"Nappy Headed Hos"
Everyone knows about the Imus "shock jock" reference to the Rutgers women's basketball team as consisting of "nappy headed hos." What is rarely commented on is how he came to say that. It arose out of a short dialog with his producer that went
"That's some rough girls from Rutgers," Imus said. "Man, they got tattoos ..."The construction of Imus's last utterance reminds me of the verbal behavior of grade school boys with each "kid" building on the insulting remarks of the other. But Imus and his producer went further, also calling these women “jigaboos and wannabees.” Back in my youth, "jigaboos" was a notoriously racist term. The "wannabees" reference would have been to the fact that they were newly in the Championship game while their opponents, Tennessee, has made a habit of winning the Championship. It has been noted by some writers that the Tennessee players were more "clean cut" in their appearance.
"Some hardcore hos," said McGuirk.
"That's some nappy headed hos there, I'm going to tell you that," Imus said.
The presence of these tattoos was clearly the trigger that set Imus off on his ill-fated linguistic journey that has so far resulted in a two week suspension (without pay?) from CBS radio and the decision by MSNBC to stop simulcasting the show on television. I suspect the Fox "fair and balanced" cable news channel will pick the show up. What really interests me is whether or not all the big time politicians and journalists and sports figures Imus regularly had on the show will continue to show up. I would think that they would not.
What is clear from the television interview with the coach and her players is that these kids (four are college freshmen) are perfectly presentable, articulate young women. Perhaps Imus isn't aware of this but female college basketball players tend to stay four years and have much higher graduation rates than do male basketball players. On seeing these young women discuss how hurt they were by his remarks I began to think that two weeks in a stockade in Central Park would be a more appropriate punishment than a suspension.
One thing that embarrasses me is that on watching "Pardon the Interruption," a usually entertaining (because funny) sports talk show hosted by Tony Kornheiser (white) and Michael Wilbon (black), both very well educated sports writers for the Washington Post and long time friends was their confession that their initial reaction and comments focused solely on the racial implications of what Imus said. They completely missed the gender implications. Alas, so had I. I have often believed that we will solve our problems of race long before we solve our gender problems in the United States. This little confession illustrates the nature of the problem of how dimwitted smart men can be about gender issues.
Not only is "jigaboo" a powerfully insulting term, but so also is "nappy headed," also a term that is familiar to me from my youth. This leads me to think that Imus must have suffered some serious linguistic brain damage in his youth.
One issue I have heard people raise is how is it okay for blacks to refer to women as "hos" but not for whites? There are two answers. The first, is that decent black men and women do not use the term "hos" in derogatory references to black women. The fact that black rappers might do so is hardly license for whites to use the term that way. The second answer is that people who are close to each other, especially men, will often use derogatory expressions as signs of solidarity or even affection, as when one man, seeing an old friend for the first time in a year or more, might say, "John, you old son of a bitch, where have you been keeping yourself?" I can see a black woman using "ho" in a similar way. I don't think Imus was expressing solidarity or affection for these women.