[A rebut to the white thinking behind Dr. Earl Ofari Hutchinson’s “So who enabled Mr. Imus”?]
Out of my great respect for Dr. Earl Ofari Hutchinson’s life works, I will not lambaste him as I should for his “white thinking” on the Imus controversy. Here, “white thinking” means the thinking of a black apologist for racism- at least, that the way we of the Old School Black Panther Party defined it. White thinking has nothing to do with color of skin. It is an ideology.
At the base of racism is the ideology of “white supremacy”. Here “white” means color of skin. As Dr. Earl Ofari should know, it is a very old doctrine. Bigotry is just an overt expression of white racism. This topic of white racism versus black racism was heavily debated during the 1960s. According to Malcolm X, there is no such thing as black racism. Mike Wallace of CBS, in an interview, accused Malcolm X of being a “black racist”. Malcolm, on the other hand, explained that racism was a uniquely white culture phenomenon, based on the ideology of white supremacy.
Where was Dr. Earl Ofari when this famous interview occurred? I am 60 and I remember clearly, because we, black college students, took up the same position as Malcolm. But we have had to live with the “black racist” myth since Mike Wallace put it out over the airways.
Malcolm’s thinking on the issue was too complex, politically, for most black people to understand. In a scenario he used of racist exchange between a white man and a black man was this: “You call me a nigger and I call you a cracker, what am I doing except reacting to your racism by stoop as low as you. But that does not make me a black racist? No, I am a reactionary to racism.”
Where was Dr. Earl Ofari’s brilliance when Mr. Wallace coined the phrase “black racist” and stuck us with it? It has now become a popular reactionary phrase. This is why we certified the definition of Racism in the international community through the United Nation to mean the ideology of white supremacy. As Malcolm concluded, “It is impossible for a black person to be a white supremacist.” But there are “house niggers” who apologize for the sins of the master.
Back to “white thinking” blacks, we all know that it is racist to think all black people look alike. Racists used to say, “It makes no difference who’s guilty. They all look alike anyway.” That was racism in the practice of southern lynch mob justice. We all recognize that kind of racism. Bigots don’t hide their sentiments.
But we, African-Americans, don’t all look alike- neither do we all think alike, share the same ideological concepts, culture, values, or music. Some black people are intellectually “white”, and some white people culturally “black”. That’s why they call this the melting pot. In a color blind society, we all begin to look and sound more a more alike.
If Imus had imitated the rhetoric of black rap artists, the hip-hop crowd would have accepted him. But this was a mimic on his part, a blackface of sorts with the white man using the black man’s slurs and slanders- a downgrading mimic at that, overtly racist, in the context of the radio dialogue. It wasn’t “nappy-headed ‘hoes” that tripped Imus up. It was the humiliating insinuation that the white girls on the Tennessee basketball team were cuter than the “nappy-headed” black “’hoes” of Rutgers. Then he said the Rutgers girls were some “rough ‘hoes”, which historically has devalued black women’s femininity, suggesting that the black girls were less sexy.
In that context, whom would your heart have favored to win the basketball contest- the cute white girls of Tennessee or the black nappy-headed ‘hoes of Rutgers? Racism affects the hearts and minds of people in very subtle ways. I cannot watch the ball game without cheering for the underdog Rutgers girls because they have so much against them, including a race-bait beauty contest.
Back to racism in Imus comments about the basketball game- in essence, it was a game, in the mind of the racist, to prove “white supremacy”, that the cure white girls could whip the tough and ugly, nappy-headed, black girls, just as Hitler used sport to prove “Aryan supremacy”. Maybe Dr. Earl can remember that in the debate on racism during the 1960s- the comparison of white supremacy to Aryan nationalism.
Now, how does all this compare to hip hop? That’s the point: It doesn’t. How did the Imus flap get refocused on the sins of rap artists? Here is where the apologists, like Earl Ofari, come in. Instead of letting Imus stew in his own juices, for things said out of his own mouth, and take his own medicine like a man, we get some people, blacks included, in shifting the blame onto hip hop. Earl Ofari is so terribly out of the loop with black thinkers around the country that it can be said he has his head in the sand.
The Hip Hop Summit has been trying for years to clean up rap artists’ language. The problem is complicated by a market demand fed by record producers. Also, there is the issue of constitutional censorship. This is why we have worked to get artists to voluntarily clean up their language, instead of fight the constitutional question of what constitutes obscenity. Know for sure, there is a pimp subculture embedded in the hip-hop community, just as it was in the black community during the 1960s.
Where was Earl Ofari then?
Back to the fact that all black people are not the same, we are not all “pimps and players” (something we made perfectly clear to white America back in the day). But they suppressed the black (militant) voice and allowed the pimps and players to become role models in the African-American community. This is why some rap artist boast of being “a pimp all of my life”. On the other hand, part of the hip-hop generation grew up under the guidance and tutelage of Black Panthers.
