Though Don Imus has called them "nappy-headed hos" and agreed they are "jiggaboos," the Rutgers University women basketball players are being more gracious than he deserves. They call him "Mr. Imus."
My instinct would be to fire back and say his Mama is the ho. But the Rutgers women are leading by good example, even though Imus delivered to them that bolt of lightning from which black parents have never been able to fully protect their daughters because racism and sexism are so deeply embedded -- in fact, institutionalized -- here and around the world.
Imus' apologies are meaningless because he isn't singularly at fault. He grew up in America, and already, his white media buddies, both liberals and conservatives, are circling the wagons. They're arguing, as Imus has, that he was given license to call black women nappy-headed hos by misogynistic black rappers.
But Imus and the nasty rappers are both symptomatic of how institutionalized racism and sexism are. They're much like air pollution; we're dying from it, but the particles are so fine that most people aren't aware that they're being killed.
As a matter of fact, Imus seems to believe that he's guilty of nothing so much as being a really nice guy who had a rare bad day. (Actually, he's had many bad days, and he's been richly rewarded anyhow.)
That's the nature of institutionalized racism and sexism. There's always some widely accepted rationale why nice people should be excused their bigoted remarks and sick behavior.
How deep is the bias? Just look at whom the media sought out when the Imus story broke.
Did they ring up the president or the women of Spelman College? Did they call Johnnetta Cole, Julianne Malveaux, Maya Angelou, Angela Davis, Callie Crossley, Vanessa Williams, Nikki Giovanni, Rita Dove, Shirley Franklin, Mae Jameson, Condoleezza Rice, Kathleen Cleaver, Pearl Cleage, Susan Taylor, Renita Weems, Jill Nelson, Sheryl Swoopes or any of the legions of accomplished black women who could bring historical and political context to the harm of calling young women hos?
No. Black women were insulted, but the media rushed to Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.
Are black women wearing burkas? Are they so invisible that they don't even get to speak first about their own pain? If the press had to have a Sharpton or Jackson, why not their wives or daughters?
Instead, the public was distracted yet again by all the tired reasons why Sharpton's and Jackson's own flaws render them unfit to criticize Imus. Fox's Sean Hannity, for example, repeatedly interrupted a black woman who was trying to speak about the harm of calling women bitches and hos, to press her on whether the worse name-calling was by Imus or some nasty black rapper.
He wasn't interested in women's pain; his agenda was to defend Imus as the undeserving victim of depraved and/or hypocritical blacks.
The deeper truth is that both Imus and the black misogynist rappers are just the voices we hear and the faces we see. But who is backing up and enriching such miscreants?
The answer is huge institutions like CBS Radio, MSNBC, Viacom and Black Entertainment Television, which have executives, stockholders and advertisers who've gotten very rich by fostering uncivil dialogue and exploiting nasty rap lyrics.
It's not sentimental; it's cold, calculating business. Just as slavery was business -- the business founded on the vile proposition that persists to this day that black women are just nappy-headed hos who can be disrespected at any time by anybody.
I'm reminded of the time my dad came home furious that two white men had asked him where they could find black women to have sex?
Daddy cursed them out and asked, "Do I look like a pimp?"
Racial and sexual abuse and harassment go on every day in America. If Imus is one of the nice guys, imagine what the others have to say about women after a couple of beers.
Betty Winston Bayť reports on social issues with an emphasis on women and African-Americans. Her columns appear Thursdays in The Forum. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.