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Reconciling the double standard, post-Imus

Black or white or green, we're all on the hook for silencing hate speech in the wake of the Don Imus controversy. By Miki Turner
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Two days after Don Imus was fired for calling the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos,” I was attending Carter James Robinson’s first birthday party at his home in Inglewood, Calif. Carter, a black toddler who has just learned to walk, didn’t crack a smile all day, but a good time was had by all.

What was particularly amazing about that gathering was that Carter was surrounded by a slew of kids who didn’t look like him. His guests included Asian, Latino and biracial kids who were all playing together happily and dancing to old Jackson 5 records.

Things only got messy when the kids started eating cake.

The adults, who included a pair of delightful Caucasian senior citizens from next door, played nice, too. Some were quick to point out that they wished their lives could be so simple.

It was a beautiful thing.

That party also gave me an opportunity to step away from the Imus controversy and breathe again. I hadn’t realized how contentious that incident would get until I got some hate mail about 10 minutes after had been posted on this site. In the ensuing days, hundreds of you would write expressing your perspectives on this situation. And although all of the letters were enlightening on some level, there were some folks who shattered my theory that life in America could ever be like a kid’s birthday party.

It’s not. We can’t seem to have our cake and enjoy it, too.

Some of you called me the N-word or worse. Some of you said that you use the N-word frequently and would use it more often now that Imus had been axed.

I feel for you.

Some of you compared me to Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. One of you said the three of us should burn in hell for what we had done to Imus.

I pray for you.

And even though that column really wasn’t about race, some of you said things that forced me to check myself.

You, I thank.

Looking at the double standardThe majority of you, however, were very kind and supportive and brought up very valid points about the double-standard issue in this country as it relates to race relations. Why can’t white people like Imus use the word “ho” without fear of reprimand when some rappers use it in every rhyme they drop?

How can black comedians like Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle trash white people in their stand-up routines and it’s OK? But if a white person utters the words “ho” even in jest, officers Jackson and Sharpton descend upon them like a flock of locusts. Dems fightin’ words.

This issue has been debated back-and-forth during the past few days in just about every newspaper in America, and on about every chat show from “Dateline” to “Oprah.” Kansas City Star sports columnist Jason Whitlock has called for Jackson and Sharpton to stop their showboating and step down as America’s unelected black leaders.

He ain’t the only one.

Oprah, who admitted that this issue frightened her, hosted a two-day town hall summit to discuss what we could do about the double standards that exist in this country. I don’t blame her for being scared. I am, too. This issue is far too complex, complicated and contentious to try and solve in two 60-minute broadcasts or in one online commentary.

We can’t just deal with the here and now because it takes you back to the Middle Passage and beyond. The Imus debacle has subsequently led to discussions about slavery, the Civil War, the Great Depression, Hitler, Brown vs. the Board of Education, Emmett Till, the Little Rock Nine, the March on Selma, Martin Luther King Jr., the Klan, the ’60s, the ’70s, Jimmy the Greek, Rodney King, O.J., Jesse “Hymie Town” Jackson, Al “Tawana Brawley” Sharpton, rappers, Mel Gibson, Michael Richards, Rosie O’Donnell, Isaiah Washington and countless others who have made public snafus when it comes to race.

So many players, so much debate, so few answers.

What about rap?Most of you, however, were upset that no one is censoring the rap industry. You blamed rappers for introducing this offensive “language of the streets” to your kids. Some even claimed rappers were at fault for Imus’ firing, because they were the one who ushered words like nappy and ho into our cultural lexicon.

If they can say it and make millions that makes it OK, right?

My question to you is why would you want to go around saying those words? Are they orgasmic? Are they liberating? Do they give you a false sense of superiority? Please, I need to know!

But here’s the thing, parents need to teach their kids right from wrong. You know better, they don’t. And I know it’s a cliché, but they are the future. Imus, however, is a grown man.

Regardless of his intentions, Imus, assuming he has at least an ounce of common sense, knew better than to call a women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos.”

It didn’t matter what color they were or what school they played for.

