When I first heard about Imus's off-color (har-har!) comment, it steered me towards the ol' way back machine. I drifted back to the late 90's, back when our current president's dear old dad made the rounds on the news circuits deriding the "Welfare Queens", whose simpering gold-digging was sucking the lifeblood from our nation's T-bills. Their gaggles of bastard kids buying up Air Jordans and crack with food stamps. Their chinchilla coats worn to the welfare office to sign for their monthly checks and laugh in the faces of bedraggled case-workers who desperately pleaded for them to seek employment. The project palaces that beyond the graffiti-plastered piss-smelling hallways, held plush living quarters whose luxury Louis XIV had never even imagined. These nefarious welfare queens, these succubi, scourge of the government teats. They were not the white single parent women whose numbers were (and remain) far greater than the minority women populating the nation's welfare rolls. Of course not, nay. These women were the urban ghetto hordes descended from the slave plantations of the American South, the West Indies, and of Latin America. They had invaded our country with their questionable citizenship to shop, bank, walk, talk, eat, drink, and breath their lives away, all at the hardworking American taxpayer's expense. At least, this is what every segment discussing this on the nightly news and the evening news magazines sought to corroborate at the time with pictures that made it seem like only the swarthy urban poor bloated our overburdened welfare rolls.
Sure, old G. Herb Walker didn't call any of those women nappy-headed-hoes, but I guess back then, but I guess back then, folks were left with just enough room to draw their own conclusions. And if you look at the four year cycles of welfare reform rhetoric we've been subjected to since, he really left no room for guessing.
So maybe this just means that Don Imus's real mistake was not being President before firing off his missives. Or maybe that instead of going after something as demonic and loathsome as poor minority women struggling on public assistance to make a nasty oppressive life something more livable he instead went after young women (some of whom born of and raised by those in the aforementioned category) who are champion-level athletes, and who unlike their male counterparts have to make something real of their college degrees since multi-million dollar professional athletics and endorsement contracts await them at the end of their sophomore and junior years.
And even if Imus wasn't the president or the head of the RNC, why villify the man who isn't a real, truly responsible news media figure, but merely a source of bawdy entertainment sprinkled with commentary on current events and tacit nods from those in political power who time to time need to slum on shows like his to seem more like men of the people? Why harp on this poor soul making him lose his credibility and source of income and speaking platform into the cars homes and earbuds of millions of ClearChannel/Viacom/Sirius/XM public airwave consumers out there, when dastardly RAPPERS call not simply women, but Black African American Women People of Colors dirty words like hoes and bitches and a host of so many other naughty things that we dare not repeat except in gangster movies (gee, no paternalistic chauvinism in these choir boys!), college-panty-raiding comedies, public bathrooms, rest-stop bumper stickers, the in'ernets you've seen? Why should they get away scot free, their only punishment being to straighten up the house before the MTV Cribs camera crew arrives? Well, believe it or not, I've thought of several reasons:
- Great Expectations. Once upon a time we could take an area of endeavor, say like news journalism and commentary, and say that we can expect the practitioners of said field to be held more accountable to antiquated ideas like professional responsibility and truthful reporting than say...hmm, let's see...popular music? Perhaps in this age of jaded cynicism, such perceptions would be deemed prejudicial if not simply naive. But if I had to bank $1000 as to the social acceptability of a given line in a popular rambunctiously-youth-oriented song than that of a talk radio program, perhaps it's the fogey in me, but I'd bet on the talk radio program. News radio, even talk radio, still depends on the FCC for use of its primary distribution channels far more than popular music. And moreso still than rap music which developed a long way away from the watchful ears of the FCC before breaking into the public airwaves. Considering it was roughly 3 generations back that issued the battle cry sex, drugs, rock and roll, it seems pretty funny to me that talk news programs seek to imply that expectations of an equal or greater sense of decorum should be placed on music (artists) as they are for talk/news (broadcasters). I hope they are expecting my reply that it takes huge balls for them to suggest something so self-serving.
- Ignorant Assholes. They're not just for breakfast anymore. Nope, they are everywhere. In every field of endeavor. In business, in sports, in politics, in academia, in journalism, and yes, even in entertainment. Believe it or not, assholes have not yet seemed to overplay their hand. Nay, as a community, their currency, especially in the field of entertainment has only seemed to grow. The beauty of assholes is that they are equal opportunity. Doesn't matter how far you climb up the social strata they abound, and profusely at that. As for ignorance, one would think that the more one were educated in general knowledge and public manners required to hold conversations for longer than five minutes that the probability of wholesale ignorance would diminish at an equal rate. Naive optimism? Blind faith? Dumb luck? Maybe all three as it seems more than our fair share of talk radio personalities slipped through the cracks of what one would have assumed the simplest requirements of their chosen profession. And I put ignorance in there as a possibility, but was truly being generous. No one is so ignorant that they wouldn't realize that on talk radio, no matter how shock-jockey, would the expression nappy-headed-hoe be anywhere close to acceptable. No. This was strictly an asshole, move, because only an asshole could be so up on him or herself to believe that they could defy such basic rules of public decorum. And even if Imus were trying to sound street as it were, he was an asshole for thinking he, a half-century-old middle class white guy (Armenian? Yeah, whatever. He's white.), could pull off sounding street enough to say something insulting to a group of women he does not know from Adam, Eve, or the Queen of Sheba - all of whom were Black as it were.
