Imus & Gendered Racism

Don ImusThe papers here in New York are reporting on Don Imus’ recent display of gendered racism, in which he called the predominantly African American women’s basketball team from Rutger’s University a bunch of “nappy-headed ho’s.” Many are beginning to call for Imus’ resignation, including from Rev. Al Sharpton. Sharpton is often dismissed by a lot of white people as a political opportunist, but he makes a great deal of sense on a race, especially if you live here in New York.

Imus, for his part, has apologized for his comments, an act which Debra Dickerson on her blog, The Last Plantation, rightly likens to the Michael Richard’s apology for his racist rant at an Los Angeles comedy club back in November, 2006. Too little, too late.

There’s not much analysis in the mainstream media of Imus’ comments, nor was there of Richard’s back in November, that goes beyond a sort of “unfortunate misstep” take. Among African American bloggers such as Dickerson, there’s a keener sense that this is indicative of how whites actually think and talk when not in public or in mixed-race company. And, indeed, this is often true.

Yet, there’s very little outcry on the part of white people against Imus’ remarks. There’s also very little discussion of the gendered nature of his comments and the way these connect to larger frameworks of race and gender in this culture that routinely villifies Black women. See for example, Neubeck and Cazenave on “welfare racism.” Any discussion of sort of gendered racism is rarely on the radar screen of mainstream media or the predominantly white blogosphere.

Even beyond that, there’s virtually no discussion of the gendered aspect of Imus’ racism. Imus’ vituperative remarks impugned the young, college educated, high achieving, athletically skilled women of Rutger’s University basketball team in way that focused on their bodies: their hair (“nappy headed”) and their sexuality (“ho’s”). These kind of gendered and sexualized remarks fit within a long tradition of white supremacy in the U.S. in which white men have imagined themselves entitled to access to Black women’s bodies. Now that the harshest forms of slavery have ended in the U.S., Imus uses the platform of a nationally-syndicated radio show to exercise the same kind of rhetorical ownership of Black women’s bodies as his slave-owning antecedents.

Imus should definitely lose his job and his show for such remarks, and firing him is the only right thing to do. However, one white guy losing his access to the radio waves is relatively small chink in the armor of white supremacy in the U.S.