Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Photo of Bill Moyers Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Watch & Listen The Blog Archive Transcripts Buy DVDs

« Poll: Free Trade | Main | Bill Moyers Essay: SOS »

Racism, Misogyny and Hip-Hop

The recent firing of Don Imus for making racial slurs on the radio has stirred up much discussion about racism in America, particularly the role that certain derogatory words play in fanning the flames of social bigotry.

Russell Simmons, founder of legendary hip-hop label Def Jam, has been at the forefront of this debate recently, pushing for a ban on the use of 3 words in hip-hop lyrics that he deems sexist and racist:

"The words 'bitch' and 'ho' are utterly derogatory and disrespectful of the painful, hurtful, misogyny that, in particular, African-American women have experienced in the United States as part of the history of oppression, inequality, and suffering of women.

The word 'nigger' is a racially derogatory term that disrespects the pain, suffering, history of racial oppression, and multiple forms of racism against African-Americans and other people of colour."

--Russell Simmons

But Melissa Harris-Lacewell, with whom Bill Moyers talks this week on THE JOURNAL, believes that banning certain words only serves to "cover over racism" and that truly facing the issue of bigotry in America today requires new tools:

"I hope by the end of my class though, they would be saying, 'Look, we recognize that even if we got rid of every derogatory, racial utterance, even if no one ever, black or white, used the 'N' word again, that this would not actually end racial inequality in America.'

I hope that my students have learned something about the structural nature of inequality and the way that racism gets perpetuated through our assumptions and our history and our culture, and not just through bad words or language."

--Professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell

What do you think? How important are words in fighting prejudice in America?

Photo: Robin Holland


TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.pbs.org/moyers/mt4/mt-tb.cgi/156

Comments

The world of fashion in terms of handbags has been largely dominated by Chanel handbags which happen to be a brand name in the fashion industry. These kinds of women products are manufactured to ensure that they meet the standards and quality of the modern woman. Women and handbags are inseparable and the Chanel cambon have come at the right time to cater for the needs of women.


They come in different tastes to suite the needs of the diverse clients who enjoy the uniqueness of the modern women treasure. They are highly regarded by women and most of them consider them as a symbol of social status. Women feel that the Chanel Coco Cabas give them a feeling of high esteem and they are regarded as people of class among their peers. The products also boost the esteem of a woman and this makes her full of confidence.


Chanel rue cambon are designed to be affordable to the modern woman. The prices are very attractive and the quality has not been compromised.Chanel 2.55 double flap bag has remained in its highest level and every woman would like to be associated with the Chanel products.


To shop for the product has been made easier by the online shopping. The products can be viewed from the convenience of your personal computer and you can compare the different products before you make your final choice. After making the final choice, the products can be purchased online and it will be delivered to your doorstep. This has made the products very popular among women of status in the society.

To me every single hip hop track that comes out now sounds exactly the same.

Yes, There Will Be Racism Against Mr. Obama. Is The Media Truth Enough to What The Media Used to Be to Admit That The Media (Even The Same Democrate Media) Has Been Sexist and Painting an Image of Negative Against Mrs. Cliniton From The Beginning? This huge and every where broadcasted collection of biases towards Mr. Obama is one of the strongest reasons I am voting for Mrs. Cliniton.

Every time The Diana Rhem Show discusses The Democrate Representative Election without bring up the sexism, along with the racism, the host, those it takes to make the show and your meida organization and the guests on those discussions are betraying the standards of ethics and morals of media broadcasting, past legends and PBS' s Bill Moyers. The participants that are women are betraying not only our species, but their own unequally treated sex. While I do not think just because she is a woman she should be treated differently, but she MUST be treated equally when actions are taken based solely on her race and not intelligence. 940 AM, progressive radio hosts rarely discuss the election with the sexism happening; however, the radio station fired their best host (a woman) for not being fair to Mrs. Cliniton. While I strongly believe that was wrong, I strongly believe in freedom of speech and I no longer will listen to the station at least they attempted to deal with it.

