Wednesday, April 18, 2007

My Opinion of the Imus Situation

The Imus Affair of 2007
By Ehav Eliyahu Ever


On April 4, 2007, Imus referred on-air to the Rutgers University women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hoes" during a racially-charged discussion about the NCAA Women's Basketball Championship. Imus was not the first radio personality to utter such words on the air -- for example Star of Clear Channel's radio show Star & Buc Wild referred to a caller as a "nappy-headed nigger whore" in 2001 -- but Imus' 2007 conduct sparked a national outrage. At 6:00pm that evening, Media Matters for America became the first news outlet to report the remarks, transcribing:

IMUS: So, I watched the basketball game last night between -- a little bit of Rutgers and Tennessee, the women's final.

ROSENBERG: Yeah, Tennessee won last night -- seventh championship for [Tennessee coach] Pat Summitt, I-Man. They beat Rutgers by 13 points.

IMUS: That's some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos and --

McGUIRK: Some hard-core hos.

IMUS: That's some nappy-headed hos there. I'm gonna tell you that now, man, that's some -- woo. And the girls from Tennessee, they all look cute, you know, so, like -- kinda like -- I don't know.

McGUIRK: A Spike Lee thing.

IMUS: Yeah.

McGUIRK: The Jigaboos vs. the Wannabes -- that movie that he had. [i]

The Questions That Are Seldom Raised

When I heard about the remarks and saw the actual show itself, I found it kind of funny, in a shocking kind of way. Imus was not the first person I had ever heard make statements like this. In my younger years I listened to enough rap and viewed enough comedians to hear this kind of language being used. What made me laugh was not only the statements themselves and the fact that I knew people who could make similar statements, but also the way that the statement was made. Yet, upon further thought I wondered, “In the mind of Don Imus what made these young women nappy headed and what made them hos?” I began to think if there were other people who, though not media types, would have made the exact same statements. It was from that I decided that I had to understand the entire body of the Imus remarks in order to search for the truth on the matter. So this led me to break down my original question in the following way.

1) Don Imus mentioned that the Rutgers women were ruff.
2) Don Imus further stated that the women had tattoos. This in turn prompted the response from McGuirk that the Rutgers women were “some hardcore hoes.”

Okay, so this brings up the question of, what constitutes a hardcore ho? Using the above statements by the Imus show crew I first concluded it is a rough girl with tattoos. So then the question comes up of what was meant by a rough girl? There is also a question of, “Is there something inherently incorrect or wrong about how the women of Rutger’s basketball team looked?” If tattoos are part of the issue did any of the women from Tennessee basketball team have tattoos and if so what exempted them from the statements made about the Rutger’s team?

What’s All the Shouting About?

One of the reasons that I think that it is hard for “white” people to understand why so called minorities get so worked up about perceived racism or anti-Semitism is because there is no clear definition of what a “white” person really is. Is being a “white American” a culture or simply a skin tone definition? There has never been an out physical and verbal bias against those who can fit into the so called “White” society.

Let’s look at a simple example in order to begin our analysis. A European Jew in order to never confront the idea of being a “hymy, or any other anti-Jewish slur” would have to do away with anything that makes his cultural connection to Judaism visible. So for example, he/she can avoid anti-Antisemitism by pretending to not be who he/she really is. Essentially, take off the Kippa and never mention Jewish ancestry and he is set to blend into Western society with no problem. Yet, what kind of existence is that and why would a society allow such a thing to exist?

A person who visibly does not fit into “White” society does not have the ability to turn off their heritage or their culture. Their pigment gives them away, even if they don’t have an accent or a visible culture they subscribe to. Because there has been a history, no matter how far or remote, of persecution of those who couldn’t be “White” there exists the possibility that said history could repeat itself. So if there is a majority that has at one time oppressed a minority, who is to say that said majority would not one day decide to go back and restart past oppressions? It is like saying if an Amendment to the Constitution is the only thing that gave an African American or a women the right to vote, what happens if said amendment were repealed? Could the clock be turned back, and the roles changed?

It may sound silly, but it is something that “white Americans” have never had to consider for their own rights because there has never been an instance, in American history, where “white” people have been targeted as a group and effectively kept in the throws of physical and verbal racism. In American history whenever white people, who once again fit the majority stereotype, felt oppressed the government had always worked in their favor. As long as they met certain physical and cultural norms they met the requirement for protections on a governmental level. This has not always been the case for those who don’t fit in those cultural norms such as the Irish, Russians, etc. People who don’t fit into those norms have often had to fight for their right to be protected and respected, and thus is the history of nation building.

