Is there a double standard? Imus has been suspended for two weeks for racist and sexist remarks, but rap songs and African-American comedians use the same kind of language and no one bats an eye.
“There’s a double, double standard,” the Rev. Dr. DeForest Soaries, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, N.J., told Matt Lauer on TODAY. “If Don Imus had called the wife of a CBS executive an ugly whore he’d have been fired.”
But, a young African-American man told TODAY correspondent Kerry Sanders on the street in Miami: “If a black talk show host said it, there wouldn’t have been any controversy whatever.”
“Those terms didn’t originate in the white community,” Imus himself has said in defending himself. “Those terms originated in the black community.”
Many black leaders agree. They aren’t excusing what Imus said about the Rutgers women’s basketball team, but they do contend that this incident calls for a more serious examination of America’s attitudes about race and women.
“The society is what it is because of those in leadership roles,” Rutgers women’s coach C. Vivian Stringer told Meredith Vieira on TODAY. Referring to Imus and his they-said-if-first defense, she added, “He is three times the age of a rapper. If we don’t set the example, there can’t be a return to real decency. It starts with each one of us and what we do. As much as I would love to win a national championship, I would gladly exchange a national championship in order for there to be a better America.”
‘It’s a historic problem’
From Spike Lee movies like “School Daze” to Jay-Z to Chris Rock, pop African-American culture is drenched in the sort of language that Imus used — and more. Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum of Spelman College, historically a college for black women, said that when her students travel abroad, they find that foreigners think the words many Americans find so offensive are the common — and harmless — terms used to describe women and blacks in this country.
Tatum is the author of the book “Can We Talk about Race?” “It’s an historic problem, But one that all of us must address,” she said of America’s double standard. Imus’ comments and subsequent two-week suspension, she said, present “a wonderful opportunity to have dialogue. Our society is increasingly polarized; our schools are increasingly isolated. I do think it’s important to recognize that these comments are unacceptable” no matter what the source.
“If we are to have a civil society, we need a consensus on what decency and civility really mean,” said Soaries, who is Coach Stringer’s pastor and who has been asked to moderate an upcoming meeting between Imus and the Rutger’s women’s team.
Philadelphia radio talk-show host Michael Smerconish agreed, though he added that the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson are hardly the persons to lead it. Both, he said, are guilty of the same sort of offenses they accuse Imus of.
“It’s a dialogue about cleaning up culture in all respects,” Smerconish told Lauer, pointing to such shows as “Jackass” as another example of an anything-goes attitude. “There’s enough hypocrisy to go around.”
Stringer, appearing on TODAY with Rutger’s women’s basketball team captain Essence Carson, talked about what a remarkable story her team should have been. It was an underdog squad of just 10 young women that upset mighty Duke and fought its way into the National Championship game, where it finally succumbed to a powerful Tennessee team.
It’s players, said Carson, a junior music major, aspire to be doctors, psychologists, musicians and orthopedic surgeons. At the highest moment of their athletic lives, they heard themselves dismissed by Imus as “nappy-headed ho’s.”
“It’s just so hurtful that he has attacked 10 young student athletes who are not only basketball players but also students,” Carson said.