By THOMAS BEAUMONT
REGISTER STAFF WRITER
March 12, 2007
Muscatine, Ia. - Illinois Sen.
'NOBODY IS SUFFERING MORE THAN THE PALENTINIAN PEOPLE,' OBAMA SAID, while on the final leg of his weekend trip to eastern Iowa.
The Palestinian Authority is controlled by Hamas, a political party that does not recognize Israel's sovereignty and is listed by several countries - including the United States - as a terrorist organization. The United States and other nations imposed restrictions on aid when Hamas gained power last year.
http://www.desmoinesregister.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2007703120330
THE HALAL FOOD ACT WAS SPONSORED BY BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMS. in August 2001.
"This law will give Muslims in Illinois confidence that the Halal food products they buy are indeed prepared according to Islamic law."'
"Senate Bill 750 was sponsored in by Senators Christine Radogno, R-La Grange, Laurence Walsh, D-Elwood, Barack Obama,..."
http://www.illinois.gov/PressReleases/ShowPressRelease.cfm?SubjectID=3&RecNum=1517
Obama's pastor admits concerns over candidate's ties to Islam
Chad Groening
OneNewsNow.com
March 21, 2007
The head of a pro-Israel ministry is praising the PASTOR OF Democratic presidential candidate Barack OBAMA'SO church for ADMITTING HIS CONCERNS ABOUT the Illinois senator's (OBAMA's) ASSOCIATION WITH THE PALESTINIANS AND THE NATION OF ISLAM leader Louis Farrakhan.
http://www.onenewsnow.com/2007/03/obamas_p...ts_concerns.php
...in two separate interviews, Pastor Wright has REVEALED HIS CONCERNS ABOUT OBAMA'S PRO-ISLAMIC LEANINGS.
Markell FEARS THAT IF OBAMA BECOMES PRESIDENT, THE UNITED STATES WILL BLATANTLY TURN ITS BACK ON ISRAEL- AND SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES later.
If he has concerns, what should we have! Just read the statement from this church and insert White where it states Black. It will surprise you- or not.
Trinity United Church of Christ;
We are a congregation which is Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian... Our roots in the Black religious experience and tradition are deep, lasting and permanent. "WE ARE AFRICAN PEOPLE, AND REMAIN TRUE TO OUR NATIVE LAND"..
Trinity United Church of Christ adopted the Black Value System written by the Manford Byrd Recognition Committee chaired by Vallmer Jordan in 1981. We believe in the following 12 precepts and covenantal statements. These Black Ethics must be taught and exemplified in homes, churches, nurseries and schools, wherever Blacks are gathered. They must reflect on the following concepts:
Commitment to God
COMMITMENT TO THE BLACK COMMUNITY
COMMITMENT TO THE BLACK FAMILY
Dedication to the Pursuit of Education
Dedication to the Pursuit of Excellence
ADHERENCE TO THE BLACK WORK ETHIC
Commitment to Self-Discipline and Self-Respect
Disavowal of the Pursuit of "Middleclassness"
Pledge to make the fruits of all developing and acquired skills available to the Black Community
Pledge to Allocate Regularly, a Portion of Personal Resources for Strengthening and Supporting Black Institutions
PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE TO ALL BLACK LEADERSHIP WHO ESPOUSE AND EMBRACE THE BLACK VALUE SYSTEM. Personal commitment to embracement of the Black Value System.
The Pastor as well as the membership of Trinity United Church of Christ is committed to a 10-point Vision:
A congregation committed to ADORATION.
A congregation preaching SALVATION.
A congregation actively seeking RECONCILIATION.
A congregation with a non-negotiable COMMITMENT TO AFRICA.
A congregation committed to BIBLICAL EDUCATION.
A congregation committed to CULTURAL EDUCATION.
A congregation committed to the HISTORICAL EDUCATION OF AFRICAN PEOPLE IN DIASPORA.
A congregation committed to LIBERATION.
A congregation committed to RESTORATION.
A congregation working towards ECONOMIC PARITY.
http://apnews.myway.com/article/20070320/D8NVNRJO2.html
http://www.tucc.org
BOYHOOD FRIEND AND TEACHER SAY OBAMA WAS MUSLIM.
In a statement to the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, Gibbs amended that declaration, saying: “Obama has never been a practicing Muslim,” the key word being “practicing.”
But a BOYHOOD FRIEND of Obama in Indonesia, Zulfin Adi, TOLD THE TIMES; "His mother often went to the church, but Barry [Barack’s name at the time] was Muslim. HE WENT TO THE MOSQUE.”
HIS FIRST GRADE TEACHER Israella Dharmawan TOLD THE TIMES: “At that time, Barry was also praying in a Catholic way, but Barry was Muslim. HE WAS REGISTERED AS A MUSLIM because his father was Muslim.”
IN THE THIRD GRADE, OBAMA TRANSFERRED TO A PUBLIC SCHOOL, WHERE HE WAS ALSO REGISTERED AS A MUSLIM. MUSLIM STUDENT AT THE SCHOOL ATTENDED WEEKLY RELIGION LESSONS ABOUT ISLAM, TAUGHT BY A MUSLIM.
.. WHEN THE CALL TO PRAYER SOUNDED, OBAMA and Lolo WOULD WALK TO THE MOSQUE together, Adi added.
One such critic is Chicago-based Internet journalist and broadcaster Andy Martin, a lawyer and consumer advocate who wrote earlier about Obama’s connection to Islam.
“Obama no longer denies he was a Muslim. Now he says he wasn’t a ‘practicing’ Muslim.
“People in general will accept most anything from public officials as long as they don’t lie about it.”
http://newsmax.com/archives/articles/2007/3/19/004939.shtml

Bill's surprise about Melissa's reference to hip-hop as a cultural and potentially political influence probably represented well the reaction of a number of us whites in the audience. But have we forgotten what rock did to politics in the 1960s---and the influence Rolling Stone continues to manifest? For a LEARNED reminder, will The Chronicle of Higher Education do? http://chronicle.com/temp/reprint.php?id=ryfkv3twkxqs5dx7ky4z3wkrk1327d10 I look forward to Harris-Lacewell's next appearance on the Journal.