Everyone else who has tackled this issue in the past week has focused on the diverse thoughts of folks past the voting age. I wanted to know, however, what the kids were thinking so I spoke with a group of students from East High School in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday.

Their parents should be proud for rearing, smart, enlightened and morally upstanding kids who realize there’s no longer room in America for double standards. They know it’s on them to stop the madness.

“Martin Luther King’s dream was to help everyone,” one student said. “He wanted us to be one nation. We can’t do that if we don’t even know how to talk to each other. There are just certain words that shouldn’t be said by anyone.”

Ah, from the mouths of babes.

Who is accountable?The question, however, remains: who is really accountable for these double standards?

That’s easy. It’s all of us.

It’s all of us who buy, download and financially support the rap industry. All of us who cringe when we hear these lyrics and do nothing. All of those who are rearing kids on TV, iTunes, iPods and the Internet and expecting them to turn into good, moral human beings.

You, too, need to be fired.

It’s all of us in the black community that keep the N-word alive as a term of endearment or anything else. It’s white people who use it trying to be hip, flip or with intent to demean, degrade or oppress.

Let’s start handing out our own pink slips.

It’s women, who call each other hos and bitches for reasons I can’t understand. It’s men who measure their manhood by the foul things they say.

You need to stop.

It’s the advertisers and networks that stand behind the personalities until their bottom lines are threatened. That type of hypocrisy speaks volumes about American values. It’s the comedians who sometimes don’t realize that every joke doesn’t have a punch line.

Everything ain’t funny.

It’s the so-called leaders like Jackson and Sharpton who seemingly speak louder when the cameras are rolling.

They’re not always the ones driving the bus, but they sure know when to get on.

It’s me for calling another human being I’ve never met an idiot in print and getting a good tongue lashing from my 81-year-old mother, who reminded me that good people come in all shades and hues.

My apologies Mr. Imus.

Lessons learnedOne of the reasons that I took the time to read and respond to all of your letters — other than the fact I have no life — is because something told me that I’d learn a few things.

I did.

I learned from the young and the old, the black and the white, the angry and the repentant, the good and the bad, the Jew and the Gentile, the ignorant and the enlightened.

You are America. And right now there’s a cloud looming over the purple mountains and the shining seas.  There, is, however, hope. But only if we allow ourselves to be reborn as that nation King dreamed about.

Like Anne Frank, I do believe that there is some inherent good in everyone. Hatred and intolerance are learned behaviors. If we want to end the double standard in this country, we’re going to have to tap into our good genes more often. We’re going to have to listen to each other. We’re going to have to celebrate each other’s cultural differences. I recently moved to a Hassidic Jewish neighborhood and I am absolutely fascinated by their customs and traditions. Every day I’m ringing my Jewish friends to ask about this and that when I know I should just go to the source.

But, while I might not agree with the way the Hassidic men treat their women, it’s not my place to judge them. They are abiding by their law, not mine.

Doing better, togetherI purposely held off writing this column for a few days at the risk of it becoming old news because I thought we all needed to take a collective breath before we let the firing of one man widen the gulf that already exists between the races. It’s not worth it. If nothing else proves that point, on April 16 ought to put things in better perspective.

Tomorrow’s not promised folks. We need to do better today.

Let’s hope that the Tech situation doesn’t turn into a racial issue, too, since the killer was immediately identified as an Asian man, as opposed to just a VT student who apparently snapped.

As we heal from that and the wounds inflicted last week by Imus’ firing, let’s remember to hold each other accountable. Truth is light. Let’s see what comes out of the summit meeting Russell Simmons is holding on Wednesday in New York to discuss rap’s role in all of this.

Let’s applaud him for taking that step.

And above all, let’s heed the words of the Rev. DeForest B. Soaries Jr., one of the leaders in the struggle to make rappers accountable for their offensive lyrics, who said Sunday: “It won’t be terrorism that kills us on the outside, but our lack of morality that kills us on the inside.”

Man, I can’t wait to go to another kid’s birthday party.

Miki Turner is a freelance TV producer/writer in Los Angeles. She can be reached at .