Imus Deserved What He Got

Don Imus is out of a job, and that’s the way it should be. He called the Rutgers Women’s Basketball team “nappy-headed ho’s,” and although he later said that it was simply “a joke that went way, way too far,” no one was laughing. Some might argue that Imus is simply a product of his generation, a generation that was far more tolerant of the kinds of derogatory slurs that are thankfully recognized as inappropriate in our own time. However, this excuse only goes so far. By choosing to enter a profession where he is constantly in the public eye, Imus also chose to be responsible to that very same public for his actions. It is not like this is the first time that a celebrity has gotten into hot water over a slur (think Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic rant, Isaiah Washington’s homophobic comments, or Rosie O’Donnell’s stereotyping of Chinese people). Had he been a little wiser, Imus would have noted these incidents and restricted himself accordingly. Apparently, he wishes that he had. In his formal apology, Imus said, “I said a bad thing. But I’m a good person.” However, this issue should not have been a question of morality. The reality of the situation was that he said something stupid and offensive and got called out on it. But by polarizing the problem to such degrees of black and white, Imus put his criticizing public between a rock and a hard place. Either it would be willing to forgive and forget, or it would simply write him off as a rotten human being. Yes, Imus needs to take a good look at his prejudices and work on changing them. But calling a person’s quintessential nature into question is excessive. There is no denying that Imus’s comments were harmful to the players on the Rutgers Women’s Basketball team. As the head coach of the team, C. Vivian Stringer, said in an interview on Oprah, “Not only did [Imus] steal our dreams, but he hurt our character, the character of this university.” But here we reach a difficult divide. “Shock jocks,” as they are called, make their living by pushing the envelope and treading the fine line between risqué and reprehensible. And for many of us, this is entertaining. We listen to their radio shows. We laugh at a lot of their offensive jokes, and even crack a fair number of our own. But we’re also the first to point fingers when one comment is deemed offensive enough to garner the attention of the national media. If Imus’s racism and sexism is in any small way a product of his generation, then surely our apathy towards the manifestations of those prejudices is a product of our own. We live in a time in which we simulate sex on the dance floor, spout profanity in lieu of intelligent conversation and inundate our minds with the stereotyping images that are promoted by the media in film, music, magazines and television. I wonder, then, why we are so quick to judge those celebrities who say inappropriate things when similar problems go unaddressed in our own communities. For example, as I sat in the library writing this article, a junior sitting at a table behind me began to read aloud a poem he had written about one of his female friends, who was present – a poem that would be unprintable in this newspaper and was certainly just as offensive as Imus’s remarks. I turned around, unable to contain my amazement at what I was hearing, and asked this freshman and his friends what they thought of the Don Imus controversy. One of them said he thought that Imus deserved to get fired (ironically, though, he had not expressed any feelings of outrage about his friend’s derogatory poetry). The boy who had written the offensive poem said, “I don’t believe in racism.” Another boy said, with a perfectly straight face, “Well, I just want to know: were they nappy-headed ho’s?” I don’t care if they were joking. This incident is a perfect example of the general “whatever” attitude that prevails toward sexism, racism, or any other form of offensive stereotyping in our everyday lives. Until we get just as ticked off at our friends as we do at Don Imus or Mel Gibson, we are hypocrites. There is one last thing that I would like to note. Imus’s “nappy headed ho’s” comment has been decried to no end, but what he said immediately following that remark has gone relatively unnoticed. In the original broadcast, directly after he insulted the women from Rutgers, he proceeded to say, “And the girls from Tennessee, they all look cute, you know.” It was not for racist reasons that he insulted one team and simply patronized the other; the majority of both teams are African-American. No matter what his reasoning was, the second remark was still offensive. I’d like to see that comment in the news headlines too, and I don’t know why it wasn’t. Clearly, we place different values on different insults. No one who has achieved as much as the Tennessee team has should settle for being called “cute.” It’s demeaning, and it minimizes the players’ considerable accomplishments. Imus got what he deserved. But until every such incident of discrimination is addressed with the same awareness and vigor as this one has, both on a local and national scale, it’s just a matter of time until someone else calls a team of talented and hard-working female athletes a bunch of “nappy-headed ho’s.”