Imus's Scarring Words: An opportunity to learn

LaTonya Taylor is an editor with Ignite Your Faith magazine. Here she offers perspective as a Christian, an African-American, and a woman.

The maelstrom radio shock jock Don Imus started when he referred to members of the Rutgers University women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos" is winding down. The Scarlet Knights issued a statement accepting Imus's apology for words he called "insensitive and ill-conceived."

I find this outcome so far only partially satisfying. People heard something outrageous and were outraged. They understood Imus's words were both racist and sexist, attacking the Rutgers players' beauty as people of color, as well as their stewardship of their sexuality. And the market spoke. After initially suspending Imus in the Morning for two weeks, CBS canceled the radio show, and NBC Universal canceled his TV simulcast on MSNBC's cable channel.

But part of me hopes that Imus's remarks also lead to a redemptive conversation within the Christian community. I hope we can move from satisfaction over Imus's punishment to think about ways we can redeem his situation–and others like it.

Some commenters in the blogosphere, on message boards, and in the mainstream media have raised some important questions: What's the big deal? Some shock jock said something kind of rude, but sticks and stones, right? Don't rappers say worse things every day? Isn't Imus's real mistake mocking the wrong group? And wasn't one of the players overreacting by saying his comments had made her "scarred for life"?

All good questions. It's possible the "scarred" comment was the statement of an overwrought college student. But I don't think so. At one of the most important moments of her life, a moment she and her teammates had striven to reach, a moment culminating years of positive choices, she realized that some will still view her negatively because she is a woman–and an African-American. That's a startling realization, particularly for those of us who've been insulated from some of the struggles of our forebears.

Are Imus's words the final words on this woman's identity? No, and I think she knows that. Is she the only person forced to realize that others may see her through a cloudy, limited lens? Again, no. Should those issues still give people of good will pause? Yes. We can grieve that her moment was marred, and mourn the loss of innocence.

Imus's ugly words also give us an opportunity to learn. I'm convinced part of the reason so much misunderstanding about issues of race and gender exists is that we know so little about one another. I'm pretty sure Imus knew he was out of line when he made that statement. But I'm not sure most of his listeners knew, or understood why the phrase "nappy-headed ho" was so offensive.

April 13, 2007