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

Displaying 1–10 of 20 comments

james brown

April 22, 2007  9:18pm

There has been some attempt to affiliate Don Imus with the much hated religious right. Some people think that his firing reflects upon the religious right. Imus is and was a rank liberal. Mediamatters (George Soros funded) is the website that "busted" him; put his words on the air and forced the craven politicians at CBS to dump him. People who are progressive/liberal dumped one of their own. Imus is no Limbaugh or Hannity. Or course he deserved to be dumped; he deserved to be dumped 40 years ago. Unluckily this seems to play into the whole "victim" mentality of ethnic minorities. I actually have little feelings of sympathy for the women's basketball team at Rutgers. Hey, they almost won a championship. Actually, if there hadn't been a public malestrom who would have known or remembered Imus' comment. My guess is NO ONE. I have no idea who these women are; haven't seen them play and wouldn't know them by name or face. On the other hand there is "chimpybushmchitler." I just have a hard time getting worked up about the Rutger's women's team when it's a national pastime to use the most degrading comments possible about the President of the United States. I have become hardened to slurs and libels. Everybody, please check your "victimization hat" at the door. You'll be better for it. Just call me a W.A.S.P. (male) - the bane of the world apparently. I can take it.

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B R Bolton

April 18, 2007  6:36pm

Loving Iman as I did, my early mornings are now unfilled. Don Imus has done so much good for cancer stricken children, autistic babies, so many worth=while causes. He is a great American, in the same class as some of our most honored citizens. I love him and I miss his show. He was the reason I stumbled from my warm bed each week day morning. He kept me informed about politics, religious leaders, singers, entertainers, anything that was important. He did amazing interviews with so many famous people. If his boses knew, as they said they did, and were aware of his language, they should have gone to him and talked with him. Don Imus would have changed and then the company would not have lost all the revenue that Don Imus generated. They were not loyal to him and that is the sad comentary that we are left with. Bring him back to the airwaves so that we can continue to listen to a most wonderful man.

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April 18, 2007  10:55am

Wow. It always amazes me that anyone can deny that racism is still real. I really appreciated reading the article but the truth of the matter is that Imus is not seeking redemption and clearly does not see a need for it. It is a part of the sinful nature of people to validate and rationalize sin so just because Imus raises money for Children's causes or has the camp at his ranch does not mean he does not have serious character flaws (which have shown themselves repeatedly throughout the years). His remarks provided a picture of what is in his heart. I agree that this should be a lesson and an opportunity to educate and reach out to those who promote ignorance and show them the more excellent way. Anyone of any color who does not think racism and sexism are still a major thread woven into the very fabric of our society really should do some historical research. Institutionalized, legalized, rationalized centuries old opinions and culturally ingrained values and opinions do not die easily. That is why Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour. That is why I still get denied or delayed service in some dept. stores and get followed in others and I am a minister of the gospel with a mdiv and soon a dmin. Christians must offer REDEMPTION AND CORRECTION; JESUS DID. and not just for abortion and homosexuality.

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April 18, 2007  6:03am

Someone called Imus an equal opportunity offender. It was a major part of who the buffoon was. But, aside from his worldly, disrespectful humor, he has recently raised 27 million bucks for a children's hospital in Hackensack, which will primarily benefit minority children. His Children's cancer camps at his ranch is a tremendous act of compassion, costing him much financially and in hard labor, and welcoming all regardless of race or creed. No, I don't like what Imus does on the radio and TV; never have. But, when I, a Caucasian male, who has lived a non-prejudiced, color-blind life for 51 years, am left in a state of confusion, suddenly feeling as though I can't say anything regarding people of racial, religious or ethnic background different than my own without the fear of being called out for it, there is something grossly wrong with the picture. I feel as though racism is being re-invented where there was little of it left. Of course Imus' remarks were deplorable. But, the Jackson's and Sharpton's of this world continually incite racial remarks and slurs and create an air of racism, rather than being the purveyors of love, compassion, grace, mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation that they are expected to be as ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This could have been an opportunity to communicate such values, just as easily as it was made an opportunity to further infect society with intolerance and hatred. Jesus could have repaid evil with evil as well. But he chose a much better way, praise be to Him. It seems to me that these leaders would be more effective in their civil rights efforts, and much better espouse the values, hopes and dreams held by their fallen mentor Martin Luther King Jr. if they would ask themselves, what Jesus would do, before opening their mouths. I can hardly imagine Rev. King doing anything but rolling over in his grave if he knew what these charlatans are doing to his great name, not to mention the name of his Savior.

