Isiah Thomas — former basketball great, Hall of Famer, and currently president of basketball operations and head coach for the New York Knickerbockers — recently said under oath in videotaped deposition for a sexual harassment suit against him and the Knicks that it is more offensive for a White man to call a Black woman a “Bitch” than if a Black man did the same.

Asked if he was bothered by a black man calling a black female “bitch,” Thomas said: “Not as much. I’m sorry to say, I do make a distinction.” A white male calling a black female a bitch is highly offensive,” Thomas said. “That would have violated my code of conduct.” “Maybe I shouldn’t go there. …

A white male calling a black female, that is wrong with me. I’m not taking that. I’m not accepting that. … That’s a problem for me.”

How do we, as a cogent and caring people, begin to understand this mindset in a man who has always appeared to be an arbiter of good taste, fairness and humanity?

Has he fooled us as O.J. Simpson fooled us?

Jeffrey Nix, a 15-year employee of the NBA team, took the stand in U.S. District Court to recount a series of conversations he had with his friend and co-worker, plaintiff Anucha Browne Sanders, throughout

2004. At one meeting meant to resolve any issues between Sanders and Thomas, the two-time NBA champion guard lashed out at her by announcing, “Don’t forget, you f—— bitch, I’m the president of this f——- team,” Nix said his friend told him.

Browne Sanders also told Nix, he testified, that Thomas had asked her in March 2004, “What the f— is your job?

What are your job responsibilities, you f——- ho?” By the end of the year, though, Nix testified that he saw Thomas embracing Browne Sanders in Madison Square Garden after a Knicks’ victory — and watched as his friend pushed the coach away.

We’ve discussed the terrible matter of “bitches and hoes” here before and we’ve wondered about grotesque and discriminatory music videos finding popular purchase in the mainstream mindset, but there is a great sadness in the facts of the charges against Isiah Thomas because he does not feel calling a Black woman a “Bitch” is discriminatory or wrong.

A university professor friend of mine explained it to me this way in email:

Isiah Thomas is using ghetto culture to communicate with her. It isn’t right. It isn’t proper but that’s the culture that raised him. It’s the same as Whoopi Goldberg defending Michael Vick and his dog fighting as being an accepted cultural entertainment. We need to teach them away from their cultural values and that can be hard when you’re in a position of responsibility and you are rich beyond your wildest dreams.

Is it possible to teach Isiah Thomas away from the roots and values of the “Ghetto Culture” — or will defending himself against a $10 million sexual harassment suit only repress his true behavior and personality in the future to provide what he thinks the public wants and expects — while his misbegotten core ghetto values remain intact and untouched?

28 Comments

  1. WOW!
    I can’t think of a bigger insult one could provide to a woman here in the USA than the “C” word. Few of them embrace the word even in its blunt unevenness.
    I’d say the pecking order of forced-accepted insults would be:
    Bitch
    Ho
    “C” Word
    F’ing “C”

  2. Oh, wow! So the “C” word is put on a man by another man, right? Would a woman call a man a “C” or not?
    What craziness! I don’t think I’ve heard of a man being called a “C” here in the either the straight or gay communities…

  3. Thomas is showing his ignorance. He’s GM of a team with Stephan Marbury, who said ” I heard dogfighting is a sport”. in defense of Michael Vick. What a pitiful group the N.Y. Knicks have become. I remember when this was a classy team led by Willis Reed. They had Frazier, Bradley, Dave D. Now they are a real joke.
    The Sultan on Sports

  4. Hi David,
    Interesting perspective, or should we say pathetic!
    As ar as curse words go, it is said that the recipe for being a gentleman is to discard the sailor’s language/manner.

  5. I wrote briefly about this today as well. But bitch doesn’t bother me. Ho does. But what bothers me more is a guy putting race to when it’s ok to use words that people find offensive. It’s like saying that only black people can call other blacks the n*****.

  6. Arm —
    We were raised with different definitions of “Bitch!”
    In my culture a “Bitch” is one who is weak, whiny, and incapable of producing anything effective without threatening or belittling someone else.
    In my culture a “Ho” is a woman who gives up sex too freely to too many men.

  7. The word “bitch” has really grown from your original definition. It isn’t always gender specific as some have pointed out to me.
    It is a word that, to me, can mean power. And it’s a word used more so for women that men think should just grow a penis or something.
    Weak? Nah. Now bitching. That’s being whiny. I dunno. Just like with other languages, all the translations can be different.

