the Change I Wish to See

...and whatever else it takes to find my pants

They asked for it so here it is.

"Don Imus is only doing what rap has done for decades."
There's your gauntlet; its suggestion synonymous with absurd. But if America really wants to have this debate, let's have it.

The claim:
Rappers use the same language Imus used and no one holds them accountable or vociferously demands change - certainly not with the ferocity that the cries against Imus display.

(Sigh.) Where do I begin?
I don't want to make the mistake of being trite, so let's first clarify the nature of the comments Imus made.

He, and notably his whole staff, referred to black female athletes as "nappy-headed." Ok. We live in a society, and as black Americans have ALWAYS lived in a society, that doesn't merely undervalue our beauty, but aggressively seeks to legally desecrate it. Black women have uniquely felt this sting. So to call our women "nappy-headed" in a derogatory fashion is to reify that division and to restate the hateful categorization of "black" as deplorable, disgusting... Maybe you haven't checked lately, but go open your dictionary. Any dictionary; the editor doesn't matter. Note how "black" is defined as dirty, dark, bad, etc. while "white" is quite the opposite. In short, Imus poured salt in a wound that we, quite frankly, are tired of having to mend. And we are tired of having to do the mending ourselves while the majority and its empathizers tell us "the cut isn't that bad." It's ours. We bite our lips and bear it. And so only we will determine its pain.

Then he called them "hos." Along the same lines as above, the hypersexualization of black women and their reduction to sexual chattel is precisely why his "joke" crossed the line. These Rutgers women, and black women across the globe, are human beings. They are doctors, lawyers, presidents, nation-leaders, mothers, daughters and sisters... No definition of "ho" allows for those identities. In fact, the word strips them, leaving them as exposed and vulnerable as the days we were dragged here.

But remember: more was said. An assistant said watching the Rutgers/Tennessee game was like watching the jigaboos play the wannabees. He and Imus laughed about how the women from Rutgers looked rough, especially as compared to the more attractive Tennessee players. The jigaboo/wannabee reference is directly tied to "School Daze," a Spike Lee joint, but more indirectly tied to the ever-present issue of the attractiveness of black skin. To suggest that the Rutgers women, on average with darker complexions, were rough and unattractive jigaboos, while remarking that the Tennessee women, on average with lighter complexions, were more attractive wannabees is indicative of a battle our women and men have been fighting for a time too long to count. And we seemed to all have missed that being a wannabee is nothing to be proud of. It suggests that the lighter-skinned Tennessee players preferred their complexion because it allowed them to pass or at least distance themselves from the darker Rutgers women. When is someone going to remember that Tennesee's women were insulted as well?

Nonetheless, my focus here is on the counter-argument that hip hop brought this all about... That the very word "ho" is rap construction... That no one is up in arms over the misogyny in rap...

"Ho" as rap construction: really? David Gregory et al.: really? The word is undeniably linked to "whore." So your argument is what, that black artists invented misogyny? Well here's some earth-shattering, breaking news: white men were beating, raping, killing, and verbally abusing women long before they ever encountered us. This isn't to say white men are singularly responsible for sex-based stratification. Men as a whole are responsible. Yet you ignore not just modern realities but the evidence of history in its entirety insofar as it is contrary to your own assertion. But, to be fair, I suppose that is what they call responsible journalism these days (while Pulitzer rolls in his grave).

No one is up in arms: Let me be so much later than the first to disagree. I want misogyny out of our culture. That includes a specific desire to see its end and remedy in hip hop. Has no one seen "Hip Hop: Beyond the Beats and Rhymes" by Byron Hurt? Has no one heard of the Take Back the Music campaign led by Essence? Has no one seen Def Poetry? Has no one heard the COUNTLESS underground and commercial artists whose songs cry for change? Was Jay-Z right: do you listen to music, or do you just skim through it? Oh no wait: you have been listening. When Nas released "Hip Hop is Dead" the nation was up in arms. But you saw that as black artists turning on themselves, not as black artists pushing for difference. So you don't remember. Let me remind you: people are CLAMORING for change. Real change, substantive difference. If you haven't been listening whose fault is that? If you've believed the distant critiques from outside the genre, don't displace your failure on us.

The truth is, this "argument" ignores the lesson our 4 year olds are able to learn: two wrongs don't make a right. Even if you don't buy that rap's change is inevitable because of internal criticism, your argument can't really be: "but everybody else does it." Can it? Is that your idea of intellectualism? The issue is not whether derogatory use by one group can be punished or otherwise treated differently than that by another. That approach has nothing to do with independent evaluations of wrongdoing. You don't get moral points for, you don't get to create an appropriate balance by, saying non-blacks should be able to degrade blacks in the same ways many of us already do to ourselves. Even if I was to concede, and this would be a large concession, that you're then treating people "equally", you're forgetting the point: YOU'RE NOT ACTUALLY SOLVING THE PROBLEM. The problem is not the imbalance in degradation; it's that the degradation exists at all. And so perpetuating such aggression could never be a band-aid, let alone a cure. In other words, black people realize that acquiring the respect we deserve is significantly tied to the dignity we portray. But even if we drop the ball... Even if we create derisions among ourselves with hateful rhetoric, what makes you think that's a legitimate reason for the majority to do the same?

I just find it SO interesting that when the issue is SO clear.. When it's so clear that the real issue is whether Imus, a rich white man with broadcast power, should be able to use such derogatory language, within days the topic has shifted. Now the national dialogue is a referendum on black music. Funny. Of course we all need to change. But once, just once: could we please, PLEASE maintain focus? Rap needs to change. Rap WILL change. But the necessity of creative speech to alter its message is not parallel to the necessity of political speech to alter its own. At least not today.