THANK YOU, Cathy Hughes, Alfred Liggins and TV One for replaying Alex Haley’s “Roots: the Saga of an American Family” last week.
Thanks to two of the most powerful African-Americans in media and this cable and satellite TV network, there was some sanity on the airwaves in the midst of last week’s Imus madness.
As most of the nation was captivated by the expulsion of Don Imus from CBS and MSNBC after referring to members of the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed ho’s,” many Americans, myself included, were also watching TV One’s commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the 1977 TV adaptation of “Roots.”
Despite the controversy over the authenticity of Alex Haley’s work and genealogy, I couldn’t help but wonder what the African slave Kunta Kinte would think of being called a “n—-h” by other African-Americans?
What would Kizzy, the proud daughter of Kunta Kinte, think about being referred to as a “be-yotch” or a “ho” in the rap written and sung by so many black men today? In fact, what would Sally Hemings – a black slave who many believe bore as many as six of Thomas Jefferson’s children while being held as his personal chattel and concubine – have to say? What would Sojourner Truth, a former slave who went on to become a renowned anti-slavery and women’s rights activist, have to say?
And what would Harriet Tubman, a black woman who escaped slavery and went on to help hundreds of others escape through the Underground Railroad, have to say? My guess is they’d say enough is enough.
When asked whether an analogy could be drawn between Imus’ comments and the crudity with which black women are described in certain genres of rap music, the Imus/rap music punditry overwhelmingly maintained that when African-American rap artists refer to black women as “bitches” and “ho’s,” it’s a form of “creative expression.”
MTV News quoted rapper Snoop Dogg as denouncing any comparison: “First of all, we ain’t no old-a– white men that sit up on MSNBC going hard on black girls. We are rappers that have these songs coming from our minds and souls that are relevant to what we feel.”
What Snoop Dogg says and what Imus thought he had the right to say is, and will forever be, wrong. What has been lost in this discussion is that both Snoop Dogg, Imus and many others are degrading black women and sending a signal to the nation that this coarsening of African-American culture is acceptable.
Imus’ stupidity was not shocking – he is a rogue and a bigot. But Snoop and others should know better because they are members of the African-American community.
I once had the privilege of representing C. DeLores Tucker, the late head of the National Political Congress of Black Women, in her crusade against lyrics that were demeaning to African-American women. Dr. Tucker was a pioneer, picketing stores that sold rap and buying stock in record labels that produced the offending music so that a black woman’s voice would be heard at shareholder meetings. She was ostracized by many African-Americans, but her belief that these shameful lyrics were threatening the bedrock of African-American culture was prescient.
When artists use the “n-word” or call black women “bitches” and “ho’s,” they draw on the historic exploitation of black men and women in America and ignore all that we have survived and become as a community.
Slaveholders referred to black women as “wenches” and “whores.” Why would African-Americans ever use this language?
Hip-hop culture has become mainstream and wildly popular.
Children – black and white – wear the clothes they see in music videos, use the same language they hear being sung and take on the personas of what they perceive to be hip. As a result, there is no line between what is acceptable to say or who may say it.
THIS IS NOT about Imus – it’s about us. And to be clear, no one, black or white, male or female, should be given a pass to refer to anyone as a
“n—-h,” a “bitch” or a “nappy-headed ho.”
Harriet Tubman was known as the “Moses of her people.” I hope her spirit will return to guide our community back to its proud roots. Enough is indeed enough. *
Michelle D. Bernard, a lawyer and the president and CEO of the Independent Women’s Forum, is the author of the soon-to-be-released “Women’s Progress: How Women are Wealthier, Healthier, and More Independent Than Ever Before.”