Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Victims of Circumstance

by Keya C. Crenshaw, Summer Intern at the Kirwan Institute

“They were just victims of circumstance.” That seems to be the general opinion of the Rutgers Women’s Basketball team that was called a bunch of ‘Nappy headed tattooed ho’s’ by morning radio-host Don Imus in April of this year. The circumstance here is of course being a Black woman in America. And not only that—being a Black woman in America that plays sports. I remember when Venus and Serena Williams faced similar racist attitudes when they were called ‘animals’ by radio broadcaster Sid Rosenberg (who, oddly enough worked on Imus’ show). Rosenberg also said ‘…they have a better chance of appearing nude in National Geographic as opposed to Playboy.” Rosenberg was promptly fired, but soon rehired by Imus and WFAN-AM radio in New York City because, as Imus stated, “… [Rosenberg] wasn't expressing any deep-held racist views about Black people being an inferior species." So, apparently, those of us in academia and the social justice sector (and otherwise) have been wrong for years; using blatantly offensive racial and gender remarks does not make one sexist OR racist…you’re merely expressing an opinion…

I’m sure some of you are reading this and wondering why I’m still talking about “yesterday’s news”. But, it’s not just yesterday’s news. It’s yesterday, today, and tomorrow if people don’t stand up and take a stance against these kinds of discriminatory remarks and practices; once we stop fighting for change and equal justice, there will be no hope for the co-existence of future generations.

I bring up these most unfortunate tragedies for many reasons, but mostly because it has just been announced that WABC radio is in talks with Mr. Imus about a possible comeback, and Kia Vaughn, one of the Rutgers team members recently filed a lawsuit against Don Imus citing defamation of character and slander. Honestly, I was a bit shocked when I read she had filed a suit, especially this late in the game. It saddened me at first because I was worried about her image; that others would think she was just another “angry Black woman” in search of revenge. The images of Black women have been distorted throughout history. For example, Black women are usually cast as the loving mammies, “welfare queens”, drug addicts, or hypersexual eroticized beings in cultural imagery. This has been shown in films such as Imitation of Life, Losing Isaiah and Monster’s Ball. Black women have not had much help from their Black male counterparts. For example, many rappers call Black women derogatory names in their music lyrics like in Ludacris’s song “Move B*tch” or “Area Codes” in which he refers to the numerous “ho’s” he has around the world. Another example would be the Black men that openly admit that they will not date Black women because they are too feisty, indignant, and angry. Black women have had to fight long and hard against these stereotypes to be treated with respect.

This gives Kia Vaughn all the more reason to file suit against Don Imus; by disrespecting the women, he illustrated some of the ignorance and bigotry still prevalent in today’s society. Not only Kia, but her teammates as well (if they personally deem it necessary) should sue Imus for his comments.

The timing of Kia’s lawsuit is considered unfortunate by some because they feel it is too late for her to claim any damages (for lack of a better phrase). Timing should not be on trial here; the fact that someone could get away with such derogatory comments in the year 2007 is what should be further discussed. If lawsuits as Kia’s are not filed, comments like Imus’s will only continue to happen and people like Imus will still be in control of our media. So, the question is, how do we prevent [her] story from repeating itself.

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