Me on Public Radio Tonight. Race, Class, Language, Imusness. What Would YOU Say?



UPDATE: SHOW HAS BEEN CANCELLED. they decided to focus on the Virginia tech thing. The show will air at some point and be less about Imus, which is good. In the meantime, keep the comments coming, and if you want, leave voicemail on my call in line. I'll do my own podcast on the subject based on your input! Voicemail number is in the sidebar to the right. Or just call 254-247-3228.


The good folks at Radio Open Source have invited me on the air for a third time, this time the subject is Imusness. From the show page:


Race, class, and language. The Right is defending Imus by claiming that African Americans use that language…so let's take their argument head on. Should we discuss who -- in this country of free speech -- can use derogatory language about race? Can the youth say it; Chris Rock; only African Americans? Have we reached a point that it shouldn't be cool for anyone -- anytime, to use that language?

Nother, in a comment to Open Source, 4/13/07


They also link to Michelle Malkin’s version of the argument.


The show airs live tonight April 19 at 7pm - 8pm eastern, and you can grab it online.


I've been inundated with Imusness for the past week, talking about it, doing standup about it, writing my Weekly Dig column about it (runs next week). I count at least 10 issues raised by the event, but on this subject of "who can say what." In essence, folks are saying, "black folks say it. so can I." Here are some of my thoughts.


1. criticism of rap is cool, but it's not a simple problem

as black folk, we DO need to challenge the uglier images of ourselves promoted by us, especially in the form of the worst commercial rap music. i don't think it's as simple as "stopping" misogynistic lyrics. You can't just tell people to stop doing something even if it's in their interest to do so. We all know McDonald's is unhealthy, yet its business continues to grow. Rap music is big business owned and promoted by corporations whose profit-driven motive cannot be ignored or underestimated.


2. Imus is your embarrassing dad trying to be cool

He failed in this instance because of a combination of factors: he wasn't funny but just mean, and he attacked the wrong people. Also, those words just sounded so very wrong coming from him. He is 67 years old and, racist or not, no one over 50 has the right to say the word "ho" whether directed at peers, scholar-athletes or sex workers. You know how awkward you feel when your parents wear their caps cocked to the side and try to use the language of your generation and tell you how "fly" you look? Suddenly, you don't feel so "fly," just ashamed, and you want your parents to just be quiet.


3. has my comedy ever embodied self-deprecation that is specifically about being black?

Yes my comedy has made fun of me being black (friend chicken, kool-aid, for example) because that's a part of me. I've also made fun of being an American, liberal, Bostonian and other aspects of my identity. So no, I won't stop doing it, and I don't think other comedians should either.


check out the audio or transcript from NPR's On The Media last week. Leon Wynter makes some great points about appropriation of black culture that I sort of respond to below


4. Do others, i.e. non-blacks, interpret this kind of self-deprecation as an opportunity to adopt that language?

yes, others "outside the family" constantly try to appropriate inside language for their own purposes, usually to gain some sort of street or hip cred. This is not a simple issue. I would never attempt to appropriate inside jokes from Thai culture, for example, because Thai culture is not POPULAR. I get no validation from society regarding my image when I do Thai things.


Yes, we're dealing with sensitivities of group pride, ownership and comfort along with who is "allowed" to say something or not.


But we're also dealing with big business and popular culture. It's hard to blame the white executive that greets a new black employee with "Sup son!" because to him, that language isn't necessarily "black" inasmuch as it is "cool." What that executive needs to ask himself is would he greet a young white employee the same way or with "hey dude." Executives should stay executives either way.


Our current culture conflates to an extreme degree elements of the black experience with coolness, and the danger is for some non-black person to attempt "cool" and come off as offensive, completely unintentionally. There is also damage to black people, even globally because commodification of culture is rarely without its costs.


Those elements of black culture that are being sold to society at large are caricatures of a slice of the black experience: baggy pants, the n-word, nappy, hos, etc. The popular culture hasn't found it fit to sell perseverance, faith, creativity and strength -- all equally important aspects of black American identity.


The packaging of black culture has deprived black people of their humanity in many ways. Our culture is just another product to be picked up and reused by whomever. This Imus incident and Michael Richards and <insert 1,000 examples here> make me look -forward to the day when we can just be human beings again.


5. A hodgepodge of other issues



  • Freedom of speech means the government can't lock you up. It doesn't mean the people have to like it or put up with it. It doesn't mean you have a right to broadcast it everywhere you want and expect no consequences. Part of freedom of speech means dealing with the repercussions.

  • Risky comedy still has to be FUNNY. Imus consistently fails the funny test

  • Disrespect for women sells across ALL races. It's not just black rappers. Ever seen a car commercial?

  • The industry of "shock jocks" is irrelevant in an era of beheadings-on-demand via YouTube

  • Asking why Imus got fired for saying this thing is like asking why Scorcese got an Oscar for The Departed. Both men are being recognized for their entire body of work and finally got what they've earned :)

  • and many more things...



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I know it's short notice, but I'd love you get some feedback and your own ideas about this issue of language, race, and "rules" before, during, or after the show tonight.


I'll integrate all that into a podcast of my own on goodCRIMETHINKcast


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