Why do we focus on such things? I am white and I will tell you that I am disgusted with a lot of things I see. I am most disgusted with how people treat each other! Come on folks. We are all people, we are all different, get used to it. We express our "beliefs" in ways that would seem strange to other countries yet... yet we cannot even get along in our own!! We try to hard to see the differences and sometimes we need to see what we all have in common, each other!

Maybe this isn't the time or place but for crying out loud.. Don Imus said something that has been said [maybe not about those girls] over and over and over and over again...
I heard the real issue was that he wouldn't let go of the 911 issues.

Lets face it folks..black, white, red, pink, green doesn't matter the color. If the government has us fighting each other then what aren't we paying attention to? That's right, the government. Think about that for a while.

Professor Harris-Lacewell was a breath of fresh air, I'm tired of the usual leaders that appear on talk shows... She made he points with dignity, intelligence and humor. Some blogs was great, and some I wonder if they were listening to her. I'm realistic, most of America is not ready for a black face as leader of the free world, they might go for 2nd. There are many that are ready, but most are not. Bring the professor back on another subject.

I don't think this has to become an issue of rights, but one of taste. Just because you have a right to say something, doesn't mean you should choose to do so. If we are going to have a civilization, that means being willing to curb our behavior when it impacts other people. Of course that language is offensive - it's intended to offend. Prohibiting the language is only a first step, but it's a step that needs to be taken. Then we need to look at the myriad forms of prejudice in our society and address the sense of entitlement that a person feels gives them the right to discriminate or harass. Until we deal with the entitlement issue, racism and it's ugly cousins like homophobia, fat phobia and misogyny, will continue.

The conversation with Ms Harris-Lacewell was intriguing to say the least: starting with the arbitrariness and historical specificity of "one-drop" blackness, she then went on to treat the subject as though these tainted notions of race were entirely natural, insisting that Obama 'really is black'.

The evidently alien idea in American politics and society that someone like Obama is as white as he is black, and that neither term is of any great use points to a terrible resistance to changing racial assumptions: a preference for simplistic binary choices over complex reality, and a resorting to the notion of ideas like 'both sides of the racial divide'.

One can contrast this, to a degree anyway, with a country like Brazil, where few families can comfortably identify as either black or white (recent immigrants are an exception), and where in any case awareness of indian heritage is more integrated into national identity. Brazil has not solved its racial problems, but the debates around race there seem to me to be a million miles ahead of those in the States: and this in a country where slavery ended only a little over a century ago.

This resistance to revising one's ideas seems to me to underline the sad sense that America, once the world's most fearlessly dynamic country in thought and action, is reducing itself to stasis, tradition and ineffectuality through its own inability to reimagine itself.

No one is under the illusion
that the elimination of certain words from public discourse is going to end racial inequality. To start your argument with words like that with children or anyone else invites the rolling of the eyes.

I tuned in late - caught just enough of the interview to hear her complain that her opinion was not sought enough by mainstrean media - begin thinking - she sounds articulate maybe they should, maybe finally here's an intellegent black spokesperson/leader that has her head on straight about race. Then she blames hip hop misogyny on "rich white boys". I turned the TV off and did laundry.

Bill was obviously impressed with the talented Ms. Harris-Lacewell who steered through some very troubled waters with considerable grace. She turned some well chosen metaphors and showed just enough edge to make her points without scaring white people too much. It will be interesting to see how often such a telegenic and authoritative commentator appears elsewhere in the so-called liberal media; not very often I would think.

She has no hope in Obama, but has hope in Hip Hop. Did I get that right? Did I HEAR this as I think I did?

Hip Hop, as she stated as now a commodity, is an abyss into where false hope or a false sense of "voice" has been misplaced. Its an easy trap for kids or people to place their hope in entertainers for social change. But again, its an abyss. Its like placing faith on false prophets. Hip Hop is a corporate commodity and brand, its what NOW makes money.

Any articulate voice in Hip Hop does not nor will it EVER make a true movement. Because very simply, it does not make money and will be ignored by not only major conglomerate music divisions or "record companies", but by the advertisers that sell with it.

Why would you steer modern racial movements towards a corporate backed entertainment commodity and away from actual real people, doing their best to move their people out of a Hip Hop light and maintain a "conversation" such as Obama.

I think her lack of faith in Obama and just viewing him as a Vice President is extremely sad. Sad because as a black woman, as an African American...she should always support her people as they pursue greatness.

She should FIND qualities or discover something about Obama that elevates him above a Democratic party's mere interest in something "different" or a VP, a second fiddle.

I'm shocked as heck as how she basically reduces her people into something different's and Hip Hop music LEADING(!) new racial movements. I heard her say that and my instant thought was "Is she stuck in the late 80's early 90's where Fight The Power was the thing?"

Its pathetic really. Is she a professor or a "white anxiety" calmer...?

On top of this, she sort of laughs at Mr. Moyers asking if he's listened to Hip Hop! How condescending and faux-hip that was.

