A day after controversial radio host Don Imus’ show was suspended because of his racially offensive comments, scholars are weighing in about the issues of racism and misogony this episode has raised.
Meanwhile, the Rutgers women’s basketball team has agreed to meet with controversial radio host, as their coach on Tuesday called his now infamous comments “racist and sexist remarks that are deplorable, despicable and abominable and unconscionable.”
While players stopped short of saying whether they thought Imus should be fired, they were clearly frustrated during a nationally televised press conference over the attention brought by Imus referring to the team as “nappy-headed hos.”
“Unless they’ve given ‘ho’ a whole new definition, that’s not what I am,” said sophomore center Kia Vaughn.
Some scholars say the talk show host has, once again, raised stereotypical assumptions about Black women. He once called PBS senior correspondent Gwen Ifill “a cleaning lady.” Imus also called the Rutgers team “jigaboos” and “rough” while referring to the visible tattoes on many of the players.
Dr. Tricia Rose, a professor of Africana studies at Brown University, says the phrase “nappy-headed hos” conjures old Black stereotypes of hyper/deviant sexuality and the assumption that Black women are not attractive.
“Instead of the FCC spending its time on obscenity control, it should understand the verbal attacks on all groups of people,” she says. “These programs are obscene … the man has made a career on mocking vulnerable constituencies under the guise of comedy and he should be fired.”
Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson said hip-hop deserves some of the blame, and he suggested banning the word ‘ho.’
“It’s easy to surmise that Imus came out with the word ‘ho’ because hip-hop is an African-American art form and he associated the word with Black women,” wrote Robinson. “He knew nothing about those women from Rutgers, except that they were Black. It’s hard to imagine him describing, say, a Swedish basketball team as a bunch of ‘stringy-haired hos.’”
Paul Butler, a law professor at George Washington University and a contributor at the blackprof.com blog, agrees that hip-hop deserves some of the blame, but says banning an offensive word will not resolve the deeper, underlying issues this incident raises.
“This illustrates the real problem — misogyny,” he wrote in the blog. “All this is about wanting to keep women — especially Black women in their place. It would be more constructive to focus on the ugly roots of that ideology than to talk about banning a word.”
Dr. Peter Glick, professor of psychology at Lawrence University, told Diverse there is no doubt that Imus’ statement is fused with race.
“It is a double whammy because it is a very sexualized stereotype,” says Glick. “Both Black men and women are sexualized, but when it comes to women the effects are more devastating. The race element on top of it is a way of being dismissed.”
Glick says he agreed with the Rev. Al Sharpton who said in his talk show earlier that it was necessary to punish the behavior, and not just the person.
This case “is playing out in a scripted way — denial, apology, redress — but it doesn’t contribute to an honest conversation about a real solution,” says Glick.
In the meantime, Imus has been suspended for two weeks, and has sought forgiveness for the statements that have generated widespread condemnation.
Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer says the team has been hurt by Imus’ comments.
“We have all been physically, mentally and emotionally spent, so hurt by the remarks that were uttered by Mr. Imus. But, you see, we also understood a long time ago that no one can make you feel inferior unless you allow them,” she said during the press conference.
“It’s not about [ the players] as Black or nappy-headed. It’s about us as a people,” she continued. “When there has been denied equality for one, there has been denied equality for all.”
During the press conference, sophomore forward Heather Zurich said the comments overshadowed what should have been a celebration of the team’s accomplishments.
“We fought, we persevered, and most of all, we believed in ourselves. But all of our accomplishments were lost, our moment was taken away.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this report
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