This is largely from an email I sent to a friend who asked for my thoughts on the Imus controversy. Comments welcome, of course.
I think that as usual Americans lack sophisticated language to deal with what these kinds of instances really represent. This is really about the lingering effects of racism and sexism in the minds of many white men. That these things come out (even as jokes) means they are there all the time. They don’t just appear out of nowhere.
Both sides of the argument are silly if they think that getting rid of hate speech will make even a dent in racism. Words are just the verbalization of thoughts. So what one doesn’t say is ultimately meaningless if the thoughts are still there. And frankly, white people (by and large) still hate us and they certainly dislike women. It certainly explains why they can’t own up to their oversized part in the nation we’ve all inherited. Constantly turning the debate around on us every single time is unfair, cowardly, and mean.
But the other side always turns it into a debate about PC versus free speech, which isn’t the issue at all. It’s not about whether or not people are free to make jokes; it’s about why these types of jokes prevail in venues like radio that reach a wide swath of the populace. What is it about racist jokes without a trace of irony or satire (unlike many black comedians who are making jokes about racism, not racist jokes) that are so popular with radio programs with large white male bases? Um…racism. Pure and simple. No arguments.
It’s simply not a referendum on black social ills, despite what white people would like. It’s grossly offensive and disingenuous to insinuate – as they are – that because black men use the term “ho” that it legitimizes its use for the larger community. We don’t have that kind of power. If we did we could use “nigger” freely. But we can’t (admittedly, my misguided brethren argue this point valiantly, if a bit too narrowly).
Black people are largely powerless in terms of moving society in huge ways, of their own accord. What moves society are corporate (largely white) interests that appropriate the basest elements of blackness and sell it and then leave the opportunisitic blacks who aid but make a fraction of the money to flail in the winds of public opinion.
This is not about rappers who call women “hos.” It’s about the larger society that doesn’t privilege other images and representations of blackness in media to the same degree to provide any kind of balance. Because this happens we get countless op-eds and commentaries about how “black men” use such terms (here of course “black men” really means “all black men”). And it’s (for the most part) understandable and unconscious; they don’t know any better. They only know what they are shown ad nauseum about who we are.
Corporate hip hop does not represent what hip hop is truly about. And it certainly doesn’t represent black men. We make the music, but we make it because white men and women love those images. We get in where we can fit in (for better or worse) because that is the hand we are dealt.
Problems originate in the larger culture because they shape the way society moves. Simply the way it is.
We simply do not have the capital or network of institutions and power over media to be held responsible to the degree that white folks supporting Imus are suggesting.
White people do a fantastic job when this shit happens in deflecting from the real issue and turning it back on black people and our endless “problems.”
White people refuse with every turn to own up to what Imus’ comments really represent – their own lingering hatred for minorities and women (or, more generously, resentment for gains that said groups are making).
This is the legacy of our nation. We can’t overcome it by pointing fingers every which way. This is the mess they made and we are all paying the price. Making it seem as if it’s just a comment that is not in any way connected to our larger national problem with racism is grossly negligent and, ultimately, flat out wrong.