Of course Mr. Moyers doesn't blast Hip Hop in his car stereo lady! Oh but he got you good. He took you down that road and you had to think on your feet to defend that one, his questions were direct and exposing.

My view is that certain highly educated people of color, although themselves are great role models, still somehow, and I'm no scholar or racial expert, but somehow internalize racism themselves and have NO touch to what's going on outside of Princeton campuses. Just a sort of magazine touch or TV touch, thats it. People like this don't step out of the car, they let the wheels do the walking.

I hope her students come out of her class one day, humbled, and with a decisiveness to STOP entertainment industry stereotypes rather than just anxiety reduction or learn about cultural assumptions and other intellectual race topics.

Thanks very much Mr. Moyer's for asking some great questions and a wonderful website!

I notice Melissa is
probably half white...and I
often wonder if that
makes all the difference? I'd like
her to discuss how
she feels being identified that way?

Score another big one for you, Bill Moyers. I am constantly inspired and entranced by the interesting and important people you bring to my attention.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell is one I am very pleased to meet and listen to her views.

Thank you again, for at least the 1000th time.

You are a national treasure, Bill Moyers.

Have a hug.

I will restrict my comments to the question "How important are words in fighting prejudice in America?" My mother's family immigrated to California from Oklahoma in the 1930s. Although many of my friends and I took great pride in being the descendents of Okies, my mother's older sisters were greatly offended by the word "Okie" and exhibited extreme emotional distress at hearing the word. I soon learned to not use the word around them.
Many of my friends were born in the relocation camps to which Japanese Americans were sent in 1942. Some of them used the word "Jap" among themselves and with friends such as myself, while others were greatly offended by the word. Because I have an adversion to offending people, I quickly learned when and where I could use the word, which was seldom. Infact I decided it was safest to not use it at all.
As I gained confidence, I began to object when I heard people use these words in a derogatory or insensitive way. I am very much opposed to outlawing any speech, but see no reason to use names or labels that cause anyone emotional distress.

Dear Mr Moyers,

thank you so much for your thoughtful and interesting program. I am a US citizen and am in Norway these days. I read in the local media today that a young (28) immigrant who was in the socialist party of Norway received racist mail from a colleague which led to her resignation.


http://www.tk.no/Innenriks/article2776773.ece

She was told that “as an immigrant she did not have any right to criticize the Norwegian society”.

Racism and xenophobia is everywhere and it is a very sad phenomenon.

with best wishes

I tuned in to Bill Moyers in order to hear Bruce Bawer, an author and activist I deeply admire.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell appeared first and I was troubled by her presenation.

The following is my subjective response: Ms. Harris-Lacewell repeatedly made racist comments about whites and America while assuming what appeared to me to be an artificial smile. Her eyes, though, to me, appeared to be full of hatred.

Again, this is a subjective response, and many will reject it for that reason. I can only report what I saw, but I can also mention some pertinent statistics and the work of other leaders in the African American community who are taking an approach very different from Ms. Harris-Lacewell's.

In any case, Ms. Harris-Lacewell, according to information online, is the child of a white mother. That she is so negative in her response to whites, and that she assumes a position that, ultimately, has proven to be so unhelpful to African Americans, is interesting psychological data.

Bill Moyers pointed out, correctly, that "nappy headed ho" is very much *not* white vocabulary. White people, on average, simply don't use the term "nappy headed;" to the extent that "ho" has entered white speech, it has entered it from African American speech.

Ms. Harris-Lacewell's eyes flashed with hostility. She insisted that African Americans could not be held responsible for these terms, that came from African American speech. She insisted, absurdly, that white people were responsible for pop culture produced and consumed by African Americans.

This refusal of any agency on the part of African Americans, this insistence that all that is unfortunate in the lives of African Americans today comes directly from white people, is contrary to fact. It is, as worthy leaders and thinkers like Shelby Steele and John McWhorter have pointed out, ultimately destructive to African Americans. The worldview promoted by Ms. Harris-Lacewell reduces African Americans to puppets who have no agency of their own, and no ability to change their own lives for the better. In the worldview promoted by Ms. Harris-Lacewell, African Americans are perpetually infantalized, dependent on whites. In her worldview, all whites will always be racist; therefore, there is, simply, no hope.

It is easy for Ms. Harris-Lacewell to say that. She teaches at Princeton. She does not face the horrible consequences that words like hers have wrought on the streets of America's inner cities.

Hip hop lyrics are one thing; statistics are another.

Netwellness.org offers sobering statistics, for example, of American women who die from domestic violence, 28% are African American. Aboutblackhealth.com reports that African American women are 23 times as likely to be infected with the AIDS virus as whites.

One could go on.

These statistics, like misogynist and, indeed, racist and self-hating hip hop lyrics, attest to a crisis among African Americans that need to be addressed by leaders who will recognize both the agency and the power possessed by African Americans.

Ms. Harris-Lacewell's worldview, one in which white people will always be racist, and black people will always be incapable of agency, is one that prescribes doom for the African American community.

