Thursday, April 12, 2007

Reply to A Comment on the Don Imus Post

I started writing a comment, then decided just to blog it:

Solshine wrote:Things would have been so much different if he just said something like, "I think the ladies on Tennessee are prettier than those on Rutgers" with none of that School Daze "Wannabes" and "nappy hair" stuff.

I began to reply with the following:

Yep. That changes the whole aspect. It would still tick off a good number of women--that whole, oh, we're only valuable if we're pretty, never mind that we kick athletic hiney--especially feminists who lecture on or write about or protest over the stifling box that the pressure to be beautiful places many women into.

But back to the original phrasing: I posted over at another blog, where the person was basically saying that cause rappers call women bitches and hos, why should Imus get more flack, yadda yadda. (I may be paraphrasing poorly.)

I said, essentially, well, a singer generally calling women (as a group) bitches and hos is nasty. I think a lot of those rappers are idiots, posturing their misogyny for megabucks, but it's still general. What Don Imus did, what he said, was an insult to a specific group of women, and as such, it trespasses into the territory of slander. He called SPECIFIC women the equivalent of "ugly black whores". And I figure some with less class would sue his butt for it. And I don't see how anyone could excuse it with, "Oh, it was just a joke."

I made the point that if the team had been fair-skinned, blond gals with names like Schmidt and Becker, and the radio personality had called them "albino Nazi sluts", it would be just as unacceptable, and the gals, their families, their supporters, their coaches, and assorted folks of Teutonic coloring (not to mention albino folks) would take offense.

It's just nasty to call women ugly and whores. And it has a historically charged taint when it's aimed at women of color.

Look, I grew up in the sixties aware that I didn't look a dang thing like those women in commercials, magazines, advertisements, etc. And the message was there, subtle, but pervasive: You are inferior to white women in looks. Your hair isn't as straight and smooth. Your skin isn't as rosy and anglo. Your nose isn't as thin and straight. Your eyes aren't as blue.

If you didn't grow up ethnic in a time when ethnic faces NEVER showed up in the venues and periodicals that judged beauty, when all you read in school was poetry and stories of blonde princesses with blue eyes and milky skin and rosy cheeks, you can't understand how much of a weight that is on your very young psyche.

Your whole society is telling you that because you're brown and dark and have certain features and your hair is "nappy", you just are second or third class. That stays with you.

It takes a lot of growing up and perspective to start to throw that off.

Well, those are young women who have grown up in a time when more women like them are considered beautiful and paraded on catwalks (You wouldn't have seen Alek Wek in the sixties or seventies, I can tell you) and in films and in Vogue and Elle. They've had the legacy of "Black is Beautiful". For Latinas, Rachel Ticotin showed up, her dusky skin and Hispanic face good enough to get the guy. Jennifer Lopez made it fine to have a big, Caribbean butt. Big lips became the rage, women rushing to get puffed up in the pucker, and then Angelina Jolie made it hip to have uberbig lips. (I remember Latin women using makeup to make their lips look THINNER.)

I didn't feel comfortable in letting my hair curl and fuzz naturally until the late seventies, when it became fashionable to do so. (Remember the hair on Barbra Streisand A Star Is Born?)

So, today, it's much easier to look like I do and like those Rutger girls do. We see ourselves "out there". We see ethnic and black gals on America's Top Model. We see chunky models, even. It's not all Cheryl Tiegs and Christie Brinkley and Twiggy and Farrah.

Then someone comes out and drags that nasty pile of moldy old bones out of the closet. You just don't look good, girlie. You someone who came from African stock. (Please, we all know what "nappy" is code for.)

And there you go. The white man telling the black woman she just isn't hot enough. No, go get your nose thinned, your hair relaxed, and then, maybe, you can measure up.

I spent years having an Irish-American gang taunt me as I went, and as I returned, from school or wherever. The ugly little spic girl. Cause I didn't look like them. I became terrified of leaving the house. I became even more introverted. Being the only Hispanic kid around for them to poke fun at.

So, maybe I'm sensitive to having women judged based on attributes that are race-specific: color, hair texture, etc.

Don Imus called high-achieving, fit, attractive women "nappy headed hos". Say it plainly: Ugly black whores. Black sluts with bad hair. That's what he called them.

And, by association, that's what he called all women of color with non-white hair.

You bet it pissed me off. That 9, and 12, and 14 year old is still in here. She remembers.

Look at the footage. Those fine young women were hurt and upset. And their faces told more than anything the coach said. And there's history in that hurt, and sometimes, one phrase brings a lot of nasty things back from the past.

Note: I'm not one of those calling for firing or exile or execution or whatever. I think we need to give folks room to apologize and do whatever restitution they can. I"m big on free speech, even free speech that deserves outcry. I have not listened much to Imus, I don't find him either funny or witty or entertaining, but I'm guessing he'll be more sensitive to racial slurs in future. I do start to worry when people are immediately dismissed or under threat of losing their livelihoods for inappropriate comments, whether it be that guy from Grey's Anatomy or this one. Jesse Jackson didn't get cast out of the spotlight for his anti-semitic remarks. I've heard plenty of really awful racist and sexist remarks from every group out there in my 47 years, including an ex-boyfriend's Jewish mom, a local German athlete, some relatives in my Cuban clan, gay schoolmates,feminists, Asians, and black co-workers.I've been a target of some of them. But you give people a chance to realize it hurts, give them room to express remorse and/or make amends, and reconcile as much as you can. Then...You move on. Like I said before--we all say dumb, dumb things. We don't always mean them in the cruelest sense. I happen to believe Imus is sorry. And that's good.


mia said...

some really great points... read another post that starts with these quotes, positioned for effect I guess
“Anyone who makes a living in broadcasting should be afraid. If the holy hypocrites are successful and the mumbling malcontent is axed — who will they target next?”
Joe Leonardi

‘It is our feeling that this is only the beginning. We must have a broad discussion on what is permitted and not permitted in terms of the airwaves’.
The Reverend Al Sharpton

It is effective because I read the whole column which is an interesting read

Daniel Ausema said...

As a white male I probably can't fully feel what you do at this, but at least I can say that I fully agree with you, that such a thing angers me.

And in something related that's come up various times recently on different forums...what's with the white-as-default that's so prevalent in fantasy writing? This blue-eyed, white boy is tired of every person I'm supposed to cheer for having "striking blue eyes." (This is more in stories I critique and come across in smaller magazines than in professionally published stories...but it remains there in published work in some of the more escapist, pop fantasy lite books.) I mean, I find my son's non-blue (hazel? grey? brownish? green-flecked?) eyes incredibly striking and beautiful. And there's so many other shades of skin color too that are beautiful.