But, America chose pimps and players over revolutionaries. This was evident in the production and promotion of sex laden blaxploitation films, which promoted pimps, sex, drugs, prostitution, and vices of all sorts as being endemic to black culture. This, itself, led to a series of black protests. We thought it not necessary for a black woman, like Pam Greer, to be forced into nude scenes just to sell a movie. White and black filmmakers alike thought otherwise. Nevertheless, we had some positive effect in cleaning up Hollywood and the silver screen.
On the other hand, there were blacks that remained intellectually aloof and detached from the battle for the hearts and minds of the ghetto.
We, African-Americans, have always insisted in straightening our own house. We don’t need ABC Charles Gibson to throw up Snoop Dogg in our face to cover for Imus. Snoop Dogg is a pimp, and pimps have whores, and some pimps are quite successful at their craft. But pimps and players are not the whole of black culture and nor an expression of black values. And all rap artists do not use vulgarity. Media empires like MTV and VH-1 prefer nudity and vulgarity, and even the Hip Hop Summit condemns them for this type of exploitation.
But how do we balance the need for morality and virtue in our culture with the constitutional protection of free speech? This dilemma is not our doing. And, saying that black people condone the use of profanity because we cannot stop it on constitutional grounds, is a false impression. White letter-writers are clamoring over a “double standard” used against Imus, as if there is an equal opportunity to use offensive language. If there is a double standard, it is this: bad is universally bad and good is universally good. You cannot use one bad to cover for another, as Earl Ofari attempts to do.
With a broad brush and a scattergun condemnation of the hip-hop culture, the younger generation is being held responsible for more than their share of social woes. Imus is not hip-hop, though he used pimp language.
Dr. Earl Ofari removes the mote out of the eye of hip-hop and leaves the beam in the eye of America. Notice he takes “a light sampling” of some “gangster” rap songs that uses offensive sexist slurs. Congratulations, to him. He hit the nail right on the head- isolated, individual recordings that need to be censored- just like Imus is an isolated, individual case of racism that needs to be censored.
But by coving for the sins of Imus by diverting the public’s attention to Earl Ofari puts the horse before the cart. If he were “blacker”, he would not even have suggested, “that violence, mistreatment and verbal abuse of black women is socially acceptable”, not even to Snoop Dogg, who had a few [expletive deleted] things to say about being associated with Imus’ flap.
Come on, Earl! Open your black eyes. Black men don’t call black women “nappy-headed ‘hoes” unless they a looking for a fight from the sisters. Black women, who voices have been stifled in all this, have been rapping also about the same insults and about not taking anymore. Black women have a way of setting men straight, Imus included. But when rap music sells, be it a black woman or man, the artist gets his or her due base on the merit of its artistic expression, not its insult. And, besides sometimes there is a social message in the rap lyrics that need to be heard.
So, I am not all for banning rap, if no more that for the furious exchange of dialogue between the black male and black female rap artists. Sometimes behind-closed-doors conversations between black men and black women get poetic license in the entertainment world. Remember, black men also take a lot of verbal abuse from black women. It would be a “double standard” to let Imus escape the black woman’s scorn. [The Rutgers women were nicer than the ghetto sister would have been. Why can’t he take his own medicine, without the rest of America getting sick?]. Don’t you know: Every culture has its sexism problem.
It is sexism to denigrate women as whores in speech or treat them as whores and slaves. But ghetto women sometimes allow themselves to be exploited, to be treated as sex slaves and called ‘hoes, just to bask in the shadow of a successful pimp. And, some rap artists are successful pimps. The women around them are gold diggers. Again, not all black men are pimps and not all black women are whorish gold diggers. But this is not the way the large part of the white community see it. They turn on their TV and what black role model do they see? They see “pimps and players”, for the most part, while they chide, reject, and condemn the articulate and civil speaking Al Sharptons and Jesse Jacksons.
Where do white people get off in trying to pick and choose black leaders for black people? Even if I, as a black man, totally hated Sharpton’s guts, I would not deny that he is a genuine voice for a mass constituency of black people. [I wish that I could tell how many times they tried to dethrone Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by hate-mongering, slandering, and discrediting his civil rights efforts. And, who, by the way, would deny people their “legitimate” representative voice except a racist and those who apologize for racism. [It must be remembered that the first to take up the argument of whites in the 1950s that MLK was moving too fast were black preachers who distanced themselves from the movement. Then after the assassination, everybody pretended to be on the civil rights bandwagon.]
