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April 11, 2007

Comments On Don Imus Debacle

  1. I take back what I've been saying about "at least blacks are no longer treated with as open contempt in the media as Asians are" blah blah. I guess it was said more in wishfulness than in truth.
  2. After an hour on Google News, I still haven't found a white commenter who thinks anything other than blacks are overreacting. They're all male. I haven't found any random white women commenting. Is every white male on the internet a privileged cracker? Is every white woman on the internet a fucking ostrich?
  3. Oh My God. Why did it take me half an hour on Google to find out about the "Jigaboo" comment? Why did that not merit attention?
  4. The white (male) commentary ranges from "You're all reverse racists this is free speech fuck you lynching Don Imus Free speech fuck you!" to (sadly, wryly) "Yeah, he shouldn'ta said it, but it's teh blacks overreacting that gives his comments meaning" (no shit. somebody actually made that argument.)
  5. Not a single white male in my search has been found to have the imagination to wonder what the Rutger's women's basketball team members feel about all this ... like maybe are they feeling hurt or insulted. It's all about Don Imus and what he does and doesn't deserve. Can it be that this all comes down to a lack of empathy? Talk about identity politics! Look who's identifying now!
  6. It took me all of five minutes to find commentary by "a black man" who thinks teh blacks are overreacting. I don't know which is worse: the possibility that the writer isn't really black, or the possibility that s/he is.
  7. I've found every possible breakdown of Imus' comments, saying that this element was offensive and the other wasn't. There was one that said that "ho" was offensive, but "nappy-headed" wasn't. There was one that said that "nappy-headed" was the offending remark. There was one that said that if the comment had been made about, say, that nappy-headed ho Foxy Brown, instead of those fine, upstanding Rutgers wimmin, then no one would have said anything because, let's be honest, she is a nappy-headed ho. There was one that said that the use of "Jigaboo", which the commenter apparently only knew from Do The Right Thing, made the whole radio exchange a grand allusion to Spike Lee, and not a racist insult at all. All of these comments tried to do away with the offensiveness of the whole by placing it "into context" as if there was any context in which two white men talking about a largely black women's basketball team's looks using the terms "nappy-headed ho's" and "Jigaboos vs. Wannabes" might not be offensive.
  8. Let me break it down for you again:
    • "nappy-headed": no, whites don't get to use it. It's insulting: it's too familiar, it's too racist. And no, you don't get to be arbiter of what teh blacks get to say to each other. Buleeve me, if you bothered to read anything that black people write, you'd already know there's a long-standing and lively discussion of this issue. Your input is not needed.
    • "ho's": no, you don't get to say this about any women, black, white, or ignored. "Ho" is short for "whore", which is insulting slang for "prostitute" and an insult commonly used to deride women, in the belief that a woman's chastity is still important. Once again, black rappers may well be using it. Doesn't mean Don Imus gets to. See above. Plus, who says black rappers get to use it with impunity?
    • "jigaboo": also not okay. No, it's not from Spike Lee. It's an old school racist term on par with the "n-word", only never used as much. There is no universe in which it is not offensive.
    • "context": here's the context, folks. The Rutgers women's basketball team was news because they had just lost a championship game. Imus and pal decided it was appropriate to discuss both the Rutgers players' and their opponents' looks, because they are womenz. They pronounced the Rutgers team "rough-looking" (i.e. not good looking) and backed it up by saying they had tatoos and were "nappy-headed ho's" and "jigaboos". Spot the "ism"! This is racist, sexist, and entirely off topic. There is no way you can tweak this context to make it okay.
  9. How long, sweet Jesus, must we sing this song?

(cross-posted at Other Magazine staff blog.)

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Comments

Thanks for the context, a friend at work was asking and I hadn't known the exact stuff (just that Pandagon said they were discussing fuckability) because, surprise surprise, no one in the mainstream media had discussed context!

Your point about the male/female commentary reminds me of what I saw on cable news (unfortuantely, work is usually tuned to Fox) today. I saw a blonde man, a blonde woman, the regular (male) Fox hosts, and Al Sharpton commenting. On MSNBC, the regular hosts, and Jesse Jackson.

It had me thinking how odd it was to have no black women commenting about this on television.

I missed the Rutgers team news conference, but there were some people talking about it.

Also, can't believe what CNN had on their website. WTF?

1. A friend of mine and I were having this exact conversation over dinner the other night, thanks for putting it where people can read it, and so eloquently.
2. I recently came across your blog when searching for articles on interracial relationships and mixed race identity. I've recently been trying to look at how I construct my identity, as well as why society seems to have an obsession with people of mixed race and interracial relationships. I think how you write about multiraciality and your identity is fabulous (I just read Multiraciality 101 and Why Are Interracial Relationships so Important to Society?). Anyway, to make a long comment short, I'm glad I found your blog. Thanks.

ragnell, about having no black women commenting on tv: it's not odd at all. if we had black women commenting on tv about the treatment of black women in the media, then this sort of thing wouldn't be happening.

kris: thanks for stopping by!

