I spent the morning reading about Don Imus's remarks on "Imus in the Morning," words that got him suspended for two weeks from radio, I found myself slightly confused about the narrowness and nature of the outrage. Of the commentators who have attacked the racist nature of his remarks, very few (that I've come across) have labeled it "sexist." Can we no longer say that a man who dismisses women as "ho's" is making a sexist remark without being branded a reactionary feminist (not that there's anything wrong with that label)? Why isn't anyone discussing the issue in this context? Would his termination be a question if he'd made the remark about a male basketball team?
Imus defended himself, noting that he calls his wife "the green ho" (delightful) and, in context, the comments were inoffensive because the show "makes fun of everybody." Now, I defend Imus's right to call his wife whatever pet names he wants, but calling his wife a "ho" and referring to an entire women's basketball team "nappy-headed ho's" are qualitatively different acts, for several reasons. First, he knows his wife personally and if she's okay with him referring to her as a "ho," well, that's between them (although I don't love the message it sends to his audience about interpersonal relationships). But considering the intersection between race, sex, and sexuality in this country's history-- that Black women have had their sexuality commodified-- the racism of the remarks cannot be separated from their sexism: "nappy" cannot be separated from "ho."
Orange Tangerine and NOW both recognize the sexist implications of his joke (although Kim Gandy should be forbidden from using the non-word "oughta" in a statement. Kim, you're the President of NOW, not a blogger or the editor of Cosmo. Stop it.), as does Desiree Cooper (who ties the outrage into the controversy over Title IX).
Charles Karel Bouley misses the point on the Huffington Post. Yes, speech is protected under the First Ammendment. For all those who skipped Government Class in high school, that means that the government cannot censor his speech, except under certain conditions (do you hear that, FCC? Back off.) But those calling for his termination are not infringing on his free speech and if NBC permanently takes him off the air, that's not censorship: it's business.
Should NBC fire him? That'd be relatively disingenuous, considering that Imus's remarks have a history of inciting controversy, if not because of their racial content, then because of their misogynistic, homophobic, and nativist content. He's a shock jock in the line of Howard Stern, so of course he's going to be offensive; he always has been.
Does that excuse his remarks? No, I think he should be decried for saying things that are sexist, bigoted, and contribute to the culture of hostility in this country. We'd all do well to stand up and say: Imus, shut up, you bigoted SOB. You are a poor man's George Carlin and we're tired of listening to you excuse your unfunny rants as "comedy." Do I think he should be denied the right to say those things? Not legally. Legally he can say whatever he wants and I'll defend that right to the end of days. The real question is if NBC does fire him, is that censorship or infringement on freedom of speech, as Charles Karel Bouley implies? No, it just removes him from a national podium, which NBC, as a private organization in a free market economy, has every right to do. Imus has been spewing venom on air for 30 years. Anyone who has heard his radio program knows he's a shock jock. If NBC decides that Imus no longer has any entertainment value or that his particular, tasteless brand of humor is too vulgar for their evolved and enlightened programming, they should fire him.
And for every writer, blogger, and talking head who point to rap music, Chris Rock, and others who regularly use similar phrasing in their music, comedy, and writing and say, "If he were Black, say Chris Rock, Mo'Nique, Marsha Warfield, this wouldn't be happening," to you, I say: it's all about context. Surely, there is language that is appropriate and acceptable in some contexts and not in others and coming from some people and not others. I'm tired of this response to racial slurs. Read Kant's Critique of Aesthetic Judgment and then see if your arguments hold water. Ridiculous human beings.
I'll give Imus the last word, since I know he likes that:
"Here's what I've learned: that you can't make fun of everybody, because some people don't deserve it. And because the climate on this program has been what it's been for 30 years doesn't mean that it has to be that way for the next five years or whatever because that has to change, and I understand that."
See? Even Imus understands.