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Why Imus has to go

A two-week vacation from the airwaves is not the appropriate response by MSNBC and CBS radio. Imus and his on-air colleagues have a history of spewing racist and sexist comments on a program that hosts major political figures and his networks seem to think a slap on the wrist and a wink and a nod is going to end this mess.

His frequent on-air guests are already tapping him — they’re not running for cover — they are already looking at how to salvage their outlet. Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant appeared on the April 9 edition of Imus in the Morning and said: “Good morning, Mr. Imus, and solidarity forever, by the way.” And then this exchange occurred.  (via Media Matters).

OLIPHANT: This guy — David Carr, who writes a pretty good media column on Mondays —

IMUS: Right.

OLIPHANT: — calls up, and the first question he asks me is, “Are you thinking about not appearing on Imus?” And for once in my life, I answered a direct question with a direct answer. I said, “No, I’m not.” And he says, “Well, why not?” And I said, “Because, being the world’s most boring person, I had taken the trouble to go all the way though this episode from about two minutes before you said what you said last Wednesday, and then all the way through the statement you made spontaneously on Thursday and then the more prepared one you made on Friday, and I said that’s it. That took care of it as far as I’m concerned.”

And — but it was a cute little trick to see if your constituency would falter, and I was very happy to say no.

IMUS: Well, I appreciate that. I don’t think your loyalty is misguided…

…OLIPHANT: But to me, that only means that those of us who, through an accident, were scheduled, who know better, have a moral obligation to stand up and say to you, “Solidarity forever, pal.”

And Newsweek’s Howard Fineman doesn’t want to deprive Imus of his outlet either. He’s his bro’, man:

FINEMAN: Just before I came on the show, I was coming upstairs and my cell phone rang, and it was some listener who called me out of the blue. I’d never heard of the guy before. I’d never heard his name. He called me and he said, “Are you going to go on the show and finally confront this Imus guy? Are you going to quit enabling him?” And, you know, I thought about that, and I said to the guy, “You know, I’ll puzzle that through on the radio.” And I would like to continue to enable you to do a lot of the good things you do. Including, you know, talking about stuff happening in the world, which you do a very good job of on this show..

…You know, I don’t know what’ll happen. I think — you know, it’s a different time, Imus. You know, it’s different than it was even a few years ago, politically. I mean, we may, you know — and the environment, politically, has changed. And some of the stuff that you used to do, you probably can’t do anymore.

And what about presidential wannabes? Some  are already welcoming him back in the fold.

Two Republican presidential contenders, Sen. John McCain and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, said they accepted Imus’ apology and would return as guests on his program.

…But Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama said Monday, “The comments of Don Imus were divisive, hurtful and offensive to Americans of all backgrounds. With a public platform comes a trust. As far as I’m concerned, he violated that trust.”

And Bob Steele, who teaches ethics to journalists at the Poynter Institute, said it is “unwise for journalists to go on his program. It not only condones his behavior but gives a level of credibility to him and his program.”

He says Imus does talk “about substantive issues, which is why politicians and journalists go on. But you have to look at the whole picture. You can’t just look at one corner and say, ‘Yeah, he talks about good issues,’ and ignore the serious problems.”

This is why Imus has to go. There will be no self-policing. “You probably can’t do it anymore.” Jesus. I guess Fineman means you can’t do it on the air, but in the clubby band of journalists and media figures, this kind of racism and misogyny is still worth a belly laugh among friends. It sounds like neither Oliphant or Fineman would call him out on this in private conversation. They’d chuckle and just say “oh, that’s just the I-Man.”

After all, they’re not the target of the “nappy headed hos” comment, and I doubt there are any decisionmakers of color (or racially aware, non-POC) at MSNBC or CBS who would have telegraphed years ago to Imus that he couldn’t continue years of making a living tossing off racist and sexist comments for a profit. This time he wasn’t picking on media stars or politicians, he was slurring a women’s basketball team. They aren’t public political figures; Imus and his clowning colleagues were attacking black women with the worst stereotypes imaginable.

Why cater to the most base elements of society while at the same time offering a program up as a platform for legitimate political discussion?

I must post the comments of Rev. Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, who appeared on Lou Dobbs last night. He said it best:

DOBBS: Michael, this — this is unusual in that he — he attacked a women’s basketball team at Rutgers during the national finals.

DYSON: Right.