I take back what I've been saying about "at least blacks are no longer treated with as open contempt in the media as Asians are" blah blah.

I'm a little amazed that anyone would think that, to be perfectly honest. Anyway, i would also suggest you read this: http://transgriot.blogspot.com/2007/04/dissing-black-female-athletes-is.html

delux, if you're amazed that anyone would think that, you haven't been paying attention to the asian american press and blogosphere. there have been two or three major media racism scandals involving asians each year for the past few years. and the stereotypes they use in all media for asians are such that they haven't used for blacks since mid-century.

i'm comparing the buck-toothed, slit-eyed, yellow-skinned coolie to the bubble-lipped, nubby-headed savage or the mammy figure or the minstrel figure. the black figures have their modern day counterparts, but they're much more sophisticated stereotypes these days, not the same old direct mockery.

asians, however, still have to endure the equivalent of radio shock jocks, internet cartoonists, and pop cultural mavens pulling the corners of their eyes up and saying "ching chong ching chong", sometimes literally (rosie o'donnell).

i'm not unaware of the form that racism against blacks takes now--but it's been clear to me for a long time that af am politics has a power base in this country that is sufficiently strong to prevent the most egregious types of media stereotyping. racism against blacks no longer (usually) includes the outright mockery of fifty years ago in the media.

and frankly, even though imus and his partner engaged in just that sort of mockery, he lost his job directly for it. that's what i'm talking about when i say that there's a black political power base that won't allow this sort of thing. i was shocked that imus tried it, because i thought that it was already clear to those idiots that it couldn't be done. now, i think it's clear again, for a few years at least.

hot 97 djs got a slap in the wrist. abercrombie and fitch didn't fire anyone and asian americans still shop there. asians don't have that kind of power base and are therefore more vulnerable to mockery in the media.

sigh,

OK. Yes, there are negative depictions of Asians in the media. Yes, the men are mostly dickless geeks and the women are either mysterious pearls of the orient or me-so-horny Suzie Wong types. But come on claire, you can’t seriously claim that Asian people are more dissed in the media than African Americans.

The systematic demeaning of African Americans in the media is more powerful in large part because African Americans as a group are still subject to very powerful and material racism. Asian Americans are subject to racism but it's relatively benign, relatively short-lived and relatively peripheral to the dominant paradigm of white supremacy.

Asian people in this country are not typecast as automatically criminal, violent, ignorant and the "natural" underclass. Asian people are not subject to all the indignities of the intellectual and philosophical systems of racial supremacy used to justify slavery and BLACK oppression. We get some of the blowback but we (unlike Native folk and Black folk) were never the primary targets for this kind of systematic hatred, except for a fifty year period at the end of the 19th century, mostly in the West and anti-Asian white supremacy has ALWAYS been an adjunct to white supremacy aimed against others.

We are certainly less visible, and we have fewer race organizations and public race men and women than African Americans but that's partly because most of us chose the blue pill and became good little model minorities.

Saying “my oppression is as bad as your oppression” on the basis of subjective feeling is always a dangerous game. Sure enough we have some problems, but let's keep a little perspective.

Black power certainly has taken on mythical properties! I'm rather bemused that you can announce that you are "not unaware of the form that racism against blacks takes now" but then at the same time announce that Black Americans are so powerful that they are able to "prevent the most egregious types of media stereotyping."

While you may be shocked at the fact that Imus said what he said (over a decade after he called Gwen Ifill a 'cleaning lady'), Rush Limbaugh just entertained his listeners with the dulcet tones of "Obama the Magic Negro" a few days ago and seems unlikely to lose his job over it. And no one was able to drop squad Eddie Murphy out of releasing Norbit. And does Mammy being modernized with a weave instead of a handkerchief on her head make her any less horrifying? I'm not quite sure why whether or not stereotypes get dragged ahead in time makes them any less... stereotypical.

Ultimately, it seems to me like you are referencing some sort of... criteria? to see who is more done over by the man, which is certainly not what I was commenting in aid of. It seems pretty clear that stereotypes affect all people of color and continue to do so.

don't sigh at me, fa ikaika. and please show me where I wrote that "Asian people are more dissed in the media than African Americans" or "my oppression is as bad as your oppression."

seriously, come back and show me.

don't you dare come to my blog, scan my words without properly reading them, and then argue against the argument you WANTED to hear, rather than the one i made. i guess that tactic isn't just for white dudes anymore.

no, i'm not gonna make the argument again. stop being lazy. go back and read what i actually wrote. maybe think about it a little, too.

and oh. my. god. don't you dare come to my blog and write that "Asian Americans are subject to racism but it's relatively benign, relatively short-lived and relatively peripheral to the dominant paradigm of white supremacy". go inform your ignorant ass before you make another comment here. no, i won't inform you. that's YOUR job.

delux: my criteria are fairly clearly stated.

