It was just a game. A championship game, but still, just a game. The fate had been long decided and the victor -- Tennessee’s storied women’s team -- and their victim, their counterparts from Rutgers, had returned to their respective campuses to commemorate their successful seasons.
The sudden act of bigotry came without warning, without provocation, as sudden acts of bigotry usually do. Another group of white dudes primarily acclaimed for saying any crazy thing that enters their heads. In the span of several seconds, renowned shock jock Don Imus, WFAN show host Sid Rosenberg, Imus’ producer, Bernard McGuirk, and sidekick Charles McCord turned a casual conversation about the game into this:
Imus: So, I watched the basketball game last night between -- a little bit of Rutgers and Tennessee, the women's final.
Rosenberg: Yeah, Tennessee won last night -- seventh championship for Pat Summitt, I-Man. They beat Rutgers by 13 points.
Imus: That's some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos and --
McGuirk: Some hard-core hos.
Imus: That's some nappy-headed hos there. I'm gonna tell you that now, man, that's some -- woo. And the girls from Tennessee, they all look cute, you know, so, like -- kinda like -- I don't know.
McGuirk: A Spike Lee thing.
McGuirk: The Jigaboos vs. the Wannabes -- that movie that he had.
Imus: Yeah, it was a tough --
McCord: Do The Right Thing.
McGuirk: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Imus: I don't know if I'd have wanted to beat Rutgers or not, but they did, right?
Rosenberg: It was a tough watch. The more I look at Rutgers, they look exactly like the Toronto Raptors.
I heard it on ESPNEWS and my mouth dropped. I had heard of Imus and Rosenberg before. Both have long histories of racist and sexist comments, disguised as on-air entertainment. Over the last few years, Imus has:
1) said that the gorilla effects in the movie Instinct are comparable to the starting line-up of the New York Knicks
2) called black PBS anchor Gwen Ifill a “cleaning lady”
3) called Arabs “ragheads.”
Not to be outdone, Rosenberg once said that Venus and Serena Williams were “animals” and better suited to pose in National Geographic than Playboy, and, after Kylie Minogue’s breast cancer diagnosis, stated that Minogue “won't look so pretty when she's got a bald head with one titty." Naturally, they are kept afloat by half-hearted, morning after apologies -- like the one Imus offered the morning after the Rutgers comment -- and the First Amendment, which everyone uses when something intended to offend actually hits the mark.
It's still disturbing that Imus and his boys could talk about 19-year-old student athletes -- somebody’s daughters -- on the air so ignorantly. What’s more disheartening -- though hardly surprising -- is that the outrage has not come from his listeners. The day that the story broke, I found comments like these on Imus’s blogsite:
“I don’t see how nappy headed hos is racist. I’ve seen plenty of white trash nappy headed hos.”
“Actually Bernard was being kind when he called them ‘hoes’ as I think most may be lesbians. The black rappers (don’t know their names) started calling their women hoes so Bernard thought it would be ok too.”
“I would be very interested to know why this subject has gotten so much attention. As all regular listeners know, this is not the first time this kind of language has been used on the Imus show, I have a feeling that Imus’ radio and early morning competitors are behind all this ‘outrage’.”
Imus's audience is, generally speaking, thousands of men just like him who say the kinds of things he says when home with their friends, and admire his gall for saying it in front of millions of people. This is why I’ve never really gotten into talk radio. Many of the most successful on-air personalities are just reinforcing what their faithful fans already believe; what they find amusing at work when the lady from Human Resources has her back turned.
My original version of this article called for Imus's firing. In the interim, CBS took care of that, but only after an array of sponsor defections -- which, in turn, answers the question of what is really offensive on Madison Avenue. We are a country with a short history, and consequently, a short memory. And there is, clearly, a major audience for people have no sensitivity to other races, genders, or sexual preferences. If Imus doesn't resurface, a younger, more venomous version of him will gain momentum in his wake. He will amass attention for all the wrong reasons, then disappear, then reappear again somewhere else. It is the same trajectory as a pimple.