DOBBS: Doesn’t whatever process that moves forward have to begin first and foremost with them?

DYSON: There’s no question that he has to — you know, and I heard that he’s attempting to reach out to them. But the reality is that what he said about those particular black women is symbolic and representative. Those black women represent women who work at MSNBC, who work at CNN. Black women in corporate America who have, quote, “nappy hair”, who wear their hair in a way that is alternative to the mainstream, straightened hair.

So the reality is that nappy hair is as equally lethal as the so-called host statement. Because it’s signifying upon the choices that black women make aesthetically and what they look like. That’s the deepness of the harm. And all of us have to confront that in every circle in America.

…The reality is behind the scenes, sexism, misogyny and patriarchy are sustained, most especially and most helpfully, in subtle fashion. It’s not the calling of the “H” word. At least you know where they’re coming from. It’s not in hip-hop, where you know I’m calling you a “B” or an “H” because that’s explicit. It’s the more subtle subordination of women to men’s lives that has to be dealt with.

Anyone who says this is just about shock jock joking isn’t really thinking about the real problem here. Imus has been rolling stuff like this off of his tongue to millions for years without facing the music, and his sponsors and networks affiliated with him have been content with an apology as long as the money still flows into their coffers.

And I’m not saying that Imus doesn’t have the right to say whatever he wants. Imus can go stand out on a street corner and exercise his First Amendment right and shout “nappy headed hos” from sunrise to sunset. That doesn’t mean he (and CBS and MSNBC) have to profit by spreading bigotry.

But you know what? The hip-hop community isn’t off the hook either. See why after the flip…Over at Too Sense, in an appropriately titled post, “White Supremacy Outsources Its Vocabulary,” the misogynistic culture has given license for Imus to think he can get a pass. Sorry, the hip hop treatment of women doesn’t get one either.

Hip-hop has granted black men greater access to white women. It has also granted white men greater access to black women; make no mistake, your teenage son, little brother, or husband is tuning into the “booty channel” (also known as Black Entertainment Television) when you’re not home. The attitude towards women in mainstream Hip-hop is that women are commodities, an attitude that mimics attitudes towards gender in greater American society, a fact made obvious by any beer commercial.

What has happened here is a subtle, unspoken agreement between black and white men that black women and their minds and bodies are owed as little respect as the minds and bodies of white women. This happens even as overt racism towards black men in the public sphere becomes more and more accessible. This happens because on some level, black men know we cannot be seen as men unless we effectively subjigate, commodify, and exploit black women.

…The sad thing is that Imus’ comments represent white appropriation of the black language of self-hatred.

Thank you. These two wrongs don’t make a right, and we see the poisonous fruit that has been borne from a tree that some in the community have planted.

Jasmyne Cannick has launched a series of posts that will take this on front and center. Can’t Sing That No More

In light of the Don Imus remarks and Black America’s outrage over the white shock jocks use of the words ‘nappy-headed hos,” on national television in reference to the Rutgers University women’s basketball team, I thought now was just as good a time to start a new series called “Can’t Sing That No More.”

Periodically, I will feature some of America’s top songs by African-Americans that use derogatory terms to refer to women and sometimes worse.

As I continue to say, we can’t blame whites for calling us out of our names when we ourselves condone it with our hips and our chips.

Today’s “Can’t Sing That No More” comes from Black America’s own steppin’ child molester R. Kelly.

Among other things, this song basically says he’s a flirt, he’s a pimp, your girl is a ho, any girl is a ho, all the girls want him, he’s rich and cute and he’s going to screw her, even if she’s your girl.

And, Jasmyne notes, that recording is Number 3 on the Billboard R&B/Hip Hop Charts.

I’m sorry, as a black woman — and as a lesbian — I’m tired of being denigrated by all sorts of elements in the dominant culture and communities of color. Few pay the price for reinforcing and validating institutionalized bigotry. You get the occasional outlandish dolt they can point to and say “that’s not me” (Michael Richards, Tim Hardaway — and some STILL tried to give them a pass), but most of the time it’s business as usual. When it comes out in expressions under the guise of “entertainment,” that’s a clear sign that those feelings and beliefs are internalized.

* MSNBC suspends Imus simulcast for two weeks
* So which pols are going to go on Imus now?
* Don Imus: Rutgers women’s basketball team ‘nappy-headed hos’

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding