Saturday, April 14, 2007

Nappy Headed what? - Don Imus

Thirteen Roman letters - Friends may lead you but can't bring you back...

There have been moments in television history where you wish that the person had the opportunity to redo the moment, O.J Simpson in his Bronco, Princess Diana as she leaves the Ritz in Paris, Don Imus’s statement last week. What makes the comment particularly bad is its casualness. It was said as an afterthought because he assumed that his listeners would just ‘get it.’

There is so much to look at with this latest in a very long line of prominent people in American society saying hateful, angry things and getting caught on tape. The good thing is that these moments are recorded and replayed, and represent proof that seems indisputable to the viewer. However the very fact that these moments can be recalled and picked over is the rub.

I feel badly for Mr. Imus, he has been in radio for thirty years. I’m sure that he never thought that his career would end as it has. The media is so age conscious, that older people need good representation. But with that said, the belief is that he should have known better. Mr. Imus has unwittingly started a debate that touches on racial and sexist slurs. He is not the first person in media to use such slurs, he is simply collateral damage. Many things concern me about this incident. I recalled Janet Jackson saying when she recorded her album Control in the 80’s that her producers’ called her ‘bitch’ and she used to cry about it until she realized that it was said with affection. Now I don’t know whether to be more alarmed that she would consider the term as affectionate or that they would.

Years later the rapper Snoop Dog came to the defense of calling women bitches and ho’s, saying that some women deserve to be called the names, and some women were called affectionately. Is this black on black verbal crime? But let us look deeper. This year the movie Norbit with Eddie Murphy playing many roles, included his portrayal of an obese black woman, I found that to be offensive, but it was a hit! I chose not to see that movie. There are many really offensive, toilet humour films, television shows and moments on all media, and that shall not abate any time soon. Whenever I complain about these things, I remind myself that I am not the audience these forms of entertainment seek. I think that this is important to remember, although this may not make the situation right.

There is also the very real concern that Mr. Imus was repeating, like a child repeats, a curse word, and thought that it was acceptable. Why did he find this acceptable? I believe that Mr. Imus represents the truth of his country. Americans say racist things all the time. I shall go further, in all countries where there is diversity there is the tendency toward misunderstanding another persons’ culture, and awkward comments are inevitable. It is not enough to rail against what Mr. Imus said. It is more important to look at and understand why and how such comments are born, grow and flourish despite huge strides in society by people of all races.

One of Mr. Imus’s first statements, post slur was that the black community use such language. To me that comment was as explosive as the first statement. I wondered whether he was trying to say, like a child again, hey, they’re doing it, so why not! Now isn’t that just what’s wrong with everything in the world at the moment. So many people are going down the wrong path just copying the worst influences because they just don’t know better, or feel that it’s acceptable.

This is a tricky statement I know, because the question then becomes what is acceptable behaviour? Anna Nichole Smith for example could be seen as completely inappropriate for television. Yet she was not, even after her death, when several men came forward to claim fatherhood of her seven month old daughter, no one called her the ‘h’ word. People seem to like watching a train wreck and then they act surprised when they see more than they want to.

The black community in America must look at Mr. Imus’s statement very closely. After coming so far from slavery and Jim Crow, the African American community still has issues that cause great concern, even if the claim is that certain language is acceptable within that community. Perhaps it is the very relaxing of such language that should be looked at. For example, how come the word honkey, quite racist when I was a child seems to have no power, but the word nigger still cuts to the bone. Is it just possible that such a word is just hurtful no matter the context? What would Richard Pryor say? He used such language to empower himself, the black community and comedy for legions of comics to follow.

I was disappointed that of all of the discussions on the topic, there is very little acceptance by the black American public to look inwardly at the misogynistic and racist language that hip hop culture propagates, and its impact on all of society. There are many aspects to this art form and it must acknowledge its weaknesses.

There is also the aspect of money. Many mainstream products are not shy about incorporating Hip hop elements into their product for sale ability to a specific demographic. It is amazing how many do this. Hip Hop is mainstream and thus, very bankable. Russell Simmons made a statement to CCN today that Hip Hop talks about the reality of the artist. That may be so, but how real is it to be standing in front of a Bentley holding a forty ounce of alcohol as several women snake all over the singer and his friends? We have to acknowledge that these women willingly appear in these videos wearing the tiniest dental floss tops and bottoms, dancing like professional strippers.This is a complex issue, yet in many ways it is not. Every generation has its symbols that push and tug at the status quo, and that is why the Imus controversy is very important for all of us in the world to look at this time. The fact that the African American community can cause so much debate and can promote such change is huge. It is necessary to continue the debate and take the changes further. - Adele

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