And here lies the problem. Say what you want about Imus or Bill O'Reilly or Rush Limbaugh, but they reached the platforms that they have today (or had, in Imus's case) because an awful lot of people agree with them. Which creates a fundamental problem for smart young black dudes like me. Because no matter what great things I accomplish, some racist loudmouth will always have an national audience to sucker punch me because I didn't do something the way he thought I should've. Free speech is great, but it was instituted by people who had come from being unable to speak at all. And until this country truthfully addresses our brutal history of race relations, we're just going to keep hurting each other, and ourselves.
Jason Gilmore is a film director, screenwriter, novelist and unrepentant Detroit Pistons fan. Track him down on Facebook.
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4.13.07 @ 9:00a
"Because no matter what great things I accomplish, some racist loudmouth will always have an national audience to sucker punch me because I didn't do something the way he thought I should've."
Even worse, some racist loudmouth will sucker punch you regardless of what you do or not do, for no other reason than your skin color. It's hateful and ignorant and yes, as long as they have an audience, it will continue.
I will comment, though, that rappers DO use the same kind of hateful, disparaging language and I don't understand why there isn't a lot more furor over that.
4.13.07 @ 9:40a
Let me toss a little fuel onto the fire.
In this particular example, Don Imus' words weren't playbook racist. This language, the word choice and the context, did not come from the rural heart of Mississippi or the Klan. These words came straight from the street and mainstream hip-hop.
However, you can't put it all on hip-hop. I can think of a dozen hip-hop artists off the top of my head who refuse to use this type of language and in fact speak out against it.
This is a case of an old white guy trying (and failing spectacularly) to mimic a younger, on-the-pulse crowd, but that crowd goes across race. Does that make it any less wrong? No.
But the record labels, the music channels, the news media outlets, and the advertisers shouldn't skate on this by beating Don Imus into the ground. He's the symptom, not the cause. And in this case, the cause is not old white racist America, it's the mainstream acceptance of bitch and ho and nappy - and everything they mean - into the lexicon.
Looking at free speech and fair market rule, this is exactly where it should be. I didn't think he should have been fired (free speech), but if the advertisers are pulling out (fair market), then, come on, this is talk radio, not brain surgery. It's the right move.
4.13.07 @ 10:56a
McGuirk: Some hard-core hos
McGuirk: The Jigaboos vs. the Wannabes -- that movie that he had
Okay, wait. What happened to this racist pig? I heard nothing about him. To me, what he said is twice as inflammatory. Was he fired?
What Joe said is right - because of certain levels of hip-hop popularity, a 66-year-old white man does not have the first thought of black women as "hoes". He picked up that slang trying to stay in the "now." Look at the transcript - all of those men are saying things that quite frankly, are out of their normal venacular, except for jigaboo, which is exactly what I expect an ignorant, racist, 66-year-old white man to say. They're mocking black culture on a number of different levels, simply by trying to imitate it.
There have been many, many women blasted by black hip- hop. Many black women have stood up against that, too. But it hasn't stopped. So who's fault is that - a 66-year-old ignorant white guy, or Snoop Dog? Chingy? Redman?
I spend two minutes on things like "I Love New York" and "Mon'que's Charm School" and I admit, I question the "popular" black culture. I question why any form of Jerry Springer mentality continues to be so attractive to viewers and advertisers. Because I have just as much of a problem thinking of those as adequate displays of black culture as I do "The Dukes of Hazzard" being an accurate representation of white people.
Few viewers take the time to separate the fiction from the reality.
It's not enough, this Imus brewhaha. It doesn't matter how much Sharpton or Jackson profile on the matter, either. Every race and creed of people need to stand up against the absurd.
michelle von euw
4.13.07 @ 11:00a
I'm glad to read your point of view on this one, Jason.
My response to it was framed by the blantant sexism exhibited within their words. (It's a basketball game. Can you imagine people focusing their talk about FSU/OSU on whether Oden is hotter than Noah?) Contained in their words is the very notion that we're not watching women's basketball because it's a game, we only watch because we can objectify the women involved.
But yet -- that's OK. It's fine to be a sexist ass (ask Billy Packer), as long as you don't cross over into racial stereotypes. That's the message I've gotten from the coverage of this debacle.
