Tuesday, April 10, 2007

By now most of you have heard about the Don Imus comments regarding the Rutgers University Women's Basketball Team. He referred to them as "nappy-headed hos" among other things. And you have probably seen the outcry against him that has resulted. He has been suspended for two weeks by CBS Radio and MSNBC.

In addition to people condemning him there have been those who support him who have said: "He is being unfairly treated. He should not be fired, he should not be punished." "We have FREE SPEECH and no one should face repercussions, or P.C. backlash because we have FREE SPEECH." I would like to remind people who say this that our right to free speech, guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, is a protection against GOVERNMENT censorship and retribution against FREE SPEECH. It allows Americans to say what they want without fear of being arrested or jailed or being persecuted as traitors for saying what they wish.

We live in a capitalist republic. FREE SPEECH does not mean that individuals are protected from being disciplined or fired by employers who fear that what a person says will have an adverse affect on their business.
Another point that needs to be made in the Imus case is this. While his comments were definitely racist in tone and disgusting, while referring to women of color as nappy-headed is akin to saying nigger or jigaboo (because it was for 200 years part of the white racist vernacular) the "Ho's" part of his commentary is alos offensive but is somewhat more fraught and troubling to deal with.

"Ho" has been institutionalized in hip-hop/urban culture as an almost benign synonym for "woman." The African American community needs to look harder at the fact that this term and many other negative words are part of their cultural vernacular. Stanley Crouch, the syndicated black columnist has been railing against "nigga" and "ho" and other words for years. He realizes that by allowing their use regularly they somehow become acceptable and the line between when it is okay and not okay to use them becomes blurred.

If Al Sharpton wants Imus fired, I have to ask where he has been the last 20 years when "ho" became a common-use term for women in the urban landscape.