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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Racism in Radio: Rutgers Responds

Sandwiched between coverage for custody of Anna Nicole Smith's daughter was a chunk of emotional, hard biting news: a press conference on behalf of the Rutgers' womens' college basketball team. Tuesday morning's press conference was compelling, and confronted Don Imus' comments that the team was a bunch of "ho's".

The story has been inaccurately framed as the "Imus' Story" and the media has chosen to focus on the 2 week suspension granted Imus by his employer, WNBC of New York. The focus of the coverage is on Imus, rather than the strong reaction his comments have spawned, which are a far more remarkable aspect of the story--the strength of opposition to the public use of racial terms.

The story shouldn't be about Imus' comments, but rather the persistent attitude that would have sustained such awful perceptions towards women, blacks, and the sport of college basketball.

What possessed Imus to say what he did is unclear. I haven't followed the details of Imus' side of the case. I did however, follow the animated Rutgers coach Vivian Stringer as she spoke poignantly of the wrongness of putting the team down.

She said the team had come far and accomplished much on the court. She spoke of the team's 40 point loss to Duke early in the season. For a team of 10, made up of five freshmen, to make it to the Championship game speaks legions of not only talent, but persistence and determination.

The problems Imus' tongue has created for him and his career are the secondary element in this story. With blazing indignation, the coach of the Rutgers team, a black woman who'd dealt with personal tragedy in her long struggle to the top, spoke for all minorities who'd felt the sting of discrimination.

The "ho" comment also displayed a primitve attitude towards women in general, not to mention the insult to Rutgers--an apparently decent school--and the sport of womens' basketball.

The valiant defense of Rutgers, its female student-athletes, and the honorable and spiritied performance of its team in the NCAA tourney made for high drama. Imus' hateful words became secondary to saluting the team, its accomplishments, the school, and its coach. Replacing the vitrolic dialogue was a message of hope for our minorities, that they could excel and achieve, despite the demeaning attitudes plaguing so many white males--the real villain of the story.

Blacks face racism all the time. Yet they are not really the exclusive victims of the attitude which Imus' comments exposed running beneath the veneer of racial equality. By insulting the racial orientation of blacks and women, racist comments reflect deep-seededd antagonism--perhaps even fear--of women succeeding, especially black women.

Unfortunately, we white people see the tenets of racism around us whenever blacks and whites meet. We all know someone, perhaps close to us or in our family, that makes a big deal of race. The discrimination may be subtle, whispered behind backs in the company of whites, but it is there. Like a cancer, the decent among us do nothing, so the evil can persist.

Whites who don't come into contact with racists--or blacks--may not see it so much, and that is good. But to think racism has been eased simply by the passage of time, think again. Racism is as alive today as it has been for centuries.

Like a equally evil cousin, sexism rides atop the racist beast. This is why white men of the racist persuasion reserve a special breed of anger for black women. Rather than champion their success against long odds, the racist will be compelled to put down, criticize, because the blacks and women have succeeded, not fallen, and thereby exceeded the lowly place in society assigned to them by the racist.

Sexists may be especially threatened by the ascension of Hillary and Nancy Pelosi, two white women who have changed the political landscape dramatically in just the past few years. Change is a threat, as is the ascension of women, and their power, and a climbing sense of self-respect earned through long, hard, years of unrecognized toil.

Racial injustice is not meant to be tolerated, especially by a major news entity that's responsible for providing millions of Americans with their news. What does Imus' two-week suspension say of NBC's tolerance for the use of racist and anti-female derrogatory terms? If NBC tolerates a slip of the tongue, that's one thing; if it keeps Imus it demonstrates tolerance for bigotry at the height of its media empire--as long as it's veiled and exposed only intermittedly.

What prior comments and utterances escaped Imus' lips? What other indications did the public have the Imus was a racist? Tracking back into Imus' history, bloggers may be revealing telltale signs that all was not well with Imus' attitude towards blacks or women. To add insult to injury, it's also possible certain blacks may have been offended in the past, and with the majority white community, with a disproportionally white media representation, older complaints about Imus may have gone heard but unlistened to.

Imus' apologists would argue the commentator simply made a mistake. Deep down inside, many may be sympathizing with another white male; blacks would be far more likely to say the racism was there, flowing beneath the surface, every day as it is in America.

Far easier is it to reconcile the ambivalence with which we deal with racism and sexism than it is to confront those attitudes with real indignation, and a sense that racism is an evil ideology. So tainted is our society with racism, that actually confronting the racist perceptions of other whites is far too deconstructive and potentially divisive.

Imus' comments that show the strength of currents that run through much larger slice of the white community than whites would like to admit.

I'd like to be able to say that racism was confined to the South, or rural areas, but it really isn't. And despite the de-codification of racist laws, justice works against the minority community here in the USA. Black males innundate the prison system, making up something like 1/3 of all prison inmates, three times their share of the population. And looking at election results in Cuyahoga County, we continue to see blacks disenfranchised in our election system. {See the excellent in-depth coverage at Wasserman and Firakis' freepress.org (their articles are on the right; another is here)

The crack epidemic and AIDS have torn through African American communities. Crack cocaine was apparently flown into our country to pay for the Contras and fund illegal interventions in Guatemala and El Salvador (see the Dateline video play on this page concerning reporter Gary Webb.)

It's hard to say exactly where AIDS come from, with some contending that the "monkey story" is completely fictious and that AIDS began in West Africa as a result of a hepatitis B vaccination program.}

Who knows how deep the racist agenda lies? We know it to be prolific, so much so that whites in positions of authority tend to let loose racial slurs quite regularly. While the vast majority of comments remain hidden, from time to time, those who abhor these values see them in those around us. And if we are not careful, and let those attitudes go unchecked, we find ourselves tempted to think likewise.

Kudos to the proud and brave Rutgers people and for making their accomplishments known, in the face of sexism and racism which Imus' comments show are quite popularly held.


- CBS affiliate KCAL offers the unfortunately titled "Rutgers Team Blasts Suspended Imus' Comments" and clips of the press conference here.

-Website, Rutger's Women's Basketball (Little news available there yet.)

-AP article "Rutgers women's team, coach speak out" posted on ESPN. See the additional links on the right side; video of press conference not functioning.

-Foxnews commentary and coverage on Youtube available here.


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