What About Hip-Hop?

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New Youth Connections, New York

The firing of radio personality Don Imus for referring to the Rutgers University women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed ho’s” was reverse racism.

When Imus made this comment, he was going for laughs, and I don’t think he intended to hurt anyone. Haven’t you ever said something hurtful or ignorant at the wrong place at the wrong time? Everybody slips up, and Imus shouldn’t have lost his job for it.

I do think Imus crossed the line with his comment. I just don’t think that the media should have crucified him for it, especially since black radio personalities make offensive jokes all the time without getting fired.

For example, in 2005, Tarsha Nicole Jones, host of the Hot 97 hip-hop radio show “Miss Jones in the Morning,” broadcast one of the most racist songs I’ve ever heard. The “Tsunami Song” made fun of the people killed or badly injured in the 2004 tsunami in South Asia, referring to the victims as “screaming chinks” and “little Chinamen.”

All that Ms. Jones and two other employees got as punishment was a two-week suspension, according to a 2005 Newsday article. Mocking the deaths of over 200,000 people doesn’t get a person fired, but name-calling does?

I think this double standard comes from a fear of being labeled racist if you don’t take action when a white person makes a racist joke. I think the reason CBS and MSNBC responded so severely to Imus wasn’t because they cared about the basketball team members’ feelings, but because they cared about their own image.

I believe it’s all about money with them and they couldn’t risk tarnishing their image because of Imus. When minorities like Ms. Jones make a racist comment, though, it seems like they don’t get labeled racist. Maybe they’re not as much of a risk to their company.

But whether we like it or not, there is a difference between a black person using a racist term – like the N-word, for example – and a white person using it. I don’t think there should be a difference, since it’s the same word coming out of anybody’s mouth. But when I hear it coming from someone who’s not black, it feels uncomfortable and unnatural.

I don’t believe that anybody should be allowed to use derogatory terms, period. If no one used them, we could avoid confusion over which racial remarks are acceptable, who can say them, and which ones can get you fired. As we saw with Don Imus, comments like this can get out of hand.

© 2007 Youth Communication/New York Center. http://www.youthcomm.org.