Monday, April 16

:: Why Won't Imus Stop Annoying Me?

I keep thinking I'm done with this story... and then it pulls me back in. Look closely and you can actually see history being re-written before your very eyes.

Imus went down because his comment - which I would argue is primarily sexist with a racist adjective, but that dosn't really matter - (1) landed on an inviolable target, and (2) was picked up on right away by people with juice. And by juice I mean staff at NBC and CBS who were personally offended and made it known at the highest levels; the professional organization for black journalists, who spread the news far and wide to people with connections to NBC and CBS; and concerned individuals at influential levels within the corporate sponsors.

These people were, I have read, for the most part women, minorities and parents ("how would I feel if someone said this about my daughter?"). They were appalled by the racism AND the sexism, and they reacted accordingly.

Days later, it seems the story is all about the racism. The WaPo/ABC News poll I cited earlier asks people if Imus deserved to be fired for his "racist comments" - no mention of sexism. In op-ed after op-ed, male authors pay lip service to sexism - mentioning the "racist-and-sexist comment" before devoting their article solely to racism (E.J. Dionne's recent column is an exception). And in discussion thread after discussion thread, men bicker back and forth about whether (to sum it up) white men should have to refrain from making racist comments since black men are making them too.

Yet look at what the Rutgers team themselves said about Imus, courtesy of Newsweek (yes, god help me, I looked at Newsweek).

Still, Imus's comments stung. "When I heard the quote I was confused," Kia Vaughn, a 6-foot-4 sophomore center from the Bronx, told NEWSWEEK. "I felt intimidated and scared, and it was the first time that I ever felt that way in my life ... I couldn't believe someone was talking about my womanhood and calling me a ho." But the players didn't let the hurt penetrate their pride. "Why would he say that if he doesn't know us or what we accomplished?" asked forward Myia McCurdy.

For team captain Essence Carson, a 6-foot forward/guard from Paterson, N.J., who wowed the public with her poise, Imus's remark was more sexist than racist. "It was an attack on women first," Carson told NEWSWEEK. "He just made it race-specific." Initially, the Knights wanted to ignore Imus and absorb their pain as a team, she said, but after a little discussion the women decided they "had to take a stand." Stringer's example was key, said Carson; "Coach has been through everything you can think of, [so] we know we have the strength to bear anything."
I wish I could praise Newsweek - no, really - but the fact is they couched a genuinely inspirational article under the heading "Race, Power and the Media." Not "Race, Gender, Power and the Media"... but I'm sure it was just an oversight.

No, actually I'm sure it was someone at Newsweek knowing that three-word combos are stronger than four or more words, and making the call that sexism just isn't as important a problem as race. After all, sexism is just important to women, and not even all women, just some women (like the Rutgers team, but whatever) while race is important to everyone.

Sadly, this misses what I think is the real take home lesson - diversity works. If women and blacks weren't present at the top levels of CBS, NBC and the corporate sponsors, this story would have slunk away with barely a whimper.

A similar scenario played out over at Washington Monthly, in the comments thread of a Kevin Drum post on Imus. Comment after comment about race, about Al Sharpton, about Jesse Jackson - all basically arguing the same points - (1) I (white guy) will stop saying racist things only after they (black guys) agree to stop saying racist things, and (2) any presence by Al Sharpton automatically disqualifies the opinions of all black people and any white people who might agree with black people.

One after another, each comment reified that race was the important issue, and sexism - well, why bother even mentioning it. Until, that is, a poster with a feminine sounding screen name (not me) commented:
What is interesting to me is that the worst element of the "nappy-headed ho" slur - "ho" - meaning whore - is more sexist than racist, and yet the sexism part seems easier to overlook than the racism part for everyone I've heard of discuss the matter except over at Shakesville.
Well, you should have seen the conversation shift!

Sike. Actually, she was ignored for the remainder of the thread (nearly 100 comments) except for one guy who thought Imus wouldn't have called a white woman a "ho" (it was then pointed out that Imus refers to his own wife - a white woman - as a "ho" -- "Wow, he's worse than I thought!" was the reply). Again, poster after poster reaffirmed that sexism doesn't merit discussion - and that concern by women, for women - played no role in bringing about the fall of Imus. Never mind what the team said... the guys are here to tell you what bothered you the most.

This is why, I guess, when it comes to discussing sexism with men, most women pull a Cartman: "screw you guys - I'm going home!"

The Rutgers team succeeded where, up till now, all others had failed - they brought shame to one of the media's biggest bullies. More from Newsweek, about their meeting with Imus:
The [question] that kept coming up, in various formulations and from numerous players, was "Why?" Why target them? How could he not know his remarks were hurtful? Was he proud of making his living by ridiculing others? The players were clearly less than impressed by Imus's wan explanation that ridicule was his job.

"I know that this is not my problem," one player told Imus, according to the Rev. DeForest Soaries, who mediated the Thursday-night session. "I don't want you to think that I question myself because of what you said. I'm a classy woman at a great university. I will pray for you."


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