4.13.07 @ 11:44a
The thing that has irked me throughout this "crisis" -- and more on why I've wrapped that in quotes in a minute -- is the willingness yet again for the guilty party (or his supporters) to attempt to wrap the First Amendment around his shoulders like some kind of Teflon blanket, giving him the "right" to say what he wants.
NO. That's not what it's there for.
The language of the Founders is clear enough, and though I'll quote the whole thing here, let me highlight the most relevant bits:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
What does this mean? It means what Don Imus said is not illegal. It means that even though he insulted the Rutgers women's basketball team, he cannot be jailed or fined* for saying what he said.
That's all it means. Period. The First Amendment is a promise by our federal government that they will not impose draconian or arbitrary laws which could be used to imprison (or worse) people for speaking their minds.
It does not protect people who have opened their mouths and given vocal testimony to their idiocy from being dumped by their sponsors, fired by their media outlets, and ridden out of town on a rail.
(*Note: no matter how disparaging his comments may have been, Imus did not break any obscenity laws, which are the only Federal regulations that could be construed as limiting First Amendment rights, but that's a different issue.)
Now then: why is this a "crisis"? Because the media, fueled by controversy arsonists like Sharpton, et al, made it so. Suddenly it became a very public battle between one set of victims (everyone who wanted to speak for Rutgers' women) and another (the lunkheads who misinterpret the First Amendment). Obviously, the "crisis" got a huge head start, since Imus already had a national audience to hear his (and his posse's) juvenile banter. But having the offending language repeated ad nauseam on news outlets across the country for the past week hasn't exactly helped to settle jangled nerves.
The right thing to do would have been for CBS management to have fired Imus swiftly -- rather than to have hemmed and hawed for most of a week, waiting to see what the economic fallout was going to be. Instead, their pussyfooting gave the incident a shelf life it didn't deserve, and sent a message -- to the Rutgers women, to blacks, to all of us -- that the media (the same media that also gorged happily on Imus' fall, mind you!) only has ethical standards if it's good for the bottom line.
The only whores in this "crisis" are the media.
4.13.07 @ 11:59a
In Sharpton's defense, I will say this: He has been protesting the derogatory terms used in a lot of rap music for years. It was one of the few things he's done that wasn't considered newsworthy. The rap music thing -- and I'm certainly not justifying it -- is a bigger animal. It would be different if there was just one or two guys doing it. And when you have an industry where, if you're a black artist who's not degrading women, it's damn near impossible to get a deal -- as I just learned through my own experience -- well, now, that's a question of who's going to sacrifice their dreams for the common good.
A lot of young men haven't even been taught that there is a common good. It's also a question of how relations between black men and black women got from where it was in the Civil Rights days to where it is today. These are layered, in-house discussions. But when people say, "Well, rappers did it, so why can't Imus do it?," I'm still of the belief that two wrongs don't make it right.
4.13.07 @ 5:46p
But correcting only ONE of the two wrongs doesn't make anything right either, and hampers understanding in discussions not "in-house."
4.13.07 @ 6:26p
We didn't really correct one of the two wrongs. One guy just got fired. You can't legislate compassion.
But I will say this: if we could find a way to eliminate the first wrong, the second wrong would take care of itself. Which was basically what I said at the end of the article.
4.13.07 @ 7:27p
I supposed as a gay man, something that crosses all racial barriers, I should be behind the firing of Imus, but I really didn't care one way or the other. I've been on the end of hate speech as far back as I can remember, and I go on. No matter what Imus or any of his cronies say, the women he insulted will go on and most if not all will maybe feel a bit hurt that a national radio host insulted them but they will go on and live their lives and not give it much more thought then they would had a drunken frat boy called them those things to their faces at a college party. Sure, they probably would've decked the frat boy, and that would've been it.
I was shocked when I heard the words, not so much by the word "ho" but by calling them nappy headed. However I associate the word nappy as being unkempt, and that wasn't the case of these women, so I failed to see how it applied. As far as "ho" went, I accepted it as I would in a rap song as being another word for female. It may be wrong, but that is the connotation the word "ho" is taking on by the constant use. Years ago I heard a young boy asking what I presumed to be his father what a ho was. This took place in a Burger King while I was waiting on line. The older man (probably in his late 20s early 30s) replied "it's another word for woman.) That was at least 20 years ago. I remember it because until that moment I associated the word with "whore". Apparently this is all cultural as well, although I too use the word ho, usually to describe Ann Coulter.
