In examining the Don Imus controversy over the last few days here in our Don Imus and the Rutgers Nappy Headed Hos and Race and the American Humor Line articles — I now realize when one ponders on the core purpose of this Urban Semiotic blog — one cannot escape the hard reality that an “Urban Semiotic” has most powerfully come to mean in this blog the matter of Black skin and its place in The American Dream.

Time and again many of our most poignant and powerful articles published here have addressed Racial issues in America — and that necessary, and sometimes uncomfortable dialog — has been examined and perpetuated in conversations here that are as invigorating as they are enlightening and, for that, I thank you.

If you have a favorite Urban Semiotic article that deals with Race and The Color Line, I would appreciate it if you would provide the title and a link in your comments — along with your reason for picking the article(s) — so we can create a new thread of understanding, a new way forward, and a context for the history and the now that we have tried to covet and change when it comes to getting along with each other beneath the barriers of our skin. 

Where do we go from here?

Imus is finished on MSNBC and CBS will soon follow. A network broadcast cannot sustain the loss of large advertising revenue plus the expressed dismay yesterday of Dr. Maya Angelou and Al Roker and Barack Obama and other luminaries and carry on with the current course and not avoid being co-branded as a Racist along with Mr. Imus.

The Rutgers women’s basketball team have become all our daughters. We stand with them. We shall defend them. We admire their accomplishments even in the light of their dismay.

If Imus had not been finished yesterday, Bob Herbert of The New York Times, would have placed the silver spike in his coffin with today’s article:

You knew something was up early in the day. As soon as I told executives at MSNBC that I was going to write about the “60 Minutes” piece, which was already in pretty wide circulation, they began acting very weird. We’ll get back to you, they said. In a “60 Minutes” interview with Don Imus broadcast in July 1998, Mike Wallace said of the “Imus in the Morning” program, “It’s dirty and sometimes racist.” Mr. Imus then said: “Give me an example. Give me one example of one racist incident.” To which Mr. Wallace replied, “You told Tom Anderson, the producer, in your car, coming home, that Bernard McGuirk is there to do nigger jokes.” Mr. Imus said, “Well, I’ve nev — I never use that word.” Mr. Wallace then turned to Mr. Anderson, his producer. “Tom,” he said. “I’m right here,” said Mr. Anderson.

Mr. Imus then said to Mr. Anderson, “Did I use that word?” Mr. Anderson said, “I recall you using that word.” “Oh, O.K.,” said Mr. Imus. “Well, then I used that word. But I mean — of course, that was an off-the-record conversation. But —-” “The hell it was,” said Mr. Wallace. The transcript was pure poison. A source very close to Don Imus told me last night, “They did not want to wait for your piece to come out.” For MSNBC, Mr. Imus’s “nappy-headed ho’s” comment about the Rutgers women’s basketball team was bad enough. Putting the word “nigger” into the so-called I-man’s mouth was beyond the pale. The roof was caving in on Mr. Imus. More advertisers were pulling the plug. And Bruce Gordon, a member of the CBS Corp. board of directors and former head of the N.A.A.C.P., said publicly that Mr. Imus should be fired.

The greater lesson in the matter of Imus is that people count. There was a concerted effort, as I understand it, inside NBC where Black women who worked there rose up and said, “Enough.” They have had enough of the public battering of their lives from the media and from “their own men.” I also think that beyond the level of power and money, a stand was taken against the crassness that has become American culture and there was a movement — even if momentary and fleeting but inspired by Imus’ hate speech — that began to bind much of us together in red.

Not Rutgers red. Blood red.

There was a realization on a national level for the first time in perhaps 40 years that we are in this life together, that we all share the same lifeblood across all skin colors, that we are all bound to each other beyond words and hatred and despair and that we finally belong to each other — especially in the difficult task of loving and respecting each other as human and not just human beings. Our blood is red. Our anger is crimson. Our ongoing national shame is sanguine. Our joy is forever scarlet.

26 Comments

  1. Welcome to Urban Semiotic, Henry!
    I, too, can’t believe CBS hasn’t fired Imus yet. I guess they’re scared of looking like they’re following NBC since NBC suspended Imus first and CBS followed.
    Since CBS still has him on air for the “Radiothon” today and tomorrow — I think his firing will be buried in the Friday evening news shuffle and then the matter will be gone.
    I believe this is a matter of morality and values versus the almighty dollar. CBS may be looking for a way out of the brand new contract extension they gave Imus a couple of weeks ago that lasts for the next five years — but those sorts of performance contracts always have morality clauses. If morality language is included in the contract, I hope CBS invokes that clause and terminates him without any sort of compensation.

