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ISSUE 120 VOL 18 PUBLISHED 4/20/2007

Blame Imus, not hip-hop

By Peter Farrell
Executive Editor

Friday, April 20, 2007

A few years ago, Janet Jackson'’s boob popped out during the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXVIII. The ensuing controversy – memorably dubbed “Nipplegate” –forced the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to crack down on the raunchy content clogging our airwaves. For example, Howard Stern, an enormously popular shock jock, got booted from several major radio markets, eventually forcing him to sign on with Sirius, a satellite radio service that's not subject to FCC guidelines.

Oh, how Don Imus probably wishes he was in outer-space with Stern right now. Last week, Imus called the Rutgers women's basketball team “nappy headed hos” and, as of this week, he no longer has a job. And that's probably a good thing. Long considered an inveterate racist and sexist by a whole gaggle of cultural critics, Imus' remark took an undeserved potshot at some pretty admirable women.

But now, the tenor of the debate is changing. The fact that Imus made an inappropriate remark is well-established. Now we just have to figure out why Imus called those women “nappy headed hos”? But seriously, why even ask the question when the answer is so obvious: it's hip-hop's fault!

A number of commentators – from across the political spectrum – have pointed out that a double standard seemingly exists. Turn on Black Entertainment Television (BET), these people say, and you’ll see a number of young black males rapping about sex, drugs and violence with no repercussions. The insinuation is clear: What Imus said was wrong, but the real problem is that rap artists are given carte blanche to sell smut.

The implication is that white American society has worked hard to eradicate racism from its ranks, while the black community perpetuates the very stereotypes that defined white racism. After all, if black folks are willing to tolerate a culture that demeans women and glorifies violence, why wouldn't white folks think they could participate in that culture of abuse?

Unfortunately, demonizing hip-hop as the source of the Imus scandal is a clever tactic by politically correct tightwads to redirect the burden of racism and sexism onto the African-American community: Don Imus might be a racist, but he’'s only a racist because those darn rappers don'’t have enough consideration for the women in their own communities.

That’'s the sort of specious logic that neglects the fact that cultural perceptions are the product of an interaction between blacks and whites. Obviously, hip-hop is an industry dominated by black males, but it is also an industry that white suburbanites consume with abandon. The nature of that interaction reveals that rap music – which, at this point, is simply popular music – satisfies the desires of a bi-racial audience.

Part of the problem is figuring out why the lyrical content of rap lags so far behind the genre's formal innovation. But the other part of the problem is figuring out why white audiences lap up that language and imagery, especially in the context of a long history of oppressive racial relations in this country.

It’'s wrong to blame Imus’ remark on “black” rappers. Rather, a serious conversation about this subject involves an examination of the cultural assumptions – both black and white – that drive the American consumption of hip-hop.

Variety Editor Peter Farrell is a junior from Edina, Minn. He majors in history and in English.

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