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April 17, 2007  10:01pm

I have no idea who this Imus is but I have run into his type many times over the years - and his type are not always just men. I feel that it is so unfortunate that a milestone that these women have striven for and reached is being clouded by someone's thoughtless remarks. As we have been taught many times, the tongue is a powerful weapon which can be very destructive if not used wisely. All we can do is pray that this incident will be a lesson to others at how hurtful their "cruel" and thoughtless remarks can be.

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April 17, 2007  7:02pm

In the past, IMUS has called African Americans "Gorillas, Apes, Coons" etc. This time, people took note when he called a group of college athletes "Nappy-headed Hos" because white and black Americans were outraged. We realize that the real reason IMUS had to go was that the sponsors pulled out and their money went with them. However, I must say that I'm proud that America is becoming more intolerant of those who make biased, sexist and racial statements against others who are different. If the African-American leaders don't protest, it will be a free for all against African Americans (we don't want that to happen do we?)

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Gregory Thomas

April 17, 2007  4:41pm

Clay, In response to your comments, I am equally offended by Christians who profess a oneness with Christ and who fail to speak out against the powers that keep people like Imus in vogue. I tire of hearing about Jackson and Sharpton. These are young women who have done nothing but be what society asks them to be. Imus and his producer viciously attacked them. This is a long history of so called Christians in America, speaking of Jesus and supporting the most vile aspects of human nature. An ignorance or denial of our history is the first problem for our nation. To my other point, many of the same politicians that the Christian Right support, are lock step with people like Imus. He mouthed the words that are put into action by White Christians everyday. Yet, we have hope, because of Jesus. I will not give up on Christ. I almost did this many years ago when I first encountered this as a freshman on my college campus. Having been invited to a fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting I asked them how they could speak of being Christians, wanting me to join in this group, while they were members of Fraternaties that allowed no blacks or jews? There have been some, no, many changes. But have the hearts of Christians who fail to speak up for social justice; who vote for politicians with the most recalcitrant records in regards to race; who look the other way and find two minor voices like Jackson and Sharpton are a bigger problem than the words of one who has done this repeatedly over the years( Gwen Ifill; Venus and Serena Williams). All it takes for America to have racial reconciliation is for those who say they are Christian to act like one.

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April 17, 2007  4:03pm

Brian, AMEN!!!!

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Christina Dixon

April 17, 2007  2:23pm

I really appreciate the balance in LaTonya's comments. Initially I was glad to see an effective response to Mr. Imus' comments. Too often there is an absence of effective response at the national level to things that are inappropriate. By the same token it was unrealistic for Mr. Imus to expect that an apology would cause the severity of his insensitivity to disappear. Nevertheless, I too was disappointed that there was an absence of a redemptive component from those who identify themselves with Christ. Kudos LaTonya you said it better than I did!

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April 17, 2007  2:09pm

While I hear your heart, I believe there has been something missing from this dialogue nationwide The term "nappy headed hos" did not originate in the white community but in the black community. Playing basketball in inner city playgrounds, I hear the "N" word used consistently by black men towards one another. Yet, if I used it (and I wouldn't) I would be castigated. The white community needs to be more sensitive, aware, and communicating with the black community, but perhaps the black community needs be more respectful and responsive to harm it does to itself through black media moguls, rappers, athletes, and it's young people. Perhaps the acceptance, even apathy you see in the white community over Imus' comments is reflective of whites hearing black "entertainers" use this terminology daily. Don Imus' comment's though unacceptable, only parroted what is said by African Americans to each other every day. Different races and nationalities need to understand each other, but perhaps the pastors, leaders, and the Jesse Jackson's and Al Sharptons of the world ought to focus on a work in the African American churches training the youth self-respect and the power of the tougue for death or life, and confronting black "entertainers" with the need to clean up their act.

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