  2. Hi Anne!
    Thanks for the article links! That’s one of my favorite stories, too. I think I was, and am, more upset over that moment of lingering discrimination much more than the young man ever was or probably is even now.

  3. Does Imus know he’s out?

    NEW YORK (Reuters) – Radio host Don Imus hinted on Thursday his days on the airwaves may be numbered after a 30-year career that erupted in controversy over racist and sexist comments about a women’s college basketball team…
    On Imus’ broadcast on Thursday — his annual drive to raise money for children with cancer — the radio host who trades on a curmudgeonly persona called the media “hypocritical” in its coverage of the flap. But he acknowledged it will be hard to continue broadcasting.
    “I don’t know if this will be my last radiothon, my suspicion is it will be,” Imus said, adding the situation had become “insane” and “out of control.”

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20070412/en_nm/usa_race_imus_dc_26

  4. Hi David,
    I second “Lucky in Harlem” for a moving story on Urban Semiotic.
    There’s controversy brewing at Indiana University Bloomington and in the city of Gary, Indiana after old documents written by Ora L. Wildermuth — Gary’s first school teacher — showed him to be against integration while he was serving as president of the IU Board of Trustees.
    One of the reasons was fear of the “One Droplet.” Integration would lead to intermarriage, according to a letter written by Ora Wildermuth in 1945.
    Andrew Shaffer reports for the IDS:

    I bet you’ve passed it a few hundred times, maybe more.
    It is a sign, small and simple. White words wrap around a dull maroon rectangle with the declaration: Ora L. Wildermuth Intramural Center.
    This sign, which stands outside of the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation building, represents the man, and the man represents the institution.
    So who is the man?
    One thing Judge Ora Leonard Wildermuth advocated would have made George Wallace proud. For Wildermuth, it was segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever. He put it in his own words on Nov. 19, 1945, in a letter to IU comptroller Ward G. Biddle. Wildermuth, then-president of the IU board of trustees, wrote, “I am and shall always remain absolutely and utterly opposed to social intermingling of the colored race with the white. I belong to the white race and shall remain loyal to it. It always has been the dominant and leading race.”

    The controversy extends beyond IU’s Bloomington campus back to Gary, Indiana which has a library named after the man, reports Andy Grimm in the Post-Tribune.

    Racist remarks by one of Gary’s most influential early residents published in the Indiana University campus newspaper this week have shocked students and administrators at the Bloomington campus.
    Ora L. Wildermuth, for whom a gymnasium on the Bloomington campus and a branch of the Gary Public Library are named, apparently vehemently opposed attempts at racial integration at IU during the 1940s and 1950s.

  5. Wonderful comment, Chris! The Droplet article is another recent favorite of mine as well.
    I think it’s great people are going back through history and challenging their icons and wondering about the venerated. That is an important process in a democracy and in a free society and there may be some people who were admired in the context of their living but who, in the reality of the moment framing their death now, are not so kindly looked upon and changes need to be made to set current history right.
    I am not a big fan of recanting — but when it comes to historical hate speech and other grievous misdeeds of the heart — a genuine recantation can mend a long way to making things a little bit better.
    I think it’s time to retire Wildermuth from public acclaim and let him, and his hurtful ideas, left to tangle with each other in the buried past.

  6. Hi David,
    The old letter will spark a discussion so that future generations don’t forget the evils of the past so that they aren’t repeated in the future.
    From Indianapolis reporter Jennie Runevitch via MSNBC:

    Indiana University’s dean of students agrees the issue deserves attention. “Clearly the views in those letters are racist by any definition and totally inconsistent with the values of IU,” said Richard McKaig.
    Now the university plans a public discussion on a sign that represents a man but perhaps no longer the institution.

    Maybe Imus’ comments will help to bring people together in unexpected ways also.

  7. Chris!
    Yes, Akismet is back to liking you again! Grr! 😉
    I think the Imus incident can go a long way to opening a dialog on what has been a taboo subject: Race Relations in America. I am certain IU will do the right thing and quietly retire that relationship to the dustbin.
    The duplicity some people argue — Black rappers can bad mouth Black women, but Imus cannot — are missing the point that the Black community have always been vocal against those performers but it is the mainstream White media, MTV, VH1, magazines, movies, etc. — and even BET! — that give those hateful performers a voice and a stage while the protests of the Black community against that degradation are not given the same powerful stage for expressing antithetical views.
    There have been “big bucks” made in the exploitation of Black women in the mainstream media and, perhaps, now that too will become bitter history and not current prophecy.

