With Imus off the air, it's time to listen


April 13, 2007|By DAVID STEELE

Thankfully, Imus finally held accountable for ugly remarks

To CBS Radio and NBC television, on behalf of my mother, my sister, her best friend, her teammates, her coach and all the girls who ever played for and against St. Thomas More ... thank you.

St. Thomas More is the elementary school in Southeast Washington that my siblings and I attended, back in 19- ahem, ahem, cough, cough.

That's also where my sister started playing basketball, for Mr. Caldwell, my sister's friend's father. My mother, brother and I joined the other families to watch. Not just watched, but drove carloads of them around D.C. and Prince George's County, with coolers of drinks and food, to Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Holy Family and St. Theresa.

They practiced and played and had fun and got to be around their friends and families, learned lessons on the court that they carried off the court, and grew up to be smart, beautiful, successful, wonderful women.

Don Imus, however, thought they all were "nappy-headed hos."

He took their humanity from them last week, even if he only directly stole it from the Rutgers women's basketball team. He said to every black woman and girl in this country, including all the ones who had the temerity to play sports when it was still pretty uncool to do so, that they didn't have parents or grandparents or brothers or sisters or husbands or aunts or uncles or cousins or nieces or nephews.

They weren't individuals created by their maker and blessed with gifts and the ability to maximize them for their benefit and the world's. They were, collectively, a prop for a sick old man's stale comedy act.

Imus is finally being held accountable for this. By firing him, his bosses are showing him that there are consequences for public indecency. Yet I still wonder if he, his audience and his apologists even understand what was indecent, even evil, about what he did.

For the past three days or so, people have surfaced, black and white, who are convinced that this whole controversy is about something else. About the First Amendment. About Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. About 50 Cent and Ludacris. About hypocrisy and corporate cowardice and not getting the joke.

Nice try. Almost changed the subject, there. But let me refresh your memory.

It's about a man using a nationally syndicated and televised radio show to describe the runners-up in the NCAA women's basketball tournament as "nappy-headed hos."

They're black. They're women. They're athletes. Alone and in their various combinations, those three groups are regularly dismissed as caricatures, denied credit for their successes and berated mercilessly for their shortcomings. Their accomplishments get dismissed and diminished, their entire existence reduced to a catch phrase or a punch line.

Thus, Imus was able to sit in a studio for four hours a day, spew his ignorance and insecurities into a microphone, make $10 million a year, and call other people - elite athletes and college students - "hos." What a country.

Oh, and one of his knuckle-dragging sidekicks offered up a comparison between the Rutgers players and the Toronto Raptors. Guess that's the last thing anyone would want to be compared with, one of the 10 or so best basketball teams on the planet. Someone else determines what is valuable to us and what isn't, with no credentials to do so whatsoever, and it's just accepted as gospel. Black, bad; woman, bad; ballplayer, bad; musician, bad.

Teacher, journalist, minister, senator, secretary of state, presidential candidate? Well, that's bad, too, and here's another 20 minutes worth of wisecracks to remind you, before we break at the top of the hour.

This has been a wonderful week for human relations, and by "wonderful," I mean "stomach-churning." Imus unloads, then we get slapped in the face by the bitter end to the Duke lacrosse case. Everybody got marginalized, got stuffed in a box and labeled, and had to undergo extreme hardship to be unveiled as fully human entities.

At least, though, the Duke players were given some credit for having humanlike qualities. They were ridiculed as "sons of privilege" and "products of elite suburbs," but at least they were recognized as having parents and homes. Thankfully, their actual families were never far away to remind us.

But where do "nappy-headed hos" come from? Raised in the wild and deposited on the doorstep of civilized society, maybe.

Disrespect continues to fly in all directions. Sane, reasonable conversation doesn't. Sure, everybody talks, but at each other instead of to each other, and no one listens. The widening world of mass communication was supposed to bring us closer, but we're farther apart than ever. So we sit in our cocoons and fail to recognize ourselves in "them."

As a result, an entire race, gender and culture gets discarded.

This has got to stop. To paraphrase the warden in The Shawshank Redemption: not tomorrow, not after breakfast, now. It's 2007; isn't everybody sick of this? Do we really have to keep getting these "lessons," each harsher than the last?

On the fields of sport, yet. Sports are supposed to teach character. No, wait, they're supposed to reveal character. Uh-oh.

So Imus is out of a job. Now he has time to go to Southeast D.C. and watch the girls of St. Thomas More play ball. He can let us know if he sees any "nappy-headed hos" there.


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