Imus, Hip Hop, and America

by francine Hardaway on April 10, 2007

I am watching the Rutgers press conference over Don Imus’ comment. In case you were asleep, he called the Rutgers girls’ basketball team “nappy-headed hos.” Now he has been suspended from his radio broadcast and is the center of a national controversy. But I believe the controversy isn’t about Don Imus, it’s about our own failure as a nation to come to grips with the tension between diversity and economics. We get the culture the advertisers pay for.

Please. America. Just ignore Don Imus and go on. It’s no big whoop. He’s a 65-year-old guy who is doing what he is paid to do. If we don’t make a big deal of it (and it may be too late), it will not permanently scar these women, who have grown up on basketball courts where trash talk goes on all the time. It will not stop them from playing basketball or getting college degrees. It’s not a case of actual racism, like we had when I was growing up, where the victims are denied equality of opportunity. It’s just a tasteless offhand comment. Let’s go on to solve the real problems of sex and violence in our popular culture, and where they have led us as a nation. These women were lovely at the press conference, and they clearly are destined for good lives.

I watch Don Imus almost every day. He’s known as a shock jock, and he’s paid for that by the stations that hire him. I think he was even paying the girls an off-hand compliment, saying they were tough at the Final Four. Now, if he is let go, I think it will be a great betrayal of a man who was hired and rehired with a history of these kinds of remarks–because this stuff boosts ratings. Everyone in broadcasting and popular culture has been complicit in this. Now will they all be complicit in pretending they never heard him talk before? That they didn’t know what they were sponsoring?

Before I go on, let me say that I have some credibility in this area. I am a trained linguist, former English teacher and analyst of popular culture on the college level, and former foster parent. My father was one of the people who broke down the color barriers in Las Vegas so the black entertainers he managed could sleep in the places where they entertained.

I was also a woman in an all-male workplace. Believe me, I heard plenty. Anti-Semitic, misogynistic, unpleasant disrespectful remarks.

But I always felt that performance wins, over all, and I simply performed to the best of my ability. And so did these women at Rutgers.

I’m listening to the Rutgers coach argue that Don Imus should not be forgiven, on behalf of all women. She is asking if adults aren’t responsible for the nurturing of these young women.

Where was this coach twenty years ago, when the era of hip-hop began? I’ve been hearing the word “ho” endlessly in every song for two decades. The same corporate executives who signed the rappers and allowed them to publish and play music that reviled women can’t turn around now and fire Don Imus. It’s the same with the word “niggah,” which is in common use among black men to refer to their friends. Watch movies, or television, and you hear this language repeatedly. It’s the 21st century “urban” culture.

We have all been complicit in the use of this kind of language toward women and minorities. We pick it up from the popular culture. We buy the music and sing the songs, attend the concerts and buy the urban hip hop clothing for our teenagers when they ask for it. We white suburban people emulate the black culture with its offhanded disrespect for women. We tacitly allow this to happen, and before we fire one Don Imus, perhaps we ought to re-vamp the entire society. Let’s enlist him as an agent of change; it could be his form of community service.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Evorgleb April 10, 2007 at 9:19 am

If anyone cares to read it, One of our writers on Highbrid Nation actually worked wit Imus over the last few years at WFAN and had some really interesting things to say about the whole situation with Imus and he also has some inside info that the media hasn’t mentioned about the whole story.

Susan Assadi April 10, 2007 at 9:31 am

Right on with your comments today.

Last night on CNN I heard a debate on this subject and was impressed by a comment from an amazing ‘African-American’ male (I believe it was on CNN) say he feels like he is in the ‘Twilight Zone.’ I wish I could remember his name but I did not have a mental pen at the time. But he sounded quite intelligent to me. Well I feel that we are entering into a zone, WORSE than the Twilight zone. When we have to start monitoring or politically ‘correctizing’ EVERYTHING we say, well this sounds NOT LIKE A DEMOCRACY TO ME.

Now that I am …middle age :-), I have survived just fine and have learned to let comments like this roll off my back. BTW, I cross many, many boundaries and consider myself an expert of sorts in this area.
I am female, Jewish (born in a Southern Baptist state), and married to a Palestinian (American now), soooo…

Not that all of us don’t feel insulted when someone makes an offhand racial or ethnic slur. However the response and the sensationlizing of the response are over the top.

I think we should consider where we are going with FREEDOM OF SPEECH.

Imus didnt use a phrase any different than any of us could of tuned up on our IPOD.

Rhea April 10, 2007 at 10:06 am

Imus’ comments were racist and sexist. He should be fired, not given what amounts to a two-week vacation. Sometimes I forget that “Talk Show Radio Host” and “Complete Jerk” are often synonymous.

max April 10, 2007 at 10:07 am

Respectful of your opinion but disagree.

“It’s not a case of actual racism, like we
had when I was growing up, where the victims are denied equality of opportunity.” The racism of his comment is psychological, which, as we know, can also greatly undermine a group of people. On the call to “ignore” and “move on”: ignoring Imus’ commentary is basically a green light for a more malignant level of ignorance and prejudice in our country.

“We have all been complicit in the use of this kind of language toward women and minorities.” I (and apparently a lot of others) am not complicit with it, especially in the context it was used in.

Other’s thoughts?

TH14 April 10, 2007 at 1:49 pm

Hip Hop music is music – part of music has always been to inflame…from the earlest blues to current skate punk or hip hop.

Imus is in the position of broadcaster – I totally disagree with your supporting his right to be a rascist. That said, the United States is as rascist as ever. The new blacks are Muslims and Hispanics. Sadly it’s part of this nations fabric – and thats sickening.

francine hardaway April 10, 2007 at 2:39 pm

It sure is. We can argue who is or is not a racist, but we can’t argue that there’s not racism in the US

Wendy April 15, 2007 at 5:49 am

Although you list off an impressive resume your opinion is moot as your speaking from a position of privilege — as a white woman whose never been called “nappy headed” or the N-word or anyother word used to degrade Black people — and cannot speak on whether this issue is offensive. Well written, just ill informed.

Francine Hardaway April 15, 2007 at 2:36 pm

I agree with you that it is moot since I am not black — although I’ve experienced my share of discrimination for different reasons. I am (of course) against anyone who degrades others.

But I’m also against the hypocrisy of the politically correct, who think they have solved the problem by throwing out one old white guy.

JAIVIS February 27, 2008 at 1:19 pm


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