Imus' non-defense: The phrase "nappy-headed hos" "originated in the black community"

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

While acknowledging that it was not "OK" for him to refer to the Rutgers University women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos," Don Imus asserted on the April 10 edition of his show, MSNBC's Imus in the Morning, and on NBC's Today show that the phrase "originated in the black community." Specifically, he stated: "I may be a white man, but I know that ... young black women all through that society are demeaned and disparaged and disrespected ... by their own black men and that they are called that name." Those comments -- and his assertion, during the same show, that "there's a lot of stuff that we can do, but at some point, I stop playing" -- stand in contrast with the contrition he purported to express the day before. On the April 9 edition of the show, Imus acknowledged that his comments were especially objectionable because he mocked a specific group of young women who he said didn't "deserve it." Imus has a long history of ad hominem slurs that target race, ethnicity, and sex.

On the April 9 edition of his program, Imus said that he "learned" from this incident that "you can't make fun of everybody because some people don't deserve it." Nonetheless, Imus brought up the purported origin of the term "hos" on the April 10 edition of Imus and during an April 10 discussion -- simulcast on MSNBC -- with Today co-host Matt Lauer and Rev. Al Sharpton.

On Today, Sharpton objected to Imus' point regarding the origin of the phrase, saying, "We have said that we are against the degrading that is done even by blacks. ... Wherever he says this originated from does not give him the right to use it." After the discussion concluded, Imus claimed on his program that Sharpton had misrepresented his remarks. Imus asserted that he did not say that he "should be cut slack because these young women are disparaged and demeaned and disrespected by young black men and others in their own community," but he also did not explain the significance of his repeated assertion that "nappy-headed hos" "originated in the black community."

On April 10, the Associated Press noted Imus' remarks on Today and reported that he had "tried to shift some of the focus from himself."

As Media Matters for America noted, on April 9, NBC News and CBS Radio both announced they will suspend Imus for two weeks, beginning April 16.

From the April 9 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning:

IMUS: Does that mean that it's OK for me to say what I said about these Rutgers women? I hope you don't think that because I don't think that. So, I'm going to go talk to these women, if they'll let me, and tell them what I've just told you. And what have I learned from this? Because Reverend DeForest Soaries [senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens] said, "I want you to tell me what you've learned."

Here's what I've learned: That you can't make fun of everybody because some people don't deserve it and because the climate on this program has been what it's been for 30 years doesn't mean that it has to be that way for the next five years or whatever. Because that has to change so -- and I understand that.

From the April 10 edition of Imus in the Morning:

IMUS: But I have some good ideas, and they may work and they may not. I think they will work, so -- except -- by the way, though, I was just talking about [WFAN operations director Mark] Chernoff, who I've talked about for years, so --

CHARLES McCORD: Oh, I -- well aware.

IMUS: Because this phrase that I used didn't originate -- it originated in the black community. That didn't give me a right to use it, but that's where it originated.

McCORD: Absolutely:

IMUS: Well, who calls who that and why? Now, we need to know that. I need to know that. The white people, all of them kind of -- there are many African-Americans by the way who listen to the program, many.

From the April 10 edition of NBC's Today:

SHARPTON: I will certainly call on them this morning -- presidential candidates as well as politicians. They should not go on his show, but I hope that we will not have a show for them to go back on.

LAUER: Let me bring Don Imus back in on this. Don, first of all, you said you're going to meet -- you would like to meet with the Rutgers University players. What exactly would you say to them?

IMUS: Well, we made extraordinary efforts both over the air and officially through members of the religious community in New Jersey and the academic community at Rutgers and through -- privately -- through people who know people who are trying to see if these young women will allow me to come out and apologize to them. And I am going to apologize to them and ask them for their forgiveness.

I don't expect that, and I don't think they have any obligation to either forgive me or to accept my apology, but I have a responsibility to -- and I think it's important. And everybody can say that context is not important, but in every aspect of our lives, it is. And I want these young women to know that I didn't say this out of anger, and that I didn't say this out of meanness, and I didn't -- I didn't turn my microphone on and say, "This is what I think of the young women of Rutgers," and believe me, I know that that phrase didn't originate in the white community.

That phrase originated in the black community, and I -- I'm not stupid. I may be a white man, but I know that these young women and young black women all through that society are demeaned and disparaged and disrespected by the -- by their own black men and that they are called that name, and I know that the -- and that doesn't give me, obviously, any right to say it, but it doesn't give them any right to say it.

LAUER: Don -- we made a --

SHARPTON: Well, I --

LAUER: -- well, let me just say, we kind of agreed here that we wouldn't make this a debate back and forth, Don, but would you mind if I allowed Reverend Sharpton to comment on that because he's sitting --

IMUS: I talked to Reverend Sharpton yesterday for two hours, Matt, and I told [NBC News senior Vice President] Phil Griffin [who oversees Today] and everybody else, that I didn't intend to --

[...]

IMUS: I told Phil, I told everybody else that I had no intention of debating him on his program, if he didn't have the same kind of courage that I had. Now, I walked into that studio by myself.

[...]

SHARPTON: Two things: One is that is not about courage to appear on his show. I could not tell people to don't watch him, don't listen to him, don't appear, and then go myself. I'm not in the business of creating an audience for him. And I said if he wanted to meet in public, he could come to my show. He opted to do that.

But the second point: We have said that we are against the degrading that is done even by blacks. I have led protests on shows on that and will continue to do that, but that does not excuse him. Wherever he says this originated from does not give him the right to use it. We should fight all that use it.

From the April 10 edition of Imus in the Morning:

LAUER: I know we're simulcast on MSNBC, so thanks for your airtime as well.

IMUS: You're welcome.

LAUER: All right, and --

[end video clip]

IMUS: Twenty minutes after the hour here on the Imus in the Morning program on the radio around the country and on MSNBC, so -- well, I didn't say that. I mean, you know -- see, that's the problem. That's not what I said -- that I should be cut slack because these young women are disparaged and demeaned and disrespected by young black men and others in their own community. That's not what I said.

So -- and what did Matt do? Let him get by with it, which is what I told Phil Griffin, and these other people. I said, you know, "Don't, Matt" -- I said, "Well, the reason I'm not going to go on there and debate Al Sharpton and Matt Lauer is because Matt is by -- for whatever reason, is going to be on Reverend Sharpton's side, just whether he is or not."

Posted In
Diversity & Discrimination, Gender, Race & Ethnicity
Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Person
Don Imus
Show/Publication
Imus in the Morning
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