Thursday, April 12, 2007

Nappy Headed Hos: The Media Scandal of the Month

There has been an issue in the news over the past couple of days that has really bothered me.

Consider, for a moment, the following quote:

"There has been much discussion of the effect language like this has on our young people, particularly young women of color trying to make their way in this society. That consideration has weighed most heavily on our minds as we made our decision."

Now, what does it sound like this person is talking about? To me, it sounds like some media outlet has repeatedly and purposefully stepped outside the boundaries of decency and political correctness when it comes to race, and perhaps to gender. If this was the case, that quote would make complete sense. However, that is unfortunately not the case. It is actually something CBS President and CEO Leslie Moonves said regarding the following comments aired on Don Imus's morning television show and radio simulcast, Imus in the Morning:

"That's some rough girls from Rutgers, man, they got tattoos, and, some hardcore hos. That's some nappy headed hos right there, I'mma tell you that right now."

No, seriously. I kid you not. That is the media scandal of the week, and, potentially, the month.

He was talking about the Rutgers women's basketball team, in a segment about their championship loss last week to Tennessee. Now, this team happens to be mostly African American women, so right away Imus's offhand remark that the team looked like "nappy headed hos" got tossed into the mosh pit of racial relations in America.

Over a week's time after being aired, these comments slowly stirred increasing amounts of anger from civil rights groups. Civil rights leaders and proponents from Al Sharpton, to Jesse Jackson, to Barack Obama, to Oprah Winfrey, began to call for Don Imus to be fired. They got their wish. First, MSNBC and CBS, the two companies which aired his program, gave him a one-week suspension. Now they've completely removed him from the air, indefinitely.

Now, there are a few incredibly ironic things about this whole situation.

Firstly, in growing publicly angry about these offhand remarks, these people have gained the comments nationwide noteriety. While a week ago, the only people who knew about these comments were the faithful viewers of Imus in the Morning, now everyone in the country knows about them. Everyone in the country has been exposed to this supposedly horrible racial slur, "nappy headed hos." They have taken something they violently disagree with, and they have given it exposure. They're worried about "the effect language like this has on our young people," but in combatting it they have exposed "our young people" to it.

Secondly, the comment itself. It's not even stereotyping. He didn't say "All African American women are nappy headed hos." In fact, he went on to say that the Tennessee team - which has just as high a percentage of African American women as the Rutgers team - "all look cute." In using the phrase "nappy headed hos," Imus was referring to the Rutgers team, and only to the Rutgers team. He wasn't sending a cruel, hateful message to African Americans or African American women. He didn't use any blatantly racist terminology. All he did was call one small group of people "nappy headed hos." While this may be somewhat tasteless and mildly offensive, it is not grounds for firing.

Thirdly, let's take a look at Don Imus himself. Sure, he has a reputation as a "shock jock" of sorts, and he's said some pretty risky things in the past. But there's another side to him. Since 1990, his Radiothons have raised over $40 million for children with diseases like cancer. And he's quite profitable, as well. He makes CBS $15 million a year, for example. Does he sound like a horrible guy? I think not. The news of his firing came down in the middle of his most recent Radiothon, at the beginning of which he quipped, "This may be our last Radiothon, so we need to raise about $100 million." He really cares about the charitable causes he raises money for. Taking him off the air will not only cost the companies which chose to do so, but it could also potentially cost these foundations millions of dollars. Is the pride of one basketball team really worth that?

The greatest lesson we as a people can learn from this media scandal of the month is that we've grown too sensitive to political correctness. When the media can be brought to a screeching halt by one morning host calling a basketball team "nappy headed hos," there are some clear priority issues in America. Why should we force our broadcasters, who spend nearly insane amounts of time gathering and presenting the news to us, to constantly watch their mouths in fear of even a minorly offensive remark? Sure, there are things that should not be said on news programs, but I'd hardly say "nappy headed hos" qualifies there.

The final message I'll leave you with is this: That cracker Imus may have said something somewhat indecent, but I highly doubt those nappy heads have lost sleep over it.


Rainier96 said...

Zach, I feel frustrated and irritated about "political correctness," too, and I definitely am in favor of free speech. But we'd have to be black and female ourselves to realize how much these kind of stereotyping slurs must hurt.

The writer of an Op-Ed feature in today's New York Times says:

I am a huge fan of David Letterman’s. I watch the opening of his show a couple of times a week and have done so for decades. Without fail, in his opening monologue or skit Mr. Letterman makes a joke about someone being fat. I kid you not. Will that destroy our nation? Should he be fired or lose his sponsors? Obviously not.

...I cite this example simply to illustrate that all kinds of prejudice exist in the human heart. Some are harmless. Some not so harmless. But we need to understand who we are if we wish to change. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should confess to not only being a gay American, but also a fat one. Yes, I’m a double winner.)

He points out that it's easy to argue that slurs are just "jokes" when you aren't on the receiving end. But you have to consider how it feels to hear these same jokes repeated over and over your entire life.

Imus has a constitutional right to joke anyway he wants, and I'd fight any law that made his remarks illegal. But I'm not sure that CBS and MSNBC were wrong in deciding they didn't want humor of that sort on their networks, either out of fairness to the Rutgers women or because their audience and advertisers were offended.

But my emotions go both ways - my college dropped its mascot at one time because they were afraid it would offend an ethnic group. The idea of that still irritates me!! :-)

Zachary Freier said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zachary Freier said...

Well, I originally responded to your comment with a comment of my own. But now I've edited my blog. Re-read the "Secondly" paragraph for my response to this.

Rainier96 said...

I react the same way. Being able to "laugh it off" is a sign of maturity and a good sense of humor. And the Rutgers team also seemed to handle the matter pretty gracefully.

And you may be right that if you analyze the words Imus used, you can conclude that it wasn't strictly stereotyping. But I don't think a person would say what he did in public -- over the air -- if he had much empathy for the women. They aren't celebrities who get paid for being famous, and therefore have to expect a few bricks to be thrown at them on stage. They are just college girls who like playing sports.

Anyway, logical argument won't solve this kind of issue. It's more of a gut question of how much politeness we should expect in public, and especially over the air. And reasonable people can differ.

You brought up good issues and arguments. As usual. :-)

Rainier96 said...

Hahaha. We were working on your post at the same time.