4/15/2007 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper
Because I am a black American, most readers automatically expect me to be outraged that shock jock Don Imus referred to the black players on Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos.”
Well, I am not outraged, nor surprised, by Imus’ racist/sexist epithet.
I watched Imus’ television show on MSNBC when I could, just as I listen to Rush Limbaugh. As an opinion writer, I try not to miss much, even those with whom I disagree.
Although I do not like Imus the man, I watched his show because it delivered infotainment with the rapier’s edge of powerful satire.
Besides being irreverent, which I like, Imus in the Morning had some of the most honest political and social commentary anywhere. Face it. The I-man, as fans refer to him, had the rare ability to get Beltway movers and shakers and media insiders to open their veins and spill their guts, as it were.
His repeated apologies and a two-week suspension were not enough to satisfy Imus’ critics. Black leaders and organizations in particular, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, the NAACP and the National Association of Black Journalists, demanded that Imus be fired. And he was, first by MSNBC and then by CBS Radio.
Because I am a journalist, who is dedicated to freedom of speech, and because I am a former college professor, who is dedicated to academic freedom, I have no serious problem with Imus’ epithet. Given his genre, his venue and his voice, he behaved true to form.
Hell, informed folks know the man’s shtick: He is an equal-opportunity attacker.
He attacked everyone, even those he referred to as his “money-grubbing” bosses at CBS. Civility was not his game. If you detested the I-man’s cranky quips, you could grab the remote. Those of us who love freedom of speech grab the remote for one reason or another all the time.
I offer the above as background for a more specific point I want to argue: Sharpton and other black critics of Imus are hypocrites.
I will bet that Chris Rock could have said “nappy-headed hos” without making much of a wave, and I bet that he would have gotten big laughs from many of the same blacks who demanded Imus’ unruly mop on a platter.
In light of the misogynistic insults that are the staple of gangsta rap – most notably “bitches” and “hos” – Imus’ insult is in good company.
You see, Imus is white, while the overwhelming majority of gangsta rappers are black, tattooed, swaggering, thug wanna-bes pretending to portray authentic black life in their vile renderings.
Over the years, many rappers have earned millions of dollars encouraging or condoning violence against black women. The unapologetic Ice Cube, for example, is known for lines such as “ice the ho” and “cancel the bitch.” Even some of the names of early 1990s female rap groups – “B.W.P.,” Bytches With Problems, and “H.W.A.,” Hoes With Attitude – denigrated black women and black life in general.
A new low, even for hip-hop, was reached last year when 50 Cent, a real-life criminal, swiped a young black woman’s buttocks with a credit card during a performance.
Who can count the number of times that the word “nigger” and its variation “nigga” have laced rap lyrics?
These are not the antics of amateurs, but the serious efforts of multimillionaires infecting black culture in ways from which it may never recover.
Let’s keep it real: Black people have a double standard regarding who can and who cannot insult us. Blacks can. Whites and others cannot.
I am more offended when a black man refers to a black woman as a “nappy-headed ho” than I am when a Don Imus does so. When I taught at historically black Stillman College in Alabama, I regularly heard male students refer to their female schoolmates as “nappy-headed hos” and other unprintable names.
Until we, black people, stop insulting and abusing ourselves, we are fair game for others to insult and abuse us. We have only ourselves to blame for the mainstreaming of “nappy-headed hos.”