At the risk of being penalized, in football parlance, for editorially “Piling On”, this column will comment on Imus, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Snoop Dogg, Warner Brothers, Viacom and BET as well as the “main-stream media”, that is anybody whose position is that there are times and circumstances when individuals and corporations should not be held accountable for their words and actions. Like most other “news junkies” including I am sure, many who started reading this column and then recoiled thinking, “not another article on this”, I am tired of it. But having read and listened to all of it, I do think that News Director and Commentator Gwen Ifill’s suggestion that if we are to gain anything positive from the reaction to Imus’s comments we should attempt to turn it into a “Teaching Moment” has merit. Perhaps by doing that, the popular culture and the market which bred and paid for Imus’s comment will be changed. If so, Imus, or at least his tasteless, vulgar, untrue, racist, sexist and obnoxious comments will be dropped through the cultural trap door below which they belong and should remain.
Imus, and his defenders, say that he is not responsible or at least he shouldn’t be held accountable for his words which referred to the Rutgers University’s Women’s Basketball team as “nappy-headed hos” because:
1) Imus is not a racist. He was just saying what he said, as he has during his entire 30 year career, to “entertain” or for “shock value”.
2) Imus was not on notice that his use of what Jonetta Rose Barras, political analyst for WAMU Radio, refers to as “rap-speak” would “all of a sudden“ be deemed cause for his dismissal from his spot atop the mainstream media which paid him millions to “entertain” in this manner.
3) Imus has a license to say anything including what he said because his speech is “protected” by the First Amendment Free Speech Clause”.
4) Imus should not have to “get out of town” because as Jonetta Rose Barras says “the posse”, including Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, the NAACP and the National Association of Black Journalists, that knocked the “Shock Jock” off his throne at CBS Radio and MSNBC should take a long look in the mirror before they chase him any further or harder.
The answer to all of this is very simple. Imus deserved to go! It doesn’t matter whether his offensive words came from his heart or from the part of his brain which told him no matter how much what he had to say slandered and hurt innocent human beings, the Rutgers Women’s Basketball team, he still should say these words to “entertain” because that is what he was paid $8 million dollars a year to do. Imus has no 1st Amendment Constitutional right to be paid for saying these words. Nor is the money he was in fact paid to say them an entitlement constitionally now or in the future. Furthermore, the fact that the same market which encouraged him two weeks ago has now shut its doors in his face because he picked a target that he shouldn’t have is not a justification for Imus to be let off the hook. Finally, the fact that the market has not yet chased its African American creators and collaborators into the same corner also does justify a pity party for Imus.
What it does do however is suggest, as has Joe R. Hicks, former head of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and now President of Community Advocates Inc. and a Radio Talk show Host in Los Angeles, that Jesse Jackson whose “Hymietown” comments are well known and Al Sharpton, who slandered an innocent prosecutor in the Tawana Brawley case and referred to Jews as “diamond merchants”, were never the best persons to lead the chorus of condemnation in this or any other circumstances.
Jonetta Rose Barras, after quoting rapper Snoop Dogg’s comment “that what rappers do and what Imus did are two separate things” and his explanation that rappers “have these songs coming from our minds that are relevant to what we feel…I will not let them (expletive) say we in the same league as him” (Imus), points out that it was black rap artists who created the image of African American women as “bitches and hos”. That image has been marketed by large corporations- Warner Brothers, Viacom, BET- and purchased all over the world by regular folks, white and black, including some of the same people who called for Imus’s head.
“Imus didn’t say anything that hasn’t been included in thousands of records” says Misty Brown, a local arts consultant. “We have been called worse and by our own people”, Brown continues. As a result, as local hip-hop artist Bernani Armah says, “there isn’t anything sacred in black culture anymore because it isn’t sacred among us”. That will make it very difficult if not impossible for Blacks to retain sole rights to the proprietorship of this language notwithstanding the protests, indignations and expressions of victimhood articulated by those cited earlier, whose livelihood in part depends on its acceptance. As Jonetta Rose Barras emphasizes “expressions seep into mainstream culture and become universal property”.
This is demonstrated by the aging Imus trying to replicate the language of a youthful African American thug culture. He was allowed to do so until he stupidly picked on real human targets far more attractive and articulate than the stereotype he sought to set up and then denigrate. The image that he tried to use as a human pi?ata was created by opinion makers- black and white- as well as corporations clamoring for new markets. These markets, real and potential, are made up of people who the image makers believe will buy products advertised in between these offensive songs and diatribes.
As Barras notes “its less about being cool and more about the money. Ka Ching”. What is mainstream is what sells. “The denigration of women has been a huge seller in the last 20 years” says WAMU Radio talk show host Kojo Nmamdi.
So, Jonetta Rose Barras, emphasizes “this matter of who is paraded in the public square for an old-fashioned butt-kicking must be a finely executed dance”. Imus is by far the easiest image to load on to the platform and whip. Sharpton and Jackson may claim to have gone after rap artists as well. But one thing is certain, as Barras points out, “They have not flogged or gone after them, their sponsors, or their livelihood”
The exception to this was of course the late C. Delores Tucker, who led the National Congress of Black Women. She had the courage to challenge both those within and those outside her race who for profit denigrated Black women.
So, Imus has gone and good riddance. His discourse, as columnist George F. Will noted, had no value to our culture and will not be missed. However, as Kojo Nmamdi has said, and let’s not forget it or abandon it because it is convenient to do so and so far not newsworthy, “People have been allowed to continue living out this amazing double standard…It’s time that double standard was slain”.