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Imus, don’t let the door hit you…

What’s all the fuss?  I have all sorts of garden implements in my tool shed.  I have two different sets of tools for tending rows of produce.  One set has a flat metal end, or “head”, made by a company called N.A.P. (National Agricultural Products).  That set I refer to as my “ hoes”.

But I doubt that’s what Imus meant, since those girls from Rutgers looked nothing like my garden implements.

Seriously, as I listened to the Big Ed Centrist, er, Schultz show on the radio yesterday, he had a caller suggesting we make laws forbidding racial or sexist speech on the airwaves.  “Just like our community standards forbid us from saying Carlin’s Seven Dirty Words, we should also forbid and punish with fines anyone who uses racial epithets.”

I find this to be very dangerous thinking – restricting speech based on content.  A word itself, absent its context, isn’t necessarily offensive or an epithet.  While “ho’s” was out of line, weren’t the girls (or some of them) correctly described as wearing a nappy hairstyle?  Is it “nappy” we can’t say now?  Must we say “natural African-American hairstyle?”How am I to sing along with Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish?”  (“Looking back on when I… was a little nappy-headed boy…”)  (Let’s not even get into how I’m supposed to properly credit a Richard Pryor line from his 1976 album.)

It’s the context.  Imus was describing how scary they looked, with the tattoos and the cornrows.  “Nappy-headed ho’s” had very little to do with hairstyle and very much to do with contrasting the scary thuggish Rutgers women with the “cute” “normal” mostly-white Tennessee girls.

Now, should Imus be fired?  Yes.  Again, because of the context.  If Imus’ racial epithet story was the first outbreak of such idiocy this year, I could probably live with a two-week suspension.

But this is in the context of so many idiotic high-profile racial epithet spewing by celebrities — Mel Gibson, Michael Richards, Isaiah Washington, Ann Coulter, Tim Hardaway — that we can’t just have another “Oh, I’m sorry, lemme talk to Jesse Jackson and go to rehab” and be done with it.

This would also be different in the context of, say, the Crazy Morning Zoo on KWTF in Boonies, Alabama, or some other show purporting to be comedy.  It would still be as offensive, but wouldn’t sting near as much.  But Imus is a major news/opinion outlet with guests of the highest political and celebrity order.  Morning shock jocks are expected to be idiots; national-level jocks should know better.

So, laws or fines against racist, sexist, homobigoted speech? — I say no.  The best way to fight hate speech is with love speech.  Let the haters self-identify and target them and their audience with counterspeech.  Besides, who would be the arbiter of fines and violations?  The same words uttered as hate speech by Imus might be uttered by Chris Rock as comedy satire.

But fired?  Yeah, absolutely.  Everyone has the right to say what they wish, but no company is required to grant amplification and distribution of what they say.  Any company that does so deserves to be tarred with the same brush as the speaker. 

Here’s where MSNBC and CBS Radio are going to run into trouble: what about next time?  Someday, one of their broadcasters is going to say something stupid, for example, “limp-wristed pillow biters” to describe the SF Gay Men’s Chorus.  So, does he get a two-week suspension?  He’d better, because if he gets a longer suspension, a shorter suspension, or gets fired, the discussion becomes whether “nappy-headed ho’s” is more or less offensive than “limp-wristed pillow biters”.

I say if you use hate speech like that on the air, once you can apologize and be forgiven, maybe even twice.  But this is at least strike three for Imus… time to go, buddy.

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