I wish Bill Moyers had had the courage to say as much, and I hope that next time, rather than an Ivory Tower limousine liberal like Ms. Harris-Lacewell, Moyers invites someone on who is partnering with non-racist whites, empowering African Americans, facing up to real problems and their real causes, and, thereby, making the world a better place.

PS: Bruce Bawer was, as ever, tremendous. Bravo to PBS for having the courage to broadcast that interview, which might anger homophobes and Islamapologists alike.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell was the most insightful social critic yet. Clear and honest to a fault. I look foward to hearing more of her. Especially her political commentaries. She is a star in my book.

I missed a bit of the opening last night but did see your showing of Rush Limbaugh's song parody of Al Sharpton's criticism of Obama as not being black enough. The song originated from articles in the LA Times calling Obama "the Magic Negroe". I want to be sure you actually heard or saw Rush's program where a full explanation of this jocular treatment of Sharpton was presented, so you would not indulge in simple minded bashing of Rush who is not a racist, unlike Sharpton

I thought the interview with Bruce Bawer was more interesting than it was enlightening, and I think it affirmed the review that the economist gave his book.
I don't know if he is simply disingenuous or lacks scholarly training but a few of his comments warrant nuance.

He spoke of the Cleric known in Norway as Mullah Krekar whom he correctly identifies as the founder of Ansar al-islam (a Kurdish terrorist group) he however neglects to mention Krekar has consistently claimed that ansar al-islam was not a terrorist group while he was its leader a claim which has not yet been disproven. Thus while he most definitely is a fundamentalist (and teroroist sympahizer) he can as of yet not convincingly be prosecuted for terrorism. Norwegian law also explicitly prohibits extradition to countries where capital punishment and/or torture is applied. It also needs to be pointed out that he is not a central figure of the Norwegian muslim community, and is often seen as deeply embarrassing by Norwegian muslims. Furthermore he seems to say explicitly that London received known terrorists with open arms, again here he has rushed to judgement, while it is true that London has for a long time been a haven for islamic radicals expelled from their own countries often as political refugees. They too while fundametalists and sometimes terrorist sympathisers have as of yet not prepetrated breaches of British law and are hence free to continue praching ignorance. People who have been proven to have committed acts of terrorism, as the algerian extradited to France in 2005 have of course been prosecuted, although it can be argued that it should happen more quickly.

He also gives a rather one-sided prtrayal of mayor Livingstone's conduct of the visit from al Qaradawi, where he did explicitly voice his disagreement with many of Qaradawi's positions, but reasoned that less would be achieved by excluding him from a debate where many other points of view were being presented.

He also mentioned the court case in Germany and correctly pointed out that the judge used the quran in her verdict. He should however have mentioned that the court subsequently overturned the verdict and removed the judge from the case. Seems that his presentation of the case left one to conclude no action had been taken in response to this, sloppy or disingenuous?.

He also seems to have a rather tenuous grip of the distinctions between muslim and islamist and the two often act as sustitutes for each other. A look at the demographics and surveys is warranted here. The EU poulation is now 500 million. There are about 18 million muslims in Europe. The native population of Europe will start to decline slightly around 2025. Also, immigrants' fertility rates reach parity with native ones from the second generation on. As for civic attitudes it seems he quotes very selectively from surveys, I will take the case of Norway since we are both well acquainted with it.
The biggest survey of Nowegians muslims was taken by TNS Gallup in among other things it revealed that 15% of muslims thing Norwegian society is "immoral", while 20% of the general population.
6% thought the London bombings could be justified, 25% thought that they and their fellow muslims take the advice of imams. and 2% had actually met a relgious cleric advocating holy war. 14% supported the establsihment of Sharia law. 67% of them attended religious services either "less than monthly" or "never". This is to me an illustration of why Bawer could use a more precise description the phenomenon he is describing. Far from being a Weimar-moment, this is more like the 60s when the new left entered politics, with some radical and some violent factions. It will have to be a struggle among muslim communities about how they will present themselves, and while there is real danger of violence, just because of the sheer size (18 million) and diversity of the community
it does not mean that a cultura cataclysm is underway.

It is also telling that this late flurry of books have come lately from journalists (Bawer, Blankley, Steyn) or academics with other fields of specialty (Laquer, Lewis, Ferguson), while the real experts are decidedly less alarmist. I would suggest that tou check out the scholarly work in this field by Gilles Kepel, Olivier Roy, Justin Vaisse, Jonathan Laurence for example.

Mr. Moyers, 5/18/07
Once again your program was interesting and thought provoking.

I was very disappointed that Melissa Harris-Lacewell stated on national television that she thinks that Senator Obama cannot be elected President or should only try to be Vice President. I am white and live in Utah, one the reddest of red states. I think he can be elected.

We are very fortunate that he has the courage and the ability to run an excellent and positive campaign. He is the best candidate. It, as he says, is up to him to communicate to people his ideas. He can do this and he can win.

