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The Don Imus Controversy Essay

On April 4, 2007, Don Imus, the host of MSNBC’s Imus in the Morning, called the Rutgers University women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos” (Media Matters, n. pag. ). Shortly before he made this statement, Bernard McGuirk, the show’s executive producer, referred to the team as “hard-core hos” (Media Matters, n. pag. ). Imus’ comment sparked a national outcry, as eight African-American and two white players represented the team at the time of the incident. Although he was suspended shortly afterwards and was eventually fired, the debate regarding the boundaries of free speech continued.

Indeed, what exactly can artists and entertainers can get away with saying in every medium, be it radio, television or music? The First Amendment of the United States Constitution is very clear regarding its advocacy of free speech: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise of thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

(n. pag. ) Parties who are in favor of Imus often cite the aforementioned provision. They also pointed out the hypocritical manner in which his case was dealt with. They considered it unfair that black people, particularly hip-hop artists, can use terms such as “nigger,” “ho,” “bitch” and “motherfucka” in their songs and music videos, while white artists cannot. Blacks can always get away with racial slurs against whites, but not the other way around. It is true that Imus’ comment was done in poor taste.

However, he was merely echoing a term that was taken from the lexicon on rap culture, which, through constant exposure, became a part of the mainstream cultural lexicon (Goldstein, n. pag. ). Detractors of Imus may claim that “(he) was (a) host of a radio show that focused on the real news of the day, while hip-hop is a fictionalized form of cultural expression” (Goldstein, n. pag. ). But this argument will just expose the real problem – slander is fine as long as it is used only in fiction, which, ironically, was derived from real life (Goldstein, n. pag. ). Hip-hop and racial slurs against whites are forms of story lines.

According to the article “I Did Not Get That Job Because of a Black Man…”: The Story Lines and Testimonies of Color-Blind Racism (2004), story lines are accounts bearing a common scheme and wording that are passed around a given society. Story lines, especially those with a racial slant, closely resemble legends or fables because they are usually based on impersonal and generic arguments (Embrick, Lewis and Bonilla-Silva, 556). In addition, story lines are readily available, ideological and explain collective social realities through personal experiences (Embrick, Lewis and Bonilla-Silva, 557).

In the context of racism, story lines are interpretations of how a dominant race or culture (e. g. whites) views another ethnicity which they deem “inferior” (e. g. blacks) (Embrick, Lewis and Bonilla-Silva, 561). Therefore, hip-hop and racial slurs against whites are reflections of how whites view blacks. The sexual and violent nature of most hip-hop songs and music videos may affirm the ethnocentric belief of the whites that all black men are thugs and all black women are promiscuous. Hip-hop lyrics’ being full of cuss words can be attributed to the misconception that blacks are uneducated.

The racial slurs that blacks hurl against whites may be construed by the latter as an affirmation of their conviction that the former cannot appreciate “civilization. ” But these ideas backfire on whites as soon as they adopt anything that is associated with blacks, such as hip-hop and ethnic affronts. Since these are already manifestations of white ethnocentrism, their practice by the whites will instantly be construed as racism. Thus, when a black man calls a white man “white trash,” there is minimal opposition. But when a white man calls a black man “nigger,” there is public outrage.

Story lines are the concrete manifestations of a phenomenon called the “new racism” or “color-blind racism” (Embrick, Lewis and Bonilla-Silva, 559). The “new racism” referred to discrimination that is no longer overtly practiced. Rather, it is disenfranchisement that is hiding under the cloak of “equality. ” Furthermore, “new racism” is reliant on traditional racist discourse to support the racial status quo (Embrick, Lewis and Bonilla-Silva, 561). The elements of “new racism” are the following: 1. The increasingly covert nature of racial discourse and practices; 2.

The avoidance of racial terminology and the ever growing claim by whites that they experience ‘reverse racism’; 3. The elaboration of a racial agenda over political matters that eschews direct racial references; 4. The invisibility of most mechanisms to reproduce racial inequality; 5. The re-articulation of a number of racial practices characteristic of the Jim Crow period of race relations. (559) As these elements showed, discrimination is turned into a vague concept. The centrality of discrimination is eradicated – blacks are made to believe that it is the whites who are being “discriminated” upon.

In addition, the blacks are brainwashed to accept that their marginalization stemmed from how they expressed their culture (Embrick, Lewis and Bonilla-Silva, 560). By packaging themselves as violent, materialistic and licentious under the guises of “art” and “equality,” the blacks are advertising themselves as failures. It is true that freedom of expression is one of the hallmarks of a progressive society. But this freedom is not without limitations – artists and entertainers, for instance, cannot use entertainment as an excuse for offensive behavior.

But it is difficult to distinguish entertainment from slander, given the double-standard approach it is being dealt with. Worse, this hypocritical attitude towards free speech benefits the culprit and not the victim.

Works Cited

“CBS Fires Don Imus from Radio Show. ” 13 April 2007. MSNBC. 28 July 2008 <http://www. msnbc. msn. com/id/18072804>. Embirck, David G. , Lewis, Amanda & Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. “I Did Not Get That Job Because of a Black Man…”: The Story Lines and Testimonies of Color-Blind Racism. ” Sociological Forum December 2004: 19. JSTOR. University of Arizona Library.

28 July 2008 <http://www. jstor. org. ezproxy1. library. arizona. edu/? cookieSet=1>. Goldstein, Jeff. “Post-Imus, Free Speech Doesn’t Mean Free Speech. ” 18 April 2007. NewsBusters. 28 July 2008 <http://newsbusters. org/node/12114>. “Imus Called Women’s Basketball Team ‘Nappy-Headed Hos’. ” 4 April 2007. Media Matters for America. 28 July 2008 <http://mediamatters. org/items/200704040011>. “United States Constitution: Bill of Rights. ” n. d. Cornell University Law School – Legal Information Institute. 28 July 2008 <http://www. law. cornell. edu/constitution/constitution. billofrights. html>.


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