COMMENTS: What Does It All Mean?

For sociological background, CBS' Richard Schlesinger focused on the racial aspect. He cited criticism that Imus' insult was "especially stinging because of its timing." It came just as the black players on the team were overachieving while so many other African-Americans struggle with failures, such as high incarceration rates, below average incomes, low educational attainment. Schlesinger quoted Essence magazine's Susan Taylor as pointing out that "nappy-headed whore" was a historical reference to the ante-bellum era when black women were literally bought and sold as sexual slaves "on an auction block naked, standing before the crowds, bidding on them."

ABC's Deborah Roberts (subscription required) concentrated on the sexist component, noting that "it is no secret that the hip-hop world has made millions using the same sort of crass language that Imus did." Roberts suggested that the word itself is the source of the outrage, not its misapplication to the basketball players: she wondered whether "there is a newfound intolerance towards insults and those who spew them."

NBC was the most egregious in spending inappropriate time on the story. Anchor Brian Williams traveled to New Jersey to interview Rutgers' team captain Essence Carson--who, by the way, styles her hair straight not "nappy-headed"--and coach Vivian Stringer. In all, NBC devoted fully ten minutes to the story as Williams searched for the moral lesson in the contretemps. "I was going to come here today and ask you if you were going to turn this into a positive but talking to you it seems like you have already started that process," he suggested to Carson. "Can you really turn this into a positive and redemption? Can this be the lesson from this some day?" he asked Stringer. There was no news value in airing either woman's comments at such length.

UPDATE: at the conservative Brent Baker (text link) interprets Schlesinger's observations as "victimology, as if African-Americans have no control over their destiny" and objects to the reference to slavery. In the context of the "whore" insult, sex slavery seems apt and Baker's point is not well made. However, if Essence magazine is equating the scanty clothing that athletes wear with the nakedness of slaves on the auction block, then that analogy is completely wrong. The more women engage in athletics, displaying their bodies to public gaze in the process, the better.


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