Earl Ofari writes, “[Imus] is the softest of soft targets.” Great observation! I believe in eliminating the “soft targets” first. But then he says, “The same can’t be said of the black rap shock jocks.” In this view, I presume, that we have dispensed with the soft target, and it is now high time to take on the hard target (black rap shock jocks). Again, I ask, where has Ofari been during all the Hip Hop summits? He gives America the false impression that this vulgarity in rap music and culture has been going on without black opposition and protest (as if black protest is a mass media event nowadays). Therefore, we, civil rights revolutionaries, have been working quietly behind the scene and within the ranks of hip-hop to convert youth to a cleaner, more moral value system. And, it has had some positive effects.
It is patently false to say, “Some blacks cite a litany of excuses, such as poverty, broken homes and abuse, to excuse the sexual abuse and violence (both physical and rhetorical) by top male artists. These explanations for the misdeeds of rappers and singers are phony and self-serving.”
Poverty, broken homes, and abuse are realities of this society, not excuses. What factors into a person’s behavior and language, we can only speculate. But this example is no different than a white congressman trying to seduce young underage pages by claiming that he, too, had been sexually molested as a child. This rationalization is psychotic, and psychosis is no excuse for criminal behavior, unless you are legally insane or mentally impaired.
Herein is the problem. I have seen television executives putting the psychotics and mentally impaired in front of the camera as representatives of a mass culture. Some are so high on drug or drunk on alcohol that they hardly know what they are saying themselves, and how stupid they sound. But this is the image the media wishes to portray to the American public. And, in the end, it only perpetuates racial stereotyping. If you put black people on Jerry Springer, what racial impression will people get?
Imus off-the-cuff remark literally passes the torch of racism to the next generation. As a result of his insensitive remark, some black women might have to look into the mirror again and remind themselves that they are not ugly, that black is beautiful, and kinky hair is not a shame. This is Imus’ potential damaging impact upon black women. White women, on the other hand, can reassert themselves as being the standard of beauty by which all women should be measured, simply because Imus said that they were “cuter”.
Imus hit all women by referring, so much as one woman, as a ‘hoe. Even white women feel sexually discriminated against, because of a male-dominated, chauvinist culture that treat all women as inferiors. Male locker room jocks, black and white, demean women in general, behind their backs. Man law? Man law. It is not just rap artists, but a culture of sexism.
Should a black man be offended by Imus comments? Insinuating black women as ugly reinforces the white concept of beauty to which many black men have been drawn, and also in rejecting black women as mates. It feeds self-hatred by holding a white beauty standard. Was Imus characterization of black women a subliminal suggestion, accepted as fact and internalized as value?
Racism should not affect black men, not if they are grown up. Black Panthers were taught to stand, toe-to-toe, face-to-face, with people who called African-American “niggers” to their face. Big boys do not cry. They learn how to deal with it in a non-violently, non-confrontational way, but with dignity. So what if Imus were to call me “nappy-headed”? If he wants to talk like a nigger, then he is subject to black judgment.
You just don’t say anything you want, white boy. Black men don’t just say anything they want also, not without consequences. The line in the sand is not a “double standard”, but a standard based on integrity and the better part of discretion. There is no equal opportunity to insult.
Hip-hop kids do not call me a “nigga”, though I understand the street camaraderie in its connotation. They do not call me nigga because they know from when I came, and this is unacceptable to Old School revolutionaries. They give us a bit more respect. But to the rest of the Earl Ofaris of the world, it’s an intentional in-your-face verbal assault, because their thinking is “too white”. Nigga is not nigger, neither in meaning nor in spelling. It’s Ebonics, a language some Negroes never studied and understood.
I speak three languages- black (Ebonics), white (intelligentsia), and ghetto (excuse my “French”). I could have gone ghetto in lambasting Earl Ofari on his white ideological apology for Imus. But for the sake of working on a common problem about moral language in the black cultural expressions, I forego, in hopes that he will let the Imus matter rest as a “tub on it own bottom”, and not drag hip-hop into the discussion. Hip-hop, I believe, is an issue for another day in the Afrosphere community.
[For the rest of this discussion, see “What they are saying about Imus”, Parts 1 and 2]
Editor’s Note: Racism plays a prominent role in criminal justice. Yet most southern Anglos don’t get it. Without recognizing the essence of racism, it would be hard to understand racial injustice in the criminal justice system. The story of Shaquanda Cotton of Paris, Texas, the 15-year old high school student sent to prison for up to seven years for pushing a teacher’s aide is a classic example of racism leads to black children being criminalized by schools and sent to prison. Zero tolerance is applied to black children while white children, like the white teenager who burned her family’s house down receiving probation around the same time and same city, Paris, Texas.
Without understanding racism, it would be hard to stop the railroad of disparity in punishment and incarceration of blacks. The revelations of all the innocent black men sent to prison from Dallas County shows the difference between individual bigotry and institutional racism. [UN Definition of Racism]
Eddie Griffin, BASG
Fort Worth, Texas