  8. The verdict is in:

    A federal jury today found that Knicks Coach Isiah Thomas sexually harassed a former marketing executive and that Madison Square Garden fired her in retaliation for her complaints that Thomas had made unwanted advances toward her and had subjected her to verbal insults.
    The jury also ruled that the former executive, Anucha Browne Sanders, is entitled to punitive damages from the Garden. The judge directed the jury to return today to begin hearing arguments about how much the Garden will have to pay her in punitive damages, and they are to return at a later date to decide on compensatory damages. She had sought $10 million.
    Jurors could not, however, decide whether Browne Sanders should be paid damages by Thomas, so on that matter, the judge ruled a mistrial, a partial victory for the coach.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/02/sports/basketball/03garden-cnd.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin

  9. She won $11.6 million in damages:

    A federal jury has decided that Madison Square Garden and its chairman must pay $11.6 million in damages to former New York Knicks executive Anucha Browne Sanders over her harassment lawsuit.
    A verdict earlier Tuesday found that New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas had sexually harassed Browne Sanders, subjecting her to unwanted advances and a barrage of verbal insults, but also said he does not have to pay punitive damages.
    But the jury did find that Madison Square Garden committed harassment against the woman, and decided that she is entitled to punitive damages from MSG.

    http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D8S18B9O0&show_article=1

  10. This is a dead topic by now, but I’m adding this post out of shock and disappointment that most people never took even a moment to consider the whole issue from another perspective. ..
    I am amused by the media lambasting of everything that the Knicks basketball coach does except, of course, coach basketball.
    Mark Kriegel wrote an article that can be found online on Isiah Thomas’ statements regarding White men calling Black Women bitches, and about how he doesn’t view it in the same light as a Black man making the same statement. Kriegel talks about Isiah’s comments in the context of his “If he was Black, he’d justr be another good guy” reference to Larry Bird in the 80’s and seems to conclude that Isiah Thomas should just know better.
    I should say up front that I am in fact a fan of Isiah Thomas. Despite being told more times than I can count that I’m not really a fan but rather am just too easily seduced by the man’s smile to recognize the devil that lies beneath, I have been a fan since I was a kid . Please don’t hold that bias against me, though. The article is still misdirected.
    Isiah Thomas’ statements about Larry Bird 20 years ago were a commentary on the negative stereotypes placed on Black players vs. the positive ones placed on White players. The commentary was right on the money. Most people would agree that his delivery wasn’t the greatest, but forget that it was impossible for him to deliver it smoothly. By making the statement to the media, he was in essence getting right up in White America’s face and telling it that it continues to operate on racist stereotypes. What he was saying really had very little to do with Larry Bird as an individual. I think that Bird’s response, which was something akin to, “If it doesn’t bother me, it shouldn’t bother anybody else.”, shows that he understood this to be the case. I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that the larger response was to twist the controversy around by labeling Thomas a racist. That process isn’t nearly as uncomfortable as self-reflection.
    Still, Kriegel does acknowledge that that those statements and similar ones from other athletes, did had some real value by bringing racist stereotypes towards African Americans into public discourse and prompting some positive change. I’d like to think that there has been some growth in this area, though Donovan McNabb might disagree. There are some white coaches out there who still think that any Black player (or team) can be beaten just by using a pump-fake. They might not agree either.
    The stereotype of Black women as “bitches” is one of the most damaging in our culture:
    “A stereotype persists of African American women as immoral and therefore less deserving of protection from violence or sexual exploitation. In 1744, Edward Long, in an attempt to support slavery, published his conclusions about African women. He characterized them as “ignorant, crafty, treacherous, thievish, and mistrustful.”
    – Marilyn Yarbrough with Crystal Bennett, Cassandra and the “Sistahs“: the Peculiar Treatment of African American Women in the Myth of Women as Liars Journal of Gender, Race and Justice p. 655 (Spring 2000)
    My point? A white man calling a black woman a bitch is a very bad thing. It reinforces racist stereotypes that were created by white men. That’s why a white man calling a black woman a bitch could easily be perceived as both sexist and overtly racist, even if that was not the intended message. A black man saying the same thing is certainly sexist, but it would be hard to argue that it is racist as well. This doesn’t make it good, honorable, or ok for a black man to make this kind of comment. It makes it different than if a white man said it. Or, in the words of Isiah Thomas, “I do make a distinction”.
    The much subtler (and probably completely unintended) message supports slavery and the negative images that came from it. African Americans struggle against the burden of those images every day.
    Does anybody remember the movie “Higher Learning”?
    So…here’s a different theory on Isiah Thomas’ commentary on women, bitches, and race. It wasn’t a promotion of sexism or of self-loathing behavior by African American men. It also wasn’t intended as a a rallying cry for white men who want to feel discriminated against. (Similar to the: “Why can they call each other the ‘n’ word but I can’t?’ Here’s a question: Why the hell would you want to?).
    He was pointing out that, on some level, he perceives a white man making that type of statement as rubbing racism and slavery in his face. If I’m not mistaken, his grandfather was a slave, a reminder that the slavery isn’t ancient history, it’s very recent history. He also grew up in the West Side of Chicago, a place that some would say reinforces perceptions of racial opportunity gaps. His mother’s story is as well known as his own, and shows that he may not hate black women so much after all.
    Again, I shouldn’t be surprised that the public response. Its easier to demonize him than it is to reflect on matters of race.

  11. Thanks for your fine comment, netpup.
    The problem with Isiah is that he was denigrating and belittling a woman — a Black woman — in the workplace. That is unacceptable behavior under any terms or means and he paid for it in court and with a tremendous loss of reputation and so, in the end, did his employer in the loss of wads of money.