  8. Hi David,
    Al Sharpton had spoken against certain rappers two weeks before Imus became a nationwide story and in the past has called for 90-day moratoriums on playing music of any artist involved in violence. Of course, speaking out against violence in rap music doesn’t get much attention because that’s expected and the media is always looking for the abnormal and “man bites dog” stories.
    The “Big Media,” including Imus and record companies that select artists to promote, exploits everyone so using it as an example of acceptable conduct is wrong.

  9. That’s an excellent story about Sharpton, Chris! It shows that, whatever his past sins might be in propagating Racial hatred, he is now on the right track and attacking the right people when it comes to abuse in his own community.
    I don’t agree with the argument that some make to “turn the channel” or “don’t buy the album” because the big mainstream media companies live to form public opinion and create taste and wants in the culture of mass exposure and since they set the entertainment agenda, we have nowhere to escape their embedded instructions.
    We can’t fight them directly with alternative choices — so we have to instead warn people away from them and shy people away from their false glitter and the foamy glitz and that is a trying task when people want easy and convenient and the path of least resistance.

  10. The only way to fight “big media” is with the wallet.
    Wal-Mart has enough pull that musical artists will take out lyrics that are offensive to Wal-Mart’s shoppers.
    From PBS:

    Because Wal-Mart reaps about 10 percent of the total domestic music CD sales, most musicians and record companies will agree to create a “sanitized” version specifically for the megastores. Sometimes this entails altering the cover art, as John Cougar Mellencamp did when asked to airbrush out an angel and devil on one of his album covers. Other times, musicians change their lyrics and song titles.

    Imus would still be on MSNBC if the company didn’t fear advertisers would yank their ads and take away their advertising money for good.

    MSNBC’s decision to stop simulcasting “Imus in the Morning” came after at least half the show’s 10 largest advertisers, including General Motors Corp., American Express Co., Procter & Gamble and Sprint Nextel Corp., pulled their ads.

    Money talks.
    This time, it spoke a message the media couldn’t ignore.

  11. That’s right, Chris! Wal-Mart does it the right way that those who don’t like Imus’ firing are proclaiming: Let the market decide! The problem, though, is when Wal-Mart makes a stand against what its chain considers indecency, critics cry: “Censorship!”
    Wal-Mart is a private business they can set the agenda of what they wish to sell and for how much.
    I agree the reason MSNBC dropped Imus wasn’t because they suddenly saw the light — they only saw future profits dimming — and only then cut him loose.

  12. Here’s the news from the AP:

    NEW YORK – CBS fired Don Imus from his radio show Thursday, less than 24 hours after MSNBC pulled the plug on his talk show’s television simulcast amid the uproar over his racial slur.
    Several major advertisers dropped the show, and pressure from politicians and the public has mounted since the radio host referred to the Rutgers basketball players as “nappy-headed hos” shortly after they lost the NCAA women’s national championship game.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18072804/

  13. Chris!
    I hope that’s true. I think Talk Radio has had an “anything goes” mentality for much too long.
    It should never be okay to say what Imus said or for Rush Limbaugh — and others like him — to call Obama a “Halfrican American” and get away with it by keeping their jobs:

    On the January 24 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, host Rush Limbaugh referred to Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and actress Halle Berry as “Halfrican American[s],” stating that “Barack Obama has picked up another endorsement: Halfrican American actress Halle Berry.” Limbaugh then said: ” ‘As a Halfrican American, I am honored to have Ms. Berry’s support, as well as the support of other Halfrican Americans,’ Obama said.” Limbaugh then conceded that Obama “didn’t say it.”

    http://mediamatters.org/items/200701240010
    There needs to be a great housecleaning in American radio and I hope this is the first, but not the only, mouth-cleansing wave.

  14. Let’s explore for a moment the semantics involved in the whole Imus scandal. Context plays a role in the meaning of words, but Imus’ definition is limited. The context of a word not only involves the intent of the writer, but the way in which the word is perceived by the audience, an often overlooked entity.
    Then, there is the whole mystery about why his words got such a tidal wave of response at this point in time, when he had obviously made past comments that were as bad, or worse. I believe it has to do with audience. That is why a lot of hip-hop artists can get away with using the n-word, and Imus is crucified. The hip-hop artist’s audience is, in many instances, of the same cultural background and age as the artist. Their music is perceived as art (with the accompanying artistic license) whereas Imus’ remarks were directed to an audience that is much broader in scope, both from a cultural and an age standpoint. Imus misread his audience. His idea of entertainment only insulted them. because they saw him attacking an innocent group of girls that could have been anyone’s daughters. How many times have I heard the past few days that if Imus’ remarks had been levied toward their own daughter, there would have been hell to pay. This goes to your comment that the Rutgers’ team has become “our daughters.”
    Was Lenny Bruce right? Can you take a word such as the n-word, use it to excess in the language and just by using it extensively, it becomes diluted? The word “damn” has less impact now than it did when Clark Gable used it in “Gone With the Wind” in his famous phrase “Frankly, Scarlet, I don’t give a damn.” But Lenny Bruce’s theory does not seem to hold water with the n-word, because the more it is used in mainstream society, the more it seems to gain momentum as an epithet. Maybe Lenny Bruce did not consider the audience in his theory of words. It makes a tremendous difference. Do you agree?