I blame the media for this, and that brings me to the Sharpton/Jackson photo-op obsession. They jump on every opportunity to get their faces in the news. Sharpton never apologized to the men falsely accused of raping Tawanna Brawley after going after them in the media for months. I doubt he'll apologize to the Duke Lacrosse team for going after them in the media. In fact, I do firmly believe that both of those cases wouldn't have made the news had they not involved the racial media hook.
Both should stick to politicking instead of cause du jours.
We as a world have to get beyond the name calling if there will ever be any peace in this world, and that includes learning to forgive and help educate. I'm waiting for the time when attacking someone's sexual orientation will create such a real public furor (and I don't count the Ann Coulter scandal as a furor since it blew over in a couple days).
I forgot to mention, I think the only reason he was fired was because of the advertisers pulling out. If Money hadn't come into play it would've faded away.
4.14.07 @ 7:45a
The word "ho" is another word for "woman"? And we wonder why rape is such a problem in our country?
r lee smith
4.15.07 @ 1:05p
Hey, I discovered who and what I am -- a 66 year old white man, and my group is getting a lot of bad press. In any case, I hope that the stations
will reconsider with respect to firing Imus. Imus' Rutgers comments are very ugly and disturbing and not his first such. (Albeit no one seems to have trouble repeating them over and over again so there seems to be nothing inherently abhorent
in the words). As a white 66 year old Jewish man (and hence the victim of some of the Imus comments over the
years) with daughters and grand daughters, Why did I alternate between listening to him and turning him off
over the years? Because I always found the "good Imus"
to be of redeeming and somewhat unique value that outweighed the evil or bigoted Imus. I admit I even
chortled with the bad Imus at times and his apparent bashing of the self righteous "powers that be". Maybe
Imus was laughing all the way to the bank, but at times he tells it like it is more than just about any
other such personalities and in a more varied and individualistic way, which is a rare and valuable
commodity. Banishing him is a form of patronizing censorship that I think is frightening, and the "good"
controllers of the mass media are, along with the good Reverends Al and Jesse quite frankly more frightening to me than the "bad" Imus. What also
get's me is the fact that self righteous MSNBC didn't broadcast the
children's telethon -- instead they broadcast hours of talking heads talking about Imus. What were they
afraid of if Imus stayed on TV those last two days -- that
Imus would be able to regain some good standing and they couldn't get rid of him? They (whom ever they
are this paranoids view of a bunch of puppet masters pulling the strings)
obviously didn't want him to have that chance. And what about this group "media watch". It's frightening
to know that they are out there lobbying against freedom of expression and mobolizing their troops whenever something they decide is wrong occurs on the
air. Let's face it, as much as all express concern about the Rutger's team, and rightly so, who really cared about them? Not Imus who
probably didn't have a clue as to who they were. Not Media watch whose frightening barrage of emails put
them under the microscope along with Imus. Not the good Reverends who I have minimal respect for for
obvious reasons (hymie town and Tawana). Did it really matter that the team was so articulate and impressive and why was everyone so seemingly
surprised. What if they were more like the typical (male of all colors) BBall players I'm used to seeing interviewed -- many of them College students
just making their C averages -- that could have been a disaster but would not excuse in any way what Imus said. In any case Imus lit the fire but his lynch party also ruined the joy of the Rutgers team. And there is
little doubt in
r lee smith
4.15.07 @ 1:07p
Rest of my post:
And there is
little doubt in my mind that the iconoclastic and generally astute Imus would have turned this around
and battled many of the things he has been accused of fostering and is guilty of. In a cynical view, it would be for the $$, but I think he would have really believed in it, just as he believes in better treatment of veteran's,
easing the lives of children with cancer, finding the sources of autism, etc etc. Minimally, MSNBC should
have donated a couple of million $$ to the Imus children's fund given all the $$ they have made from the evil Imus over the years. Anyhow, this is what this 66 year old white man thinks.