One Way to Understand The Issue

In order for people who consider themselves “white” and who do not understand why people who are not “white” are offended by such statements as those made by Don Imus, the following example may help.

Imagine a “White” American living in Afghanistan during the rule of the Taliban. In this environment said “white” person is a minority in terms of his culture, nationality, and religion. Let us say that said “white” person one day watches the news and sees a Taliban man making statements such as,

“Those filthy American dogs. They are gutless pigs. They are devils and infidels. They are so filthy they should be kidnapped and beheaded.”

Now imagine this being said, with a history of real and perceived violence towards “White Americans” in said environment.

There are a number of so called “White Americans” who may experience both anger, disdain, and possibly fear at such statements being said and accepted. Due to the fact that the concept of an American being kidnapped and beheaded is a realistic possibility in such a society this also evokes a certain emotional response.

When American flags are burned in this context it brings about a similar emotional response in certain “white” Americans. When white American veterans of for example WWI and WWII are disrespected in a similar fashion, this would cause many Americans to be consumed with rage. These things are like the purity and the image of America and when that is disrespected there are many white people who feel the pain from it and they respond.

This is how many minorities feel when statement’s like Don Imus’s are made by white Americans. It is as if white Americans who speak this way want to return to the time of slavery. It is like white Americans who say these things would be more than willing to take this a step further and also say such things to their children at the dinner table. Non “white” people in some cases see this as if said people really mean to say, “Son, I remember when it was legal to lynch a nappy headed nigger, kill a Jew or an Arab.” It is also like those white Americans want to return Japanese citizens to interment camps or perpetrate another holocaust. Once again, we are dealing with extremes in order to understand how those on the receiving end can view such statements based on past history.

Yet, let us consider that it was not so long ago that a number of minorities in America experienced racism and bigotry not just in the verbal form, but also at the most extreme physical levels. It was also not that long ago that White Americans had the legal right and ability to inflict verbal and physical abuse on African Americans, Asians, and Latinos with no legal punishment. That was until said African Americans, Asians, Latinos, and even some White Americans challenged the then status quo and successfully changed the paradigm.

The Other Side of the Coin

This still begs the question of how did Don Imus and his co-hosts come up with the statements such as, “Nappy headed hoes” and the like. What does it mean to be “nappy” and what about the appearance of the Rutger’s team made them out to be “hardcore hoes” in the eyes of the members of the Imus show? I personally think that these men were responding with things that are unfortunately being accepted in the Western culture due to the influence of pop-culture. How many rap songs include the word “hoe” and how many comedians use the word nappy?

When I first heard the statements made on the Imus show, I will admit I actually found them funny and I laughed a bit. It was in part because this was not the first time I heard such language. During the years when I listen to hardcore and gangster rap I heard the word “hoe” used in so many songs to describe women that I on some level became desensitized to the use of the word. During the years when I listened to comedy routines such as the Bea Bea’s Kids routine of Robin Harris and also some of the Def Comedy Jam style acts I became familiar with the concept that some hold that there is a style of hair that can categorized as nappy i.e. un-combed and un-managed and that the word hoe was an acceptable term.

I have heard Black in and outside of the media use similar terminology to describe other African American and even some Africans, so what exactly was the problem? There have also been a number of Black people who have made comments about “white” people being devils in popular media, yet there wasn’t a huge uproar concerning those kinds of comments. In some the situations the only time when said Blacks ever caught any media heat for their words is when they speak against another minority group such as Jews or Asians. So the question then becomes what sets these kind Blacks apart so that they are given a free pass to say things similar to that of the Imus, without public outcry?

When one looks at the legacy of gangster rap and extreme comedy shows where language and philosophy are created and often passed on, there seems to be a connection with the popularity of these forms of entertainment and the perception in society of those who create it. It is similar to the idea of the popularity of Elvis Presley and how some saw his as the epitome of “white” society. This was especially true for those who felt that Elvis stole and capitalized on “black” culture. There are some Blacks who epitomized white cultures by the example of a select few in the media. The same has happened in the reverse as a select few Blacks, who have become pop culture and media favorites, also set the tone of how all African Americans are understood. So for example the standard of being “Black” is measured by the latest musical or entertainment fad current in Black entertainment. So if the rappers and the actors are wearing sagging pants and speak in slang English Blacks who don’t do this are outsiders and don’t have “street credentials.”

