For at least the past two decades, Don Imus and his merry band of radio assistants have been filling the airwaves with racial slurs and innuendoes on a daily basis. The recent remarks about the Rutgers University’s women basketball team is nothing new. And the culprit who should be sharing the condemnation with Imus is his executive producer, Bernard McGuirk.

In fact it was McGuirk who began the now-famous insult by referring to the women players as “hos,” with Imus following up with “nappy-headed hos.” In past broadcasts, McGuirk has done abusive imitations of African American poet Maya Angelou, and accused Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of trying to sound black in front of a black audience. “Clinton will have corn rows and gold teeth before her fight with Barack Obama is over,” said McGuirk.

The fact that Imus’ cable TV show has been dropped, and that his radio show remains in jeopardy, is yesterday’s news. What is pertinent and increasingly disturbing is the larger issue of stalled black/white relations in this country. There are those who believe that race relations in the U.S., despite the end of slavery in 1865 and Jim Crow in 1965, are as strained and inscrutable as ever.

Bernard Goldberg, a CBS reporter for 28 years, and now a writer, journalist, and commentator, suggested that there are far more serious racial problems than the Imus dust-up. Goldberg mentioned the high rate of black unemployment, the percentage of blacks in the prison system, and that HIV is the leading cause of death in the black population. When told of Goldberg’s comments, the Rev. Al Sharpton responded that since Goldberg wasn’t black, it was not his place to call attention to these problems.

Similarly, a number of talk show hosts and others have noted that the word “ho,” a street term for whore, is regularly heard in hip-hop and rap songs. It was even suggested that some black women considered being called a “ho” a term of endearment. The response from black composers, singers, and the Black Entertainment Network: it’s OK for blacks to use the term since they invented it and it belongs to them. It is only offensive when whites use the term.

Another glaring inconsistency: CBS radio may indeed fire Don Imus for his racial slur. Yet CBS/Viacom, which owns the stations Imus broadcasts on, plus Paramount Pictures and TV, Black Entertainment Network, Showtime, MTV, and other properties, also signs the paychecks of the rappers and hip-hoppers who use the term “ho” on an hourly basis. Go figure.

One of the ironies of this whole mess is that the Rutgers women’s basketball players have invited Imus to meet with them to discuss the ill treatment they received at his hands. Not a single player, nor the coach, Vivian Stringer, have called for Imus to be fired or to resign. They feel that if Imus meets each player, he will soon learn how blameless the players are, and how not a single one of them was deserving of his derision. One of the players, Essence Carson, is a straight-A student, a classical pianist, and a poised and balanced individual. When coach Stringer was asked if she thought Imus was a racist, she replied, “I’ll wait to meet him before making that decision.”

Imus’ true punishment, if he has an ounce of honor and fairness, will be to meet the blameless nice kids who make up the Rutgers team. A sports writer for The Washington Post, Sally Jenkins, has suggested that Imus be forced to buy season tickets to the Rutgers women’s basketball games and sit in the front row wearing a sweat shirt with a big letter R on it at every home game. “R” standing for racist, of course.

Firing Imus will simply mean that some other chain of radio stations will pick him up for his demonstrated drawing power. If that doesn’t happen, he can always go to satellite radio, as did Howard Stern, and where FCC regulations and other rules of civility and good taste do not exist. Curiously, Imus has profusely thanked and praised two other exiles to satellite radio, Ope and Anthony. It was these two shock jocks, it will be remembered, who staged a contest to see who could have sex in the most unlikely locale. The winners were a couple who allegedly did the big nasty in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. So if Imus considers Opie and Anthony supporters and compatriots, perhaps he really doesn’t get it.

Prediction: Imus will remain on the air in some capacity. The womens basketball team at Rutgers will always have as asterisk next to their name, denoting a negatory footnote to their identity. Big business will do whatever it takes to make more money, even if it widens the cultural divide. Just as Jesse Jackson survived his reference to New York City as “Hymietown,” Don Imus will continue to make at least the $12 million he currently earns each year. And finally, we will discover a wealth of “unfinished business” when it comes to prejudice, free speech, the power of the media, and the meaning, if there is one, of forgiveness.

Oh, by the way, during Imus’ two-week suspension, he will be replaced by former Boston newspaperman Mike Barnicle. It was Barnicle who referred to the marriage of former defense secretary William Cohen and Janet Langhart as “Mandingo.” That’s the title of a movie some thirty years ago about a sexual encounter between a black slave and a white woman.




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