"i'm comparing the buck-toothed, slit-eyed, yellow-skinned coolie to the bubble-lipped, nubby-headed savage or the mammy figure or the minstrel figure. the black figures have their modern day counterparts, but they're much more sophisticated stereotypes these days, not the same old direct mockery."

in what way is "Mammy being modernized with a weave instead of a handkerchief on her head" not a direct description of "the black figures have their modern day counterparts, but they're much more sophisticated stereotypes these days, not the same old direct mockery"?

and yes, there are updates of asian stereotypes, too, lucy liu's entire oeuvre, for example. but alongside those we STILL SEE OLD SCHOOL BUCKTOOTHED COOLIES AND DRAGON LADIES on the internet, on t-shirts, on television, on the radio. the last time i saw a burnt-cork minstrel or an actual mammy was in an exhibition of racist artifacts.

the updates of black stereotypes show two things. the first is fairly simple: you can't get away with open, egregious stereotypes anymore so you have to go with less open, egregious stereotypes.

the second is this, and i know you're gonna scream, but boo hoo, some things do get better: the public image of blacks today is much more complex than it was fifty years ago. (and to think that that would even be a controversial statement is ridiculous.)

it's still mostly a mass of stereotypes, but there are more stereotypes, and more nuance within them. why is this progress? because there isn't a hard line between stereotype and complex representation. it's a very soft line, or no line at all--actually more of a spectrum.

establishing a stereotyped character that is, as i put it above, more sophisticated than old school stereotypes, allows you some room to develop the stereotype into an actual character. take lucy liu, for example. i started out hating her character on ally mcbeal because she was a dragon lady. and she was, at first.

but the character didn't live in an opium den. she was a contemporary professional who went to work every day. and as time went on, that gave the show room to develop her character into something much more complex.

now take the hbo series "carnivale" and "deadwood". i love these shows, but they're both historically set, which apparently gives them license to bring back both the conical hatted, buck-toothed, English-free, murdering, whoring chinaman, and the bamboo chopstick-tattooing chinky girl-whore. they didn't leave themselves room to make these characters into characters, so they're not.

i don't hold out much hope for norbit's girlfriend turning into a complex character somewhere in "norbit 2" or "norbit 3: the endless repeat". but on the other hand, norbit was cowritten and coproduced by eddie murphy. that doesn't necessarily make it less racist, but it does make you wonder if it's more about farrelly brothers-style gross out humor aimed at african american audiences than racist humor aimed at white audiences.

yes, there is a substantive difference there. yes, racism and black stereotypes are very much more complex issues today than just: "they're updated mammies! damn them!" and yes, asian americans in the last five years have been experiencing a rapid sophistication in their media representation. thank god.

BUT THERE ARE STILL BUCK-TOOTHED CHINAMEN OUT THERE and we don't have an NAACP to stop it. the closest we have is guy aoki and people literally laugh at him.

one last thing: i found the updated mammy of "norbit" just as horrifying as the old school mammy, but in a different way: it was horrifyingly misogynist.

late to the party, but i'm just catching up on a lot of blog reading:

After an hour on Google News, I still haven't found a white commenter who thinks anything other than blacks are overreacting. They're all male. I haven't found any random white women commenting. Is every white male on the internet a privileged cracker? Is every white woman on the internet a fucking ostrich?

well, every white man and every white woman selected to be commenters for mainstream media. we can thank the massive media bias in selecting commentators: gender, ethnic, class, and political bias galore. ... Your observations are a depressing reminder about media diversity problems; a comment on the media's selection of (white racist) commenters as much as a comment on those commenters themselves.

And who picked those commenters? Editors, directors, producers, writers, and newscasters on staff, who are certainly also going to be predominantly white (and male). For broadcast TV, the court decisions that have destroyed the FCC's affirmative action and media diversity programs play out in ripples as well as in the splash that whitewashes broadcast media. Print news media have gone this way on their own.

BUT THERE ARE STILL BUCK-TOOTHED CHINAMEN OUT THERE and we don't have an NAACP to stop it. the closest we have is guy aoki and people literally laugh at him.

Besides Guy Aoki's MANAA, there are a bunch of other groups on media diversity issues. I last did a reasonably comprehensive review of this about 5 years ago, but at that time there were at least a few. Now there's the Asian American Journalists Assn which looks at news, and AAJC which does a TV programming diversity report, both looking for levels of representation as well as quality. Asian Media Watch & MANAA both look for offensive representations. Plus there are other media diversity reports that look at a broad spectrum of diversity - one that looks at children's programming (Children Now, I think), for instance. Minority Media & Telecomm Council. LCCR looks into the backend of media production -- ownership & employment -- which is critical.

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