Don Imus has been suspended for two weeks for referring to Rutgers’ female basketball players as “nappy-headed hos.”
Pam’s on fire over the, uh, minimalism of the response and the “shows of solidarity” expressed by the good ol’ boy network that is Imus’ guest list – including GOP presidential candidates John McCain and Mike Huckabee.
One of the quotes Pam pulled from the coverage really stuck out to me. Senator Barack Obama commented: “The comments of Don Imus were divisive, hurtful and offensive to Americans of all backgrounds. With a public platform comes a trust. As far as I’m concerned, he violated that trust.” The part about violating the trust is spot-on. The part about being hurtful and offensive to Americans of all backgrounds is also correct – particularly because these comments weren’t just racist; they were deeply misogynistic, too – but Obama’s comment highlights how shockingly not universal the offense to a phrase like “nappy headed hos” is. Imus’ defenders are practically tripping over each other to defend him.
Digby has a great post after “listening to alleged journalists falling all over themselves on television to assure all of us that Don Imus is a really great guy underneath all the ugliness and that he’s really, really, really sorry. Even David Gregory is vouching for him like a brother while that paragon of integrity Armstrong Williams is begging that he be given another chance.” Hilzoy also weighs in on Imus’ defenders – and their defense that he just lost control of his riff, just ran off the rails: “[T]here is no perfectly good conversational curve that, if misjudged, might lead normal, decent people to go off the rails in this way. It’s not as though decent people might start out discussing real estate or the weather, get things slightly wrong, and suddenly, to their horror, find themselves describing hard-working and successful female basketball players as ‘nappy-headed hos’. That just doesn’t happen.”
No, it doesn’t. Of course, decent people don’t use phrases like “nappy-headed hos” in any context; nasty epithets aren’t even a part of their most private lexicon. Imus doesn’t particularly strike me as one of those people. He strikes me as someone who – even taking into consideration his most outlandish public statements – uses language in private he would never use on the air. And his parade of defenders signal with their support not only that this is probably true of Imus, but true of them as well. They talk about women and people of other races in unflattering terms at best, in what most decent people would likely find to be hateful terms. So when they suggest that Imus simply “ran off the rails,” what they mean is that he lost track of where he was and what was appropriate in which sphere.
And they’re defending him because they know they could do it, too.
One horrible day…relaxing their fierce vigilance for the merest moment…and out could slip something they’d usually only say in private…one of the things they only say to the other doodz…
Aw, shucks. It happens, they say.
Yeah, well, it only happens to people who believe that rubbish, who have that shit on the edge of their wicked tongues.
It’s there because it’s a habit they won’t let go. They belligerently defend against the marauding horde of “language police” their right to describe black women as “nappy-headed hos” – it’s a fight they wage mostly in their minds, harrumphing to themselves each time they hear some dumb bitch complain that she is a spokeswoman or spokesperson, not a spokesman. They resolve not to give up calling another guy a “pussy” or a “fag,” because fuck those people!
Some people can’t help but throw tantrums when faced with the evidence of their waning privilege.
Recently, a Shaker emailed me to request that I shouldn’t use “McLame” to refer to “McCain,” because it could be offensive to some people with disabilities. It was a fair point. Naturally, I had intended it to mean “stupid,” not “disabled,” but it took me about a nanosecond to realize I was ignoring the etymology of the word in the same way as people who insist on using “gay” to mean “stupid” – so I jettisoned it from my blogcabulary. (And from my personal speech.) Done and dusted. But here’s the thing – I don’t want to make nasty commentaries about people’s intrinsic qualities. I don’t feel a pressing desire to be able to make sweeping generalizations about a whole race, or a whole sex, or a particular sexual orientation with impunity. So I don’t resist letting go epithets which do so directly or indirectly.
There are people who do.
Why shouldn’t I be allowed to use the n-word? Why shouldn’t I be allowed to call another guy a pussy? Why shouldn’t I be allowed to say all men are dogs? Why shouldn’t I be able to do a funny Asian accent when I talk about Kim Jung-Il? Why shouldn’t I be allowed to call something gay? Why shouldn’t I be allowed to say all straights hate gays? Fuck you and your hypersensitivity!
They pout. And then they refuse, like a stubborn two-year-old, to give up their offensive language. They just move it to the locker room, or the press room, or simply off the air, as the case may be. But no matter how small the sphere in which such things are still acceptable gets, they won’t let go of it, won’t excise from their minds and mouths words that are a nostalgic reminder of days when men like them could do and say whatever they wanted. (“It’s a different time, Imus. … And some of the stuff that you used to do, you probably can’t do anymore,” mused Howard Fineman.) And so this language remains on the tips of their tongues…and sometimes it spills right out and into a microphone.