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Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Take a stand against indecency and cruelty

By Jemele Hill
Page 2

The oversexed Jezebel. The welfare mother. The mammy. And now the latest catch phrase to be added to the lexicon of stereotypes about black women: the nappy-headed ho.

Thank you, Don Imus, for your valuable contribution.

If it were up to me, security would have escorted the longtime radio jock out of his CBS Radio cocoon with belongings in tow days ago. But for now, I'll have to settle for a two-week suspension that doesn't begin until next week. That'll show him.

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Days have passed since Imus, executive producer Bernard McGuirk and sports announcer Sid Rosenberg took turns taking cheap shots at the Rutgers women's basketball team, but I'm still boiling because too many people continue to defend Imus behind lame free-speech arguments -- remember, speech is free, but consequences are not -- and the idea that black women just don't know a good joke when they hear one. Tell you what, if this "nappy-headed ho" comment is as harmless as some of you say it is, say that phrase to your wives and girlfriends tonight (or even a woman on the street). If they laugh, I'll write an entire column about how humorless I am.

Imus' comments were harmful to all women -- especially for female athletes who still struggle to gain acceptance in our society -- but they really cut black women deep.

Our looks have been the subject of ridicule for decades. While history has kindly portrayed white women as bastions of purity and decency, black women have been characterized as hypersexed and indecent since the 17th century. So the phrase "nappy-headed" didn't bother me nearly as much as the "ho" part.

In case you're wondering, I would have been equally outraged if Imus were black, Asian, Latino, Portuguese or Italian. The ethnicity or skin color of the perpetrator matters none.

And since some of you -- actually, a lot of you -- have done the predictable thing and used Imus' predicament as a platform to hold African-Americans responsible for hip-hop, I'll briefly address that. Although I hope you know hip-hop didn't become the No. 1 music genre in the world because only black folks support the music.

For the record, I am equally offended by the rappers who make music videos and songs that demean women -- although hip-hop artists didn't invent the concept of objectifying women.

Many African-Americans have been outspoken about those destructive elements of hip-hop. Instead of just taking his lumps, Imus tried to challenge Al Sharpton on his stance on hip-hop when Imus appeared on Sharpton's radio show Monday. I don't stick up for Al Sharpton often because I consider him an agitator, but Sharpton's views on "gangsta" rap have been consistent and clear.

Last week, Sharpton and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons held a public protest against rapper Tony Yayo -- who is associated with 50 Cent -- for his alleged assault of the 14-year-old son of a rival record company executive. Sharpton even called for a 90-day, FCC-mandated ban on all gangsta music.

But that doesn't air on CNN and Essence magazine's Take Back the Music crusade -- a nationwide campaign that promotes up-and-coming hip-hop artists with positive values -- and it doesn't make the front pages of newspapers.

But none of this has anything to do with Imus, whose apology I can't accept or take seriously. Imus has become a Hall of Fame broadcaster using race-baiting, offensive tactics. He is routinely offensive to people of color and women, and if he needs to lose his job to understand that there is no place for that, so be it.

As a society, there are times when we need to stand together against indecency and cruelty.

Jemele Hill, a Page 2 columnist and writer for ESPN The Magazine, can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.