In terms of the word “nappy” here also I remember a number of rappers and comedians using the word in popular media in the exact same sense Imus used it. Since the 1900s African Americans have been experimenting with ways to style their hair. In the late 1890s through the early 1900s Annie Malone, Madam C. J. Walker and Garrett Augustus Morgan were each credited for revolutionizing African American hair care by inventing chemical applications, which altered the natural texture of black hair. During the 1930s, conking was an innovative method in the U.S. for black men to straighten kinky hair.

Bernard McGuirk made comments that compared the game to "the jigaboos versus the wannabes.” He mistakenly referenced this to the movie Do the Right Thing by Spike Lee, where this was actually a scene in Spike Lee's film School Daze. In the movie school days there is a musical number, which pits two groups of women, the Wannabes who are light skinned sorority women with straightened hair, against the Jigaboos who are darker skinned and have non straightened hair. The titles did not come from the groups themselves, but in the number the women who were darker referred to the sorority as wannabes while the lighter sorority women referred to the darker women as jigaboos. It is from this that McGuirk was referencing since in the movie both side had animosity towards each other. The basic premise of this part of the School Daze movie was to underlie the conflicts that existed in between certain African American communities over purity of culture vs. social acceptance. It also is a remnant of the issue of what exactly his “African American” culture and the issue of being either a sellout to said culture or an adherent to it. It also dealt with some of the issue in certain African American communities concerning lighter complexion or darker complexion of skin color being superior.

Thus the “wannabes” in the film were seen as lighter women who wanted to be “white” due to their affiliation in the Greek Lettered Sorority system and their use of make and hair styling that divorced them from their “African” heritage. On the other hand the “jigaboos” were women who seen as the backwards and unkept women who needed to use make up and hair treatment in order to make themselves beautiful. The idea also was that a Jigaboo due to her dark skin and “natural” did not represent beauty. This stems from years of issues in certain segments of African American society due to the results of color preference that existed in post slavery America. I.e. lighter skinned African Americans who could pass themselves off as “white” were deemed more acceptable for many years. Now in the movie School Daze, both side were had beautiful women, yet their divisiveness was over the external and internal perceptions of beauty in the African American community.

So can one blame the movie School Daze for creating this concept that was picked up by the Imus show? I would say no, but it is obvious from the comments of the Imus crew that they really didn’t understand the concept of the movie School Daze, which was summed up at the end of the movie when both sides lighter skinned and darker skinned women, along with other elements of the college society such as fraternity vs. non fraternity and haves vs. have nots, had to wake up concerning their divisiveness towards each other.

Conclusions

C. Vivien Stringer, coach of the 2007 Rutgers Women’s Basketball team, during a press conference made some statements that made me consider my first reaction to the Imus remarks. Coach Stringer spoke of how there is a deeper problem in society when remarks like the ones that Don Imus made. She also alluded to the fact that when adults

"These comments are indicative of greater ills in our culture. It is not just Mr. Imus, and we hope that this will be and serve as a catalyst for change. Let us continue to work hard together to make this world a better place." [ii]

I believe it is sad that a group of grown men who are supposed to be respectful elders in society, ready and willing to train up the younger generation would lower themselves to the use of such language. I also think it is sad that such people use popular media in this way and influence millions not as much in action, but in language and thought.

Dr. Robin Smith says the Imus controversy exposes a "hole in the soul of this country." "Don Imus—he's a symbol. He's a symbol of how sick we are. He's a symbol of the self-hatred, not just in African-Americans, but in white America," she says. [iii]

This is when my Jewish sixth sense kicked in and began to wonder, was I wrong for even finding the Imus comments funny in the first place? Was I wrong for allowing myself to be desensitized by the use of such language in music, comedy, and film? Maybe I was just as much of the problem in not standing more firm against these negative elements.

The flip side of this issue is that maybe popular media and current Western culture created the concept of the nappy headed hoe, or the rough chick. It is possible that gangster rap and elements of extreme comedy is partially the blame for dulling the senses of the masses creating a culture where everyone is affected by it whether they be young or old. Maybe, racial slurs wouldn’t exist if there were no popular media culture that glorifies them for a certain few and not others. The question then becomes, has American and even world societies gone to far in allowing the negative elements of popular media to run in certain directions that lead other parts of society to far?

Kind of like cause and effect; if the disrespect of women in one area of society runs rampant it is bound to spill over into other areas of society. When people who are beyond the age of youth use language and act irresponsibly it may speak to a bigger problem in society. If elders are not being role models in language and action, maybe it is time for society to stand back and take a good look in the mirror.

13 comments:

Lori said...

Nice analysis. You do indeed come from a very different perspective (smile).

Miriam said...

