Imus's Sin? Bad Joke, Wrong Target

By Karen Hanretty
Sunday, April 15, 2007

Who knew that there was such chivalry in American society? Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, MSNBC General Manager Dan Abrams, as well as dozens of macho men who dominate corporate America -- all these men defending the honor, virtue and moral integrity of women is truly overwhelming.

Just when you thought being a ho was trendy, chastity makes a surprising comeback. It makes me think that providence may have played a greater role in the death of dearly departed Anna Nicole Smith than I'd realized. Hos like Anna Nicole are yesterday's news. Literally. The day after the New York Post reported that Larry Birkhead "was named the winner of the Anna Nicole Smith baby-daddy derby" because "his sperm managed to fight off all challengers to sire the late Playmate's now-7-month-old daughter, Dannielynn," Don Imus was fired for suggesting that a group of accomplished women he'd never met are promiscuous. And have bad hair, to boot.

Too bad old Imus didn't direct his attention toward a group of Caucasian women with slutty "stripper roots." He'd still have a radio show today. Instead, he directed that old-man rage of his toward women of color. Because of his misstep, the millions of outraged Americans who never heard of Imus before this week will never have the opportunity to tune in to his show and immediately turn the dial to a more entertaining program.

There was a time -- in my lifetime -- when women with tattoos, which some of the Rutgers players have, were stereotyped by polite society. That point is lost in this debate over what evil churns in the bowels of Imus's soul to cause him to utter such an unmentionable slander as "nappy-headed ho." He described the Rutgers women's basketball team as tattooed "rough girls" before stringing together a couple of adjectives that shall forever be inscribed on the list of unspeakable words for television and radio.

That is, until nappy-headed ho becomes mainstream slang like "pimp" and "bitch." (Why, why, why didn't he just call those girls bitches? We could have avoided this whole mess.)

There's a good lesson in all of this for many in white America who were unaware: Nappy hair is a racial slur. It's sort of like calling an Arab a rag-head. Except that rag-head is a racial slur that won't get you fired, primarily because Arab Americans don't have a powerful, well-funded special interest group like Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Push Coalition, which regularly pressures and threatens corporate America. Nor are there any high-profile Arab Americans with radio shows to promote like Al Sharpton. (Who doubts that the reverend bought himself 30 more days with advertisers for his unknown radio program after the high-profile media dustup?)

But really, this feigned outrage by powerful men who flinch at the dishonor brought upon innocent women is repugnant. It's all the more repugnant that the head of MSNBC, who for days on end saw fit to glorify Anna Nicole, the biggest nappy-headed ho of them all, fired one of his employees over observing, tongue-in-cheek, that girls with tattoos might be a little loose.

Malcolm X would be proud, wouldn't he? No matter that Sharpton and Jackson picked the wrong fight by pressuring corporate advertisers to drop an old coot who stopped being influential years ago rather than pressuring corporate advertisers (such as Chrysler) to drop misogynistic rappers who affect young men's perceptions of women.

Perhaps that's because Sharpton and Jackson are running out of fights to pick. After all, at the heart of this discussion is a group of college-educated African American women. A valedictorian. A musical prodigy. A budding young lawyer.

Fight the power? Honey, those women are the power.

Karen Hanretty is a Republican strategist and former communications director for the California Republican Party.

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