I guess some people said that there would always be slavery. Thank goodness they were not correct.
Mark R.
Salt Lake City, UT

Professor Harris-Lacewell discounted the possiblity, out of hand, that Imus' negative comments were garned from hip-hop. At that point, she came across as many black leaders that Imus is necessarily racist. Gwen Ifill took it a step further and called out Tim Russert on Meet the Press...essentially suggesting that should Russert guest on any subsequent Imus program that, he too, would recieve the racist label. I doubt strongly that Professor Harris-Lacewell, or the lady basketball players (who were so traumatized) have ever listend to an Imus radio program. The basketball players in question never would have been affected in the first place if it weren't for Al Sharpton. The sorry fact of the matter is that Imus' contributions to society at large were thrown out the window. I recall listening to Imus one morning when none other than the entertainer Cher called in and contributed two hundred thousand dollars to the 'Intrepid Hero's Fund' which contributed largely to a medical facility in Texas which caters to American soldiers who've had limbs blown off--and other seriously debilitating injuries incurred in Iraq and Afghanistan. Imus could raise funds like few other people in the country. That is now gone. The cliche rings true: don't cut off your nose to spite your face.

Imus is not a racist and the fundamental lesson out of his dismissal is ( pardon the language ), "Only WE call our bitches hoes."

Hello,

We must all make the distinction between race and culture. Within any race there can be many, many cultures. Race is cogent to culture oftener than it is not but race DOES NOT determine culture. Until the all parties involved in any struggle to rectify race relations make the distinction of what constitutes race and what constitutes culture we will be missing an important aspect of the situation.

Just because someone is black does not mean that they like hip-hop. Just because someone is white does not mean that they like country music. It is more likely that these people will be involved in these respective genres of music but it does not dictate what type of music any given individual will prefer.

All too often someone who espouses a particular viewpoint will interchange black or white with a particular culture. There are many cultures within any racial group.
What about the millions of blacks in America that have not ever lived the street culture? Or the millions of blacks that have never experienced anything but street culture? What about all the whites who seem to only ever hear about blacks wielding guns and selling drugs? What are these whites responding to when they encounter a black person? What is it that comes into their mind? Is it race or is it culture? I think we have race and culture horribly mixed up. They need to be defined with more accuracy before any profound progress can be made.

Cheers,
Dennis Berg

Mr. Moyers, your program is great, thanks for providing a needed voice. I love how you ask a question and actually let your guest answer it. The typical pattern on most shows now is to skew the issue as much as possible and then interrupt your guest so many times that they cannot provide an explanation. Please keep up the good work.

I found the views expressed by Melissa Harris-Lacewell to be quite refreshing, but it is an issue that requires a much deeper conversation than you were able to have on this program. I do hope that you are able to have her back some time in the future.

I think many people looking on Hip Hop from the outside only see what gets presented on radio and music videos. This unfortunately gives a very skewed image of what the music is really about. There is no doubt that this commercialized highly standardized pop media is highly sexist highly racist and socially irresponsible. The artists that choose to promote this kind of image and example bear the responsibility for that decision. But is it really news that there are racist and sexist people out there and that some of them are hip hop musicians? There are a lot of positive accepting people out there too, and many of them are also hip hop musicians. There is a specific choice that is made at the highest levels of the music industry about which of these voices is going to be played, should we really be surprised that there are bigots out there that are willing to get paid?

I think the questions we should be asking instead are of a more systemic nature. Why does the music industry promote this image? For that matter, why does our entire media system promote that image? Hip hop may be more vulgar and direct in its approach, but whether its video, radio, or print advertising; music videos (which are ever more just glorified clothing jewelry and car ads); movies (also glorified product placements); magazines and tabloids, even novels you see the same sexist images of women as sex objects repeated over and over ad-naseum until they are ingrained in our psyche. I agree it’s disgusting, but blaming hip hop for an image that is publicized in every art form our media gets its hands on is misguided in my opinion. If hip hop is somehow censored the same image will continue to be promoted by other means, it shifts every few years anyways.

Another interesting question is why with hip hop music the music industry promotes the sexist misogynistic racist image (which they promote everywhere) in a light that is so much more vulgar and direct? My opinion is that they do so with the specific intention of giving a skewed at best and I’d say downright slanderous view of what black culture and especially black youth culture is about to large segments of the American populace that would have no other perspective on the matter. At the same time it promotes this very same dysfunctional self image to a generation of black youth who often see no other examples to follow. Why? For traditional reasons I’d imagine, because a united brown black and white American working class has been one of the biggest fears of this country’s rich powerful since before it was a country. This business model makes as good a wedge as any and sells more sweat shop sweat shirts and sneakers at the same time. Win Win Right?

Mr. Moyer, your shows have been excellent as well as educational. I look forward to watching them and hear what you and your guests have to say on the problems we are facing today in America.

When I turned 18, it was the first year, in Michigan, that 18 year olds could vote. I was so excited to be able to vote for the first time and felt like I owned a piece of America. I am now 61 and have never before been more discouraged and even a bit depressed about the problems the USA today but even more so, the damage that the Bush Admistration has done to this country on all fronts. I am personally enraged by the fact that there were enough votes to give the Presidency to George Bush. Is there no end to the damage being done to America by this Administration? Even if we elect a Democratic President, can the damage be reversed? Can we find our moral compass again with a new Administration?

