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(DV) Howell: "Shock Jocks" as Propagandists for Privilege





Don Imus Isn't Joking:
“Shock Jocks” as Propagandists for Privilege

by Lydia Howell
April 14, 2007

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What Don Imus did isn't unusual. 

Shock jocks, national and local, habitually make racist remarks and sexually humiliating comments about women -- as "jokes". 
I always  wonder why these guys are so oblivious to minimal standards of courtesy. Is it that they really think that only white men, like themselves, deserve basic respect? Or, is it that making degrading comments about people of color and women is their attempt to "put THOSE people BACK in their place"? As a woman, I'm absolutely clear that when men talk about women in disgusting ways, it communicates not only hostility, but also has another message: "You think you're equal -- but, you're still just p--sy." 
Even today, some long for the old hierarchy, where white men were privileged in every situation. Now, they have to share the field with the rest of us. 
Some point out that African-Americans use the 'N-word" and "ho" is hip hop vernacular -- as if that gets Imus off the hook. It doesn't. 
From Princeton's African-American Studies professor Cornel West's rap album to the organization Abolish the N-Word, and a recent column in Insight News, a Minneapolis African-American newspaper, some Black voices question the proliferation of one of the most horrific epithets -- racial or otherwise -- in the English language. Some defend using that word (or younger Gay people using another old epithet, "queer", or women casually using "bitch"), arguing that they're "taking the power to hurt and oppress out" of such terms. 
The civil rights and women's movements floundered in the 1990s backlash and rise of the rightwing rollback. We hit brick walls of white supremacy and masculine prerogatives. Did some take a path of least resistance by accepting hateful words "as our own"? The pain of that racial obscenity isn't any less when white people say it, so how is Black people using it "empowerment"? 
There are certainly some significant differences in experiences of women of color and white women. But, when it comes to being called a bitch or a "ho", my guts say none of us want men slurring us like that. Beyond the beats, African-American young women and girls are hurt in a deep place. Attacking women's sexuality remains the oldest, deepest way to insult women. Reducing women to sexual objects publicly available to any man -- which is what 'ho' means -- hurts all women regardless of race. 
No matter who says these ugly words, what's being reinforced is racism and sexism. 
Of course, no women deserve such treatment, but, that Imus attacked accomplished young African-American women at an Ivy league college is especially troubling. That Black hip-hop artists do the same thing provides convenient "cover" for Imus and other white men. But, hip-hop artists didn't create the N-word and whites used it long before rap. The same goes for sexist slurs, once whispered and now blaring from every corner of pop culture. 
One positive result of this public furor is that musicians should contemplate their frivolous use of a word said every time a Black person has been lynched in this country. It's long overdue to challenge the relentless sexual disrespect all women are subjected to in what some have termed the "pornification" of American culture. 
Forget shallow apologies. Shock jocks and their fan base should grow up and remember a kindergarten lesson: the Golden Rule. 
We The People own the airwaves, but media companies  profit from spreading ignorance while mostly excluding women and people of color -- except as crude entertainment. Let's demand more inclusion and far better from the media. Don Imus has regularly broadcasted bigoted remarks. This time, several sponsors yanked advertising. The First Amendment guarantees everyone free speech, but it doesn't guarantee anyone a big-bucks megaphone to spew racism and sexism.

Lydia Howell is a Minneapolis journalist, poet and activist, and producer/host of Catalyst: Politics & Culture, which airs on Tuesdays at 11am on KFAI Radio, 90.3fm in Mpls, 106.7fm in St. Paul

Other Articles by Lydia Howell

* “Protection” as Hype: Non-Sex Scandal Trumps Presidential Power Grab
* Walking With The Ghosts of New Orleans
* The New Inquisition