This is Don Imus. Somehow during recent presidential election cycles he acquired some sort of national prominence because he interviewed candidates on his morning radio program. I was vaguely aware of Mr. Imus and understood that his radio show was heard in New York. I have since read that he had been syndicated on a number of radio stations in different markets, although not in Chicago. In addition, until yesterday, Mr. Imus' program was also simulcast on the MSNBC cable television network.
He's lost that TV gig now because of some amazingly racist, stupid comments regarding the Rutgers women's basketball team, a team that played, and lost to Tennessee in the recent NCAA Women's Championship game. Late this afternoon, CBS announced it had fired Imus, too.
Mr. Imus realized the enormity of his blunder -- which was apparently a spectacularly poor attempt at humor -- shortly after he first made the remarks. His multiple apologies were not accepted. Instead, notables such as the Revs. Jackson and Sharpton agitated for his firing.
You won't have to search far on the Internet for detailed accounts of prior instances in which the Revs. Jackson and Sharpton have used offensive language. But the fact the Mr. Imus' critics have themselves on occasion fallen short of the standard to which they would hold Mr. Imus does not provide Mr. Imus with any defense, nor does it excuse Mr. Imus on this occasion.
Mr. Imus referred to the women athletes on the Rutgers basketball team as "nappy-headed hos."
I am uncertain if there is a standard way of rendering the plural of the slang word "ho," but I am entirely certain of the derivation of the word: It comes from the word "whore." This is not a nice word.
It is, however, a word in altogether too common usage. See, for example, U.S. v. Murphy, 406 F.3d 857, 859, n. 1 (7th Cir. 2005):
The trial transcript quotes Ms. Hayden as saying Murphy called her a snitch bitch “hoe.” A “hoe,” of course, is a tool used for weeding and gardening. We think the court reporter, unfamiliar with rap music (perhaps thankfully so), misunderstood Hayden's response. We have taken the liberty of changing “hoe” to “ho,” a staple of rap music vernacular as, for example, when Ludacris raps “You doin' ho activities with ho tendencies.”The meaning of this ugly word "ho" has been apparently been expanded, in some circles, to include women generally -- or at least to women who may not have saved themselves for marriage. (See the various definitions of "ho" in the Urban Dictionary if you require confirmation -- but, be advised, a visit to that site can quickly become unpleasant and disturbing.) Nevertheless, even if "ho" could be translated as meaning all women, it still could not be considered as anything other than hostile and misogynist.
News accounts of the Imus controversy have made it clear that the entire comment was offensive, not just the word "ho." But I recall the hit song from the late 1970's, "I Wish," by Stevie Wonder: "Looking back on when I/Was a little, nappy-headed boy/And my only worry/Was for Christmas what would be my toy...." That's not an expression I would feel comfortable using -- but I don't know that it falls within the same category as "ho" -- and I recall no particular controversy arising from Stevie Wonder's use of the term.
The bottom line here is that Mr. Imus' comments are stupid, certainly, and uncalled for, and not funny.
But given the low standards of modern day society, are they so far out of line that it should have cost the man his job?
To evaluate that, I went to the Billboard Singles Charts. From there, I did a quick "lyrics" search on some of today's current hits.
For those of you who remember when Lou Christie's "Lightnin' Strikes" was censored, please take a tranquilizer before proceeding....
Here are some of the lyrics to today's No. 5 hit, "This is Why I'm Hot," a little ditty by a very humble young man by the name of Mims:
I could sell a mill, sayin’ nothing on the track
I represent New York, I got it on my back
Niggaz say that we lost it, so I’ma bring it back
I love the Dirty Dirty, cause niggaz show me love
The ladies start to bounce as soon as I hit the club
But in the Midwest, they love to take it slow
So when I hit that shit, I watch ’em (get it on the flo’)
And if you need it hyphy, I’ll take it to the Bay
’Frisco to Sac-Town, they do it everyday
Compton to Hollywood, soon as I hit LA
I’m in the low-low, I do it the Cali way....
Even I understand that it might be unfair to look at one 'song' and generalize from there. So, I looked up the lyrics to the current number one song. "Give It to Me" is a collaborative effort by an entity referred to as "Timbaland Featuring Nelly Furtado & Justin Timberlake." Mr. Timberlake was once prominent in a "boy band" known as 'N Sync and was more recently famous for exposing Janet Jackson's pasty during a recent Super Bowl. The following lyric, however, is part of Ms. Furtado's contribution to the recording:
I'm real as they come if you don't know why im fly-y-y-y-y
seen ya try to switch it up but girl you ain't got to
I'm the wonderwoman let me go get my ropes
I'm a supermodel and mummy, si mummy
amnesty international got bankrupt (im on top, on lock)
you love my ass and my abs and the video called promiscuous
my style is miticulous-s-s-s-s
Who says that love songs have gone out of fashion? At least the "n-word" is not used.
We could go down the entire hit parade, but it would only reinforce the conclusion that you have already reached, namely, that the reputations of Messrs. Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Jule Styne et al. will not be diminished by any song likely to become popular in the immediate future.
We come, at last then, to my feeble defense of Mr. Imus: Why is it that he is singled out for his crude and insensitive remarks when crude and insensitive are apparently the twin pillars of modern popular culture? Are words like the ugly words that Mr. Imus used only wrong when they are spewed by a scary-looking, over-age white guy with hair that would embarrass even Donald Trump -- but OK if they are used in a rap 'song'? Why?
I do not condone Mr. Imus' remarks -- but the words he used in his feeble attempt at humor are apparently not beneath current contemporary standards.
I wonder, indeed, if anything is.
If firing Mr. Imus were the beginning of a trend to clean up the filth which passes for modern 'culture' I might say hooray. But will the Revs. Jackson and Sharpton now move on to challenge the gangsta rappers and their corporate purveyors? Can I look forward to publishing lyrics from Top 10 songs on my blog in future without a "warning" label? Will our kids be inspired by the firing of Mr. Imus to delete from their iPods all the 'rhymes' with undeleted expletives celebrating drugs, crime and loveless sex?
Then perhaps Mr. Imus was unfairly singled out.
The defense rests.