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Friday, September 21, 2007
What Isiah said makes him worse than Imus

By Jemele Hill
Page 2

My favorite commercial growing up was the one Isiah Thomas did for a local electric company in Detroit.

In the commercial, Thomas -- known strictly to me back then as Zeke -- would go around town, giving people helpful reminders about unnecessary electrical use and warning us kids about dangerous wires.

Isiah Thomas
Isiah's in hot water, and it could cost him his job.
Too bad someone wasn't there to warn Thomas about the electrical wire he stepped on when he gave a frighteningly sexist and racist answer during his videotaped deposition in the sexual harassment suit that's making the New York Knicks' frosty split with Larry Brown seem like a mere misunderstanding.

In short, Thomas is now battling Don Imus for who has said the most insulting thing about black women. Thomas was asked if it's true that a white male executive referred to Anucha Browne Sanders -- a black female executive suing the Knicks because she claims she was fired for complaining about Thomas' unwanted sexual advances and inappropriate comments toward her -- as a "bitch."

Thomas denied the incident, adding, "A white man calling a black woman a bitch … that is a problem for me."

As a follow-up, Thomas was asked if he would be bothered if a black man used the same derogatory term -- which is pertinent since Thomas and Knicks point guard Stephon Marbury both have been accused of calling Sanders the b-word. "Not as much," replied Thomas, who has denied Sanders' accusations. "I'm sorry to say. I do make a distinction."

Let's be clear: Scores of black men don't run around calling black women "bitches," and they find the idea just as distasteful as the rest of us. And every self-respecting black woman I know would go Jet Li on anyone who ever called her the b-word.

But you don't get that impression from listening to Thomas -- or, for that matter, from Marbury, who admitted under oath he may have called Browne Sanders a bitch, just not a "black bitch," like she accused.

Nevertheless, Thomas is now on record giving quasi-approval to calling black women "bitches," and that's just as reprehensible and damaging as Imus labeling the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos." At least the Rutgers women got only one dose of Imus. Thomas was Sanders' boss, so she was exposed to his ignorance every day.

Those who really believed Imus picked up his insult from listening to hours of 50 Cent must have gotten a good laugh from Thomas' testimony, because acquitting the aging shock jock now seems legitimate. If one of the NBA's 50 greatest players thinks there is nothing wrong with disrespecting black women, then why should people like Imus have any fear of doing the same?

Black folks should be just as upset with Thomas (and Marbury) as they were with Imus. African-Americans should be canceling season tickets to the Knicks, and if Sanders' case is proven, Thomas should join Imus in the unemployment line.

If we let Thomas off the hook, African-Americans will have fallen into the same old trap: castigating white people for their racist behavior, but then giving a free pass to influential black people who are just as demeaning.

Besides, what Thomas said is far more detrimental to the black community than what Imus said! Thomas, as a high-level executive in charge of one of the most storied franchise in sports, wields considerably more influence over African-Americans than Imus. Black kids aspire to be like Thomas, not Imus.

As it is, black women have a difficult enough time dealing with barriers created by race and gender and the less-than-flattering images of us that have become a fixture in pop culture. Lots of rap songs aren't deemed complete unless a black woman is called a bitch. Black comedians can't complete a routine unless they refer to black women as bitches and hos. Networks like VH1 and BET regularly present black women as being no better than your average, garden-variety chickenhead.

Entertainment certainly can't be blamed for society's ills, much less those in the black community. But we don't need someone like Thomas -- once named one of the 50 Most Powerful Blacks in Sports -- co-signing stereotypes that Americans overdose on every day.

And in case you're wondering, Thomas has a daughter.

Thomas' words make for a much more difficult fight when someone like Imus comes along.

Do as I say, not as I do is a flawed philosophy that African-Americans have clung to for far too long. Instead, we should all embrace the profound words of Martin Luther King Jr.: Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Page 2 columnist Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.