Saturday, April 14, 2007

Maybe Imus should wear #42 

I have to say that I'm a little bit surprised by all the uproar surrounding Don Imus' characterization of the Rutger's women's basketball team as "nappy headed hos". Sure it was a rude thing to say, but folks like Imus have been saying rude things for years - they've made a career of it. It was only when I was talking with my brother, who either used to or still did listen to Imus in the Morning, that I learned that what people were upset over was a racially charged slur. I thought to myself, "Oh, I didn't hear that one." I was informed that actually, I did; the phrase "nappy headed hos" is apparently racially charged. I didn't know. And to tell the truth, I still don't know. But ask any of my youth group kids, I'm asking them all the time to keep me up on the lingo - just this week, I finally learned what was meant by, "shortie," clearing up vast amounts of confusion when I listened to Bow Wow's "Shortie Like Mine," and other songs employing that word.

I don't even know what "nappy headed" means, let alone how it is racially charged. So I did a little research. I assumed it had something to do with hair and the general state of frizziness of anyone's hair. 5 or 6 definitions down in dictionary.com's entry for "nappy" you find, "(of hair) kinky." Only at the 10th definition with a heading of etymology, do we find something indicating race: "nappy (adj.) "downy," 1499, from nap (n.). Meaning "fuzzy, kinky," used in colloquial or derogatory ref. to the hair of black people, is from 1950."

Now, I am the first (ok, probably not the first, but at least the second - I've still got my own work on the sin of racism to do) to decry racism and racist comments, but this time, it seems a little weak to me. If I were a woman, and someone called me a "nappy headed ho," I would be far more insulted over the insinuation that I prostituted myself rather than over some silly comment about my hair which may or may not have a 1950's version of racism worked into it (but that may be just because I am particularly immune to comments about hair, having heard it all before). What happens when we turn a minor thing like this into a national news story about racism is that people think this kind of thing is the last kind of racism we have to deal with, the old racist desperately hanging on to old ways in a culture that has surpassed him. And that's just not the truth. Racism has changed, and it's face now is, if not more sinister, then certainly more hidden: hidden in the systems that run our nation and govern our lives. That's the racism we should be calling attention to, not this red herring version.

I know I'm gonna be shot down here, but sometimes I think we make an idol of racism. I really do. And I think that this instance is one of those times. I'm not defending Don Imus, he made a rude and inappropriate comment, and his network can do whatever they want with him, I don't care. I don't listen to him. I find all radio talk show people like him to be assholes. But what I'm saying is, you don't have to listen to him either. If he is a racist, (and he probably is, cause one thing anti-racism training taught me is, everyone is racist) then he and his ilk are a breed going out of style. Let them and their inappropriate comments die off and don't invigorate them with with new life by making it a national news story. I'm glad the Rutger's team got to meet with him and I'm glad they've reached reconciliation. But that should have been between Imus and the Rutger's team, and possibly the rest of the Rutger's community, without the nation getting in the middle.

Perhaps a more fit punishment for Don Imus would be to make him wear Jackie Robinson's number on April 15, but then again, Torii Hunter already thinks too many people are wearing it.



I think we as a society are in trouble when we start condoning racial and gender slurs either from the public spectrum (Imus) or in private conversation. This was a racial slur and judging from the reaction of the African American women I've spoken to a very offensive one. Just because we as white people don't understand the slur does not make it acceptable.

Mary Bargiel

By Blogger Mary Bargiel, at 4:46 PM  

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