Hi. You were not wrong in laughing because comedy is basically taking something from one extreme then quickly presenting a total other extreme. Seeing an elderly white man then hearing "gangsta rap" talk coming out of his mouth is indeed extreme. However, the next set of emotion was also approriate. the shock then the refutal.

As a fellow Afri-Am Jew, I must say there is definite reasons for law of respecting one another.

Ehav Ever said...

To: Miriam

Hello Miriam. Another reason though that I felt that I shouldn't have laughed was that about 10 years ago, I wouldn't have laughed. The issue for me wasn't the statements exactly, it was the fact that person would call out these women like he did. When I viewed the entire speak of the Rutger's basketball team she drove home the point that I feel. That is that, for me, by laughing at all I had lost something along the way. That is my point that we are all products of our environment and such, but that when we immerse ourselves in certain things of our own free will it has effects.

To Lori
Thanks for your kind words.

C said...

Don't forget the "Super Hero" of Compliance Engineering! Ehav Ever (The engineer formerly know as Rashad)!

Ehav, All the best to you with your in the promise land!

Chris

C said...

Wait...some text got chopped off!

I meant to say...

Ehav, All the best to you with your new life in the promise land!

Chris M

Anonymous said...

Ehav, all I can say at this point is that I have many things to say, but #1 is that I hope you think twice about casting your lot in with the racist heretical ethnocratic Zionist avodah zarah of the State of Amalek.

Anonymous said...

Nu, I guess it's too late since you are apparently there already. I hope Hashem shows you the way of getting out of the State of Moloch and return to NY!

Ehav Ever said...

B"H

Greetings Anonymous,

Actually, my lot, isn't cast with the Zionist, in the Ashkenazi sense, it is to Hashem and Am Yisrael who have lived in the Mizrahh, including many Yehudim who lived in Eretz Yisrael before the current state and before the rise of islam in the region. My lot is also with the Sephardi Gedolim such as Rabbi Mosheh ben Nachman z"l, Rabbi Yoseph Qafahh z"l, Rabbi Yitzhaq Alfassi z"l, Rabbi Mordechai Aby Serour, and Rabbi Yehudah Alkalay z"l to name a few. Besides there has always been a Magrebi and Yemenite presence in Yerushalayim, Hevron, etc. long before Zionism caught on in Europe.

My lot is also to the Palestinians in the West Bank who are Benei Anusim. I recently met a Palestinian guy who spoke about how there are four Arab towns in the West Bank where it is known that the people there had Jewish or Samaritan ancestors.

In terms of staying in NY. There is just as much, if not more Avodah Zara, here just like there was when I lived in California, Texas, Missouri, and when I traveled to Japan and Ethiopia. That can be found everywhere. My believe is that Jews who are drawn to Eretz Yisrael have to make something of it, not simply sit back on the sidelines.

We may have a difference of opinions on this but such is life. Kol tuv.

Anonymous said...

I am not coming from the perspective of Ashkenazi or Sephardi. The Torah and its knowledge is not divided between communities. The fact is that all Torah sages, both Sephardi and Ashkenazi spoke against the entity known as the State of Amalek. We cannot build Judaism on the blood and bones of 5 million expelled and ghettoized bantustan Palestinians. This is prohibited by the Torah.

Ehav Ever said...

Greetings Anonymous,

Please check my other response in order to understand why I brought up Sephardi vs. Ashkenazi. Torah and its knowledge exists amongst all Qehiloth Yisrael, but legal rights do differ. I explained all in my other response. Besides living in areas that have ALWAYS been Jewish does not constitute building on the bones of Arabs who didn't become Palestinians until the 1960's. Needless to say that some of those so-called Palestinians are Benei Anusim to Torah.

Ehav Ever said...

Also, the land that the Palestinians stole from the Samaritans goes against Torah and their own Quran.

Anonymous said...

Gevalt, Ehav. Let's get beyond pure theorizing. The fact is the entire structure of the Zionist entity and its entire religious "success" is built and predicated upon the successful destruction of the Palestinians by the Zionist regime. Today, now, in 2007. Plain and simple. Wa-hadha min al-haqiqa fi zaman kathir fi-attarikh, beyn al-Arab wa al-Yahud.

Ehav Ever said...

First and foremost Anonymous. I think you need to consider how much time you want to dedicate to this debate. I don't agree with your points, and I will only explain why in the most recent post. This post on Imus on nothing to do with Israel so it makes no sense for you to post back and forth. So I will only be responding on the latest post, and only once to discuss your comments. Kol tuv.