  15. Hi Donna!
    Thanks for your detailed comment. You provide a lot of interesting avenues for exploration on this important matter.
    I think what caught Imus was the offhandedness of his comment and the nasty nature of the two stereotypes he was invoking to paint the Rutgers team.
    None of the women on the team have “nappy” hair. Their hair is mostly in the straightened style. Right there, with that fact, you know he doesn’t know what or who he’s insulting and he’s calling up some ancient, ritualistic, condemnation to provide an undeserved intent: To repress these fine women by two things they cannot change — their skin color and their gender — and that is why, I believe, the world became so quickly outraged at the disconnected reality that Imus so perfectly wrapped in both bigotry and Racism.
    If a Rapper, or if any other major Black figure, had used that same slur against the team in the same sort of national public forum, the outrage and the ending would have been the same.
    Lenny Bruce is not right. Sure, you can try to make a word common by its overuse, but that doesn’t change its meaning or its effect on the body and mind. We may become numb to ongoing berating and hatred and denial — but that doesn’t make it right, proper, or a necessary common cause of us all.

  16. David,
    There are lots of articles in Urban Semiotic about racism that can be called my favorites, but today’s article stands out because it has a different tone – “our blood is red”.
    Yes. No matter what you are – black, white, brown, blue, polka dotted – your blood is red. Love it.

  17. Thanks for the great comment, Katha!
    We are all required to get along with each other somehow — without killing each other along the way — and perhaps the color of our blood and the deepness of our shared sorrow will bind us in new and human ways.

  18. Check this…. Based on the color of my skin I’m guilty of slavery. My family, not the people I look like, but my family had nine members fought in the civil war only five came back. Still the Rev Sharpton ( What church does he hold sermons at?) and Jackson say I may not be guilty of slavery but I should feel bad.
    Here’s the kicker….. I nor any white person ever got a f***ing THANK YOU for the sacrifices made by us. You know it was the bloodiest war ever fought on American soil, it was white on white, but the white man did nothing for blacks…… Isn’t that funny?
    Any time a person of color tells you that you need to feel bad about slavery you let them know they are direct descendants of Treasonist turn coats!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    During the revolutionary war the British went down south and said if any slave fought for one year they would be granted freedom…. Blacks turned out in droves. Thousands of slaves went and fought AGAINST the Americans. THAT’S TREASON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I know, I know they were fighting for their freedom so that excuses the crime. Wrong… in every country through out time up till today no one excuses Treason…… There is not excuse
    Some people will say well America wasn’t a country at the time…. We didn’t become a country until 1782. Well that great but every American accepts 1776 as our birth of a nation. So any crimes against America starting form July 4,1776 is a crime against America …… Including Treason.
    Whites who fought against slavery, those who made it a crime to have slaves should fell bad about something that was COMPLETELY LEGAL until whites changed that, but blacks are not guilty of Treason, an act that is still punishable by death. Why? Blacks may feel bad? Oh no… the ONLY people who say all the time whites should feel bad……. We can’t have those people feel bad about THEIR indiscretions. That would be wrong….. Matter of fact many may call me a racist for pointing out the truth.
    REMEMBER whites this is for when you are told to feel bad about slavery. It is not an argument to make blacks feel bad.
    We ALL need to stop letting the media divide us along color lines. We need solidarity so we can fight the ones separating us.
    A few moons ago the powers that be gave control of two piers along the west side of Manhattan…. Every New Yorker stood up together regardless of race, creed, or color and said WE WILL NOT HAVE THIS. The next day that came to a screeching halt. Proving to me that the power of the American people was still strong.
    That is my dream… The power of the American people.
    When we all stand up and tell Them (powers that be) WE will not have this anymore. I know as you and They know it will truly be a new day.
    Here’s your war cry ———–
    THIS IS A NEW DAY AND WE WILL NOT BE DEVIDED ANY MORE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    -Tyler Goines
    4/14/07