On the Iraq issue, my son was stationed 9 months in 2003 in Iraq. When he finally got home, the only facts he would give me are that the people did not throw flowers in our path and that no matter what anyone said, we would be in Iraq for at least 5 years if not more. These comments were made even before the insurgancy reared its ugly head. When do you think it will end? Are my grandchildren and grandchildren going to serving over there when they reach 18? My last question is, according to Bush we are over there to protect our freedom. If so, why aren't his two daughters in the Marines, the Army, the Navy and doing their part protecting our freedom? Why is it no one, no publication that I have read has ever asked him that question?

Kathy Frost
kathyfrost2@yahoo.com

Mr. Moyer, your shows have been excellent as well as educational. I look forward to watching them and hear what you and your guests have to say on the problems we are facing today in America.

When I turned 18, it was the first year, in Michigan, that 18 year olds could vote. I was so excited to be able to vote for the first time and felt like I owned a piece of America. I am now 61 and have never before been more discouraged and even a bit depressed about the problems the USA today but even more so, the damage that the Bush Admistration has done to this country on all fronts. I am personally enraged by the fact that there were enough votes to give the Presidency to George Bush. Is there no end to the damage being done to America by this Administration? Even if we elect a Democratic President, can the damage be reversed? Can we find our moral compass again with a new Administration?

On the Iraq issue, my son was stationed 9 months in 2003 in Iraq. When he finally got home, the only facts he would give me are that the people did not throw flowers in our path and that no matter what anyone said, we would be in Iraq for at least 5 years if not more. These comments were made even before the insurgancy reared its ugly head. When do you think it will end? Are my grandchildren and grandchildren going to serving over there when they reach 18? My last question is, according to Bush we are over there to protect our freedom. If so, why aren't his two daughters in the Marines, the Army, the Navy and doing their part protecting our freedom? Why is it no one, no publication that I have read has ever asked him that question?

Kathy Frost
kathyfrost2@yahoo.com

Professor Harris-Lacewell shocked and saddened me when she seemed, so definitively, to deny us the possibility of a President Obama in 2008. But as I listened to her, I became more hopeful of Obama's chances--because the Professor, while charming and articulate, is surprisingly clueless. Or perhaps just too young and naive.

How can she possibly compare rap and hip hop to the street protests of the Vietnam era? Or the people power of the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine? Suddenly she seemed Orwellian in her complacency.

I am white, and I would hate to think that Americans of any color would require 8 years of Vice-Presidency to be "desensitized" to the novelty of a brilliant man like Barack Obama as President. True, it would be a traumatic change from the Fascist idiocracy of the past 6 years, but I think America can handle it.

She misuses an otherwise apt metaphor: Professor, you CAN drive a screw with a hammer. In fact, when the threads have been stripped as much as they have been in America during the disastrous Bush regime, the ONLY way to drive that mess is with a hammer.

I find the Professor's lively, good natured banter about serious subjects, on one of the few news programs that is not brainwashed and brain-dead, to be incongruous and disturbingly frivolous.

People are dying every minute because of our current Adminstration's misdeeds in everything from warfighting to healthcare, disaster relief to environmental protection. A good natured smile and some hip hop just won't do it, even from Princeton. But Obama in the White House just might.

It is so good to see Bill Moyers back on TV,I have been a fan since the programs with Joseph Cambell.On the question of whether language matters I think yes, but attempts to create change by santizing language will always fail because language is a living thing and will always seek to convey meaning and betray true intention. Anyone who has watched an old movie or seen a clip from the Gonzales hearings knows that. On the issue of the Muslim world it is a shame that we only ever hear about the fanatics.Do we hear about the faithfull Christian point of view though? I know many people who observe the Muslim fast in the month of ramadan, they do this so that they can feel true compassion for those who have little or nothing in this life, at the end of the month they give alms as an outer expression of the gift of compassion. The "Christian right" scare me enough here at home if I were an immigrant in Norway I'm not sure I would do anything either,especially if I had come from a place where this could bring disaster on a family.

I think that the "one drop" rule has long been outmoded and passe. Who thinks like that?? Many black Americans have more than one ethnic or racial identity whether they know or admit to it. If we can call Barack a black man then we can also call him a white man. He is both. He is a mixture.

I am not sure that I agree with Dr. Melissa that race still matters in America. I am not a demographer and I know primarily my frame of reference and where I live, but I think that America has grown tremendously with respect to overcoming racism.

I don't see where hip-hop is a modern day vehicle for protest. Dr. Harris-Lacewell did not give any examples, so find that hard to believe. Also, she says that there is a "little bit of a problem"- that hip-hop is a commodity. I would say that that is quite an understatement. The profit motive is what hip-hop is all about, not a little bit.

There was no criticalness to anything that Dr. H-L said, e.g. whenever there is anything "wrong" it seems to always be the fault of white people. Hip-hop and the lyrics and videos are created by black men. Stop the denial of responsibility. Ho and bitch are words vulgarized and made commonplace in the last twenty years from black hip-hop music. It is black men who deprecate and abuse black women. Stop making excuses and putting everything on someone else, i.e. somebody white. That is too convenient and morally cowardly.

