Free speech is an odd thing. It forces those who truly believe in it to occasionally defend some incredibly vile shit. Like racism. And sexism. And the ramblings of a crazy old man who, for whatever reason, has access to a microphone. And sometimes, you end up arguing in favor of all three at once.
As everyone knows, last week radio personality and living corpse Don Imus became the latest pseudo-celebrity to come down with a case of foot-in-mouth disease when he referred to the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos.” At first, this seemed like one of those stories only Fox News could care about. We would be subjected to two days of commentary from morons whom I wouldn’t trust to tell me how to spell their own names, Imus would issue a fake apology, the team would accept said fake apology, and we could all get back to worrying about important stuff, like who is going to get custody of Anna Nicole Smith’s baby.
But then, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton got involved, and down the slippery slope we tumbled. MSNBC dropped Imus’ television show. Then CBS fired him from his own radio program. And now, we are in the middle of another national debate over the “limits” of the First Amendment.
Because some people are easily confused, let me qualify a few things: “Ho” is an objectionable term. So is the b-word, so is the n-word. Don Imus is an objectionable person, to both listen to and look at. (That is the real tragedy of this whole scandal. After years of barely knowing who this guy is, I am now forced to see his withered, Crypt Keeper-ish face everywhere.)
But they all have the right to exist — if only so we, as a society, can try (vainly as it seems) to eliminate the sentiments behind them.
Let it be known, I care about Don Imus about as much as I care about the mating habits of the platypus. That is to say, not at all. What I do care about, however, is art. Every time a public figure blurts out something stupid, the conversation inevitably comes back to the rights of artists to say anything they want. And of course, since the word “ho” is involved, the next target is obvious: rap music.
There is something to be said about the pervasive denigration of women in a lot of popular hip-hop, but the discussion that has already come up and is bound to increase over the next few weeks will not and has not addressed it in any substantive way. It will not be about the culture that spawned those words long before the music existed, or why so many rappers feel the need to use them in every song. It will only be about the words themselves. Someone will call for a “ho” moratorium, some will adhere to it, and the issue at the core of this controversy will continue to fester inside the country’s heart.
If healing a problem as deep and complex as white America’s negative view of black women were as easy as kicking an irrelevant coot off the air, the problem would not be as deep and complex as it is. All Imus’ firing proves is that if the right people get pissed off, even a massive corporation will buckle to the pressure.
And down the slippery slope we go.