4.15.07 @ 10:34p
"Albeit no one seems to have trouble repeating them over and over again so there seems to be nothing inherently abhorent
in the words"
You're absolutely right.
Funny how that works, isn't it? The media make certain that for anyone not affected by it before, they will be soon.
4.16.07 @ 8:10a
Isn't it interesting that the media is capable of expressing such outrage at the comment, then taking advantage of the attention (and ratings!) it generates to keep saying over and over and over--while simply hiding behind the "we just report the story, folks" banner?
4.16.07 @ 11:03a
Another couple of thoughts. Just because someone is lynched doesn't mean they are innocent, and also doesn't make lynching correct. Imus had a chance to face the Rutgers team that he had wronged. Did he also have a chance to meet with the MSNBC and CBS folks who felt wronged. Also, if what Imus was doing was so bad for so long, shouldn't other corporate heads be chopped off for allowing this? On the other hand if it just became wrong last week, shouldn't he have a chance to show his repentance after a suitable punishment? There is always more to these things then meet the eye. As much as folks seem to state that Imus' attacks on politicos were acceptable, in the end that isprobably what has done him in. His political enemies were probably waiting for this sort of an excuse to silence him. Did you see 60 minutes and the look on Bill and Hillary's faces when Imus took it to bill for his sexual activities? That is vintage Imus and probably only an Imus would have the guts to do that.
4.19.07 @ 12:52a
I'm torn on this, ethnicity is a hard thing for those of us with vague lineage to sincerely believe in, and harder still is to try to define the true meaning of isms like 'racism' and 'sexism'. This was a callous, crass, thoughtless, and insulting comment, like many a useless windbag like Imus utters in the course of a day. So piss on him anyway, if that's the best someone can do with free speech, than free speech is seriously over-rated and abused.
On the other hand, I'm not sure we can officially call it whatever-ism unless we can first define what that ism actually signifies to all of us. I've written some outrageous comments that, taken out of context, could only be construed as amongst the most hateful and bigotous. I like to think that everyone gets the comic absurdity, and that people remember the old kingergarden 'sticks and stones' rule. I'd like to think that rational people realize that no intellectually honest person can sensibly or logically defend hating or believing inferior an entire group of individuals, however arbitrarily that group is defined. I'd to think that people realize that slurs obviously say much more about the source than then they do the object.
I'd like to think those things, but maybe it's just because I can afford the luxury of thinking like that.
I do hate to see Sharpton and Jackson profit from this. The main reason we have race, or other social relations issues, is lack of honest, intelligent dialogue and debate. Those two disingenuous dolts represent at least 50% of the reason why that's just not possible.
5.2.07 @ 5:52p
The "free speech" argument as it relates to this case is specious. Protection of this right is a government responsibility. Don Imus was not silenced by any government agency.
The real issue in this case is fear. Bullies like Imus rely on fear to keep the people they attack from fighting back. Unfortunately, in this case, the Rutgers women were either too young or too uninformed to realize they should be afraid of big deal radio guy Don Imus. As usual, Imus and crew hurled their tirade at their intended victims from the safety of their radio booth. Like a burning bag of excrement that shows up on your doorstep, the intent was to surprise, disgust and embarrass, in that order.
This time though, instead of stomping on the burning bag, the Rutgers women pointed to the nasty package, then pointed at Imus and exclaimed the equivalent of "Oh no you didn't!" Perhaps it was the 'hood in the Rutgers women that scared Imus and friends, but once their deed was discovered and countered with a firm refutation of the whole insulting premise, the radio "men" became radio wimps. They fell over themselves in an attempt to apologize and make amends.
Some people hate this story because they think it is somehow "unfair" for people to have to be responsible for their words. Sorry, get over it. If you're willing to say it, you should be willing to back it up. I grew up in one of the most racist parts of this country and when I was a young Black Person, we had a saying: "See a n*gger, slap a n*gger." This is the kind of thing you'd say to someone (usually white) who had just used the so-called n-word to denigrate the Black race. No, confronting the racists in this way didn't stop them from using the word, but it did greatly decrease the number of times they used it around me. And I never got slapped.