I have not heard any hip-hop saying that I want more and I am worthy of more. Again, no specifics or examples. Too facile. Please let's have a serious discussion.


Tonight's program was provocative in the very best sense of the word. There was also an underlying theme re who interprets the word. Melissa Harris-Lacewell (who I'd not known of before tonight) referred to the white males interpreting the Constitution. I want to add to Bruce Bawer's comments by saying that the Christian fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible AND the Islamic fundamentalist interpretation of the Qu'ran come to us through the patriarchy and male bias of those who do the interpreting. Zarqa Nawaz, the filmmaker who created the series LITTLE MOSQUE ON THE PRAIRIE, has another film called ME AND THE MOSQUE where she explores with contemporary Imams the Koranic origins of the tradition that women are to pray behind a wall--and discovered that this tradition has nothing to do with the Koran. It's important to remember that not all Imams are scholars; however, they all have power and so people rarely question their interpretation.
I understand that LITTLE MOSQUE will be shown in the U.S. and elsewhere before long, and I look forward to the reactions--it's a comedy series that happens to take place in a mosque (space in an Anglican {Episcopalian} church. It will be interesting to see who, besides Canadians (both Muslim and non-) enjoy the comedy. Bruce Bawer spoke a bit about European multiculturalism and how this is getting European countries into trouble. Canada is also a multicultural country--but in a way that differs from the European model. We're certainly ok about mosques, but when there was a request for sharia divorce law, we said No. Among many other things, sharia law goes against the Charter of Rights. We have some faith-based schools but mostly, people are encouraged to send their children to public schools and to do faith-based teaching at other times. In other words, there is more than one way of being multicultural. In Canada, we still have multi-culti problems to overcome, but our approach is different.
I believe that the American democracy that Bill Moyers and Bruce Bawer refer to doesn't exist any more (assuming it once did), and it was John McArthur's comments that confirmed this for me. Democracy, I believe, must have as its basis a belief in 'the common good' or 'the public good'. The description of the secret and duplicitous meetings on free trade, which will benefit business but not public, persuades me that the U.S. does not operate as a democracy, even if some people are entitled to vote.

Professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell was fascinating and I would like to hear her views on other social issues. She is one of the few gifted in this country who can think outside the box and is not yet employeed by neo-con think tanks. I hope Bill Moyer makes her a regular guest!

Race relations are still certainly an issue in our country but so are poverty, apathy, ignorance, legal narcotic addicts(oxycontin), crack cocaine, Christian extremists, intolerance and the mindset that 51% of the people may dictate what "life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness" should mean to the other 49%. Thomas Jefferson called this last thought "The Tyranny of the Majority". Our founding fathers designed our government to be a Democratic Republic with the oversight of a Supreme Court to compensate for this possible corruption of a pure Democracy.

That last social concern came to mind when watching Bruce Bawer talk about Fundemental Islam and it's effects on Europe.

I am also homosexual but unlike Mr. Bawer, I have stayed in this country and done my best to affect slow grassroots change rather than running away to Amsterdam. I have thought about leaving many times and when I can stand it no more, I will sell everything, buy a trailer and retreat to a Native American reservation rather than Europe. Until then I keep speaking out as a Patriot.

I am personally disgusted with the apathy and ignorance that plague this nation more than Extremist Christians trying to drive homosexuals back into the closet. These ignorant Fundies are a symptom, not cause of the above plague. For example, millions of people watched two 100 story buildings go straight down in the World's greatest controlled demolition of all time, yet ignorance and apathy allow them to believe kerosene and gravity turned thousands of tons of concrete and steel into dust and rubble.

Most Muslims, misguided by power hungry Religious potentates who rule only by birthright, would push a wall over on me in a heartbeat thinking they do the will of God. That is one reason why I am not Muslim! Many Christians would do the same if they could. That is one reason I am not Christian. My religious beliefs embrace the ideal that the story of Soddom was about pedophiles and not consenting adult homosexual relationships. I think in the real story, the Angel of God appeared as an innocent, beautiful, young boy.

Thanks to our Constitution, our Bill of Rights, our elected officials whose every decision is not dictated by mob-like voters and our Supreme Court; I can say those things and not be labeled a heretic and burned at the stake.

As Bill Moyer kept mentioning, there are good kind Muslims who follow the teachings of Muhammad like Muhammad himself did. In his day he was the first to grant women rights. He was tolerant of other religions as long as they did not compete with Islamic Law. I watched the PBS show "Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet" and was most impressed. If I were not homo, I might have embraced Islam myself at some point in my life.

Jerry Falwel was no Christian (according to the teachings of Jesus) by any stretch of the imagination and I suggest most of the Fundie Islamic leaders are just as guilty of twisting the meaning of the Holy Curan to achieve their own agenda.


Mr. Bawer I think you should take this following idea and write another best seller:

In the USA, Second and Third generation Muslim women may still live in the shadow of their husbands but they will not tolerate beatings and many have careers. Until we started killing Muslim families overseas