, so would the usage. It always comes down to profitability.

    I had this very same discussion with my friend from NY before the Imus thing hit the fan. He quit using language like that as a young boy (he is black) when he heard it parroted back from his non-black friends, and he realized how ugly and hateful it sounded, even though they really didn’t use it in a hateful way, they were just mimicking him.

    Especially for Christians, we are told to dwell on what is “…lovely, and of good repute.” That becomes increasingly difficult in a hyper-sexualized, hyper-violence-promoting culture. Unless the Church does her job in redeeming people, you can only expect more crap. You cannot force a whitewash on a culture that is dead inside.

    Peggy C

    April 16, 2007 at 6:06 pm

  9. I don’t use “in-house” to mean a small number of people. I mean a discussion among like-minded people (similar backgrounds, beliefs, etc.). For example the Old Testament can hardly be considered anti-Semitic, even though it speaks ill of Israelites/Jews often, because it is written by Jews for Jews. It is an “in-house” conversation (even though more than just Jews read it now).

    In the same way rap is written by a certain demographic for a certain demographic. The fact that millions of people “listen in” doesn’t change its intention. It’s still ugly speech, but the tone (and I think meaning) is very different when it comes from Nelly than it is when it comes from Imus.

    Or maybe the issue here is that Imus singled out individuals. Maybe that’s what makes this so offensive. I don’t know. It’s very complicated.

    the kyle

    April 17, 2007 at 8:22 am

  10. If anyone is still interested in this issue, I’ve just discovered the very clear, thoughtful article on the topic of racism, Imus, hip-hop, sexism, censorship, etc. It’s definitely worth taking 10 minutes to read…especially if you’ve ever complained about a “double standard.”

    the kyle

    April 17, 2007 at 10:15 pm

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