Here's the thing that white folks often fail to understand and thereby make themselves look/sound silly when trying to act cool around Black people. Even with something as seemingly crass, vulgar, and uneducated as sounding hood or street there are rules, a vocabulary, and a usage of said vocabulary that if you have not been around long enough to truly observe it (because, no, the book has not yet been written that will teach you - sorry, no foreign service tapes either...I've checked) then you will sound stupid, and very likely say something stupid and possibly insulting. Likelier still, that in your effort to monkey street slang, you will seem condescending and therefore be insulting practicing this behavior by default. It's not that it's a no win situation. There are plenty of white folks who, like ANY and EVERY minority person you've ever seen in the United States, grew up within a dominant ethnic culture other than their own and tacitly learned it's mechanics and how to manuever within it. Thus that Don Imus and the rest of the dominant news media are not versed in the verbal sparring that takes place within urban and rural Black American culture and have neither the grounding nor ethnic credentials (by virtue of birth or experience) to pull off such sparring, is not the acute racial injustice so many people are trying to make it out to be.
- It takes one to know one... One of the most basic comebacks of the playground insult games, whether or not you grew up calling it the dozens, or capping, or bagging, or just good old fashioned teasing. For me to call another Black person nappy-headed would be like me calling them darkie or thick-lipped. In American cultural parlance, these descriptors ceased a long time ago to be about actual physical traits and were instead fashioned into some of the many pejoratives used to refer to Black people. As I have distant white ancestry in my background, my hair isn't as kinky, and my skin isn't as dark as some Black people. But little does that matter where these particular words are concerned. They refer to what Black (Americans in particular) may consider the royal we. Therefore any Black person trying to hurl these as insults can be regarded as ridiculous. The trouble with white people saying such things is that it makes them sound hateful. Whether or not it actually insults me (far from, since I like my nappy hair, my dark skin, and thick lips), it does a whole lot more to make me despise a person who'd say that. If they mean it as an insult, then I feel sad and hurt that they have prejudiced themselves to judge me and therefore close themselves off to me socially because of who I am being a Black person (yeah, I could say just because of my skin but biologically and metaphorically speaking, my skin is a huge part of who I am and how I exist in the world, so far be it for me to use diminutive language in describing it). There's nothing you can really do about that. And it's problematic for them for you, and for society. And when you face a problem that you can't really do anything about (anything to fix, that is) you really get frustrated. At least I do. Alternatively, if the person is trying to be funny and familiar, then they've done exactly the opposite. Apart from the immediate affront of having someone try to act more casual and familiar with you than they really are (how many of us would walk up to a stranger, fake like you were going to knee him or her in the groin and shout Think Fast!!!? Not unless you're dumb as a brick or a huge asshole would you try to pull that one off. It's the same thing!). It's problematic because, here's someone who's trying to be clever who is showing complete ignorance and putting you in the terribly awkward position of telling him what he should know better. Again, frustration, which leads to anger which leads to a lot of Black people who simply say fuck white people mean it sincerely, and call it a day - which also frustrates the hell out of me and makes me more acutely aware of how fucked up this country can be.
- Your kids hate you. Because of your stupid double standard that you think allows you to call women bitches and hoes, call any and all middle easterners potential terrorists, welcome to America! every white person with a European accent...basically all that stuff that you get embarrassed about when one of your older relatives does it around you and you can't correct them because their older and family...you should and more than likely will be ashamed of yourself. And if you're not ashamed now, then that shame kharma, when it comes around will hit you like a fucking freight train. The rule applies equally to rappers as it does radio personalities.
I think of Common and Kanye West. Two Chicago emcees. Fellow Mid-Westerners. Both in recent years have become highly outspoken about the use of gay-bashing language in hip hop. I say from experience that I go home and still hear the words fag, faggot, and homo used there for describing anyone or anything that's corny, stupid, or otherwise distasteful. I see it among Black and White people there equally. I try to tell folks, but most of the time I just cringe. Well. It doesn't surprise me, that Common and Kanye would be among the folks in Hip-Hop to start raising attention and awareness on the issue since like me, it's something that hit close to home with respect to our geographic culture. And they could see how the language shaped the attitude and therefore the callousness and ambivalence if not outright disdain felt towards gay people out there.
What am I saying? Your kids know better than you. The sons and daughters of your loins, of your soul, or of your soil. They know better than you and will be and are sorely ashamed of you when you fuck up. It doesn't matter whether you're a blinged out rapper or a boozed out shock jock even though your kids may still love you (if they do) you're ignorance is giving them plenty of reason to and plenty of fuel to want to disown you, and leave you in the nursing home stewing in your own crap-filled diapers when you need them most. So whine about what's fair and what's not but remember that you're playing yourself in the end. And when that end has been covered in pee and diarrhea for more than a couple hours that rash turns into a MRSA ridden bedsore pretty damn fast.
There's a lot more where that came from, but I've gotta fuckin' get to sleep. Don't feel sorry for Imus. And don't be so quick to think those rappers just get a pass. Chances are the one's whose songs you've actually heard whom you hate with a passion, most Black people hate with a passion too. Mostly because rappers that have outgrown the 3rd grade name-calling and girl-hating and toy-showing-off don't get radio/MTV-play, and we're stuck having a bunch of shitty, no-talent bastards represent a whole group of artists more mature and creative and skillful than they'll ever be. But unlike sports, who crosses the finish line first in the whimsical world of pop entertainment doesn't coincide except rarely with who has the talent. All the more reason why Don Imus can go to hell, since the women he saw fit to try to be cute with had proved their mettle in the one arena that wasn't as subject to prejudice as all the others they'll face in life. And there he goes, stealing their thunder of their accomplishment and salting their wounds with his bullshit. Way to go you wrinkle-assed fuckface!!! And no, Don, I'm not trying to be cutesy and familiar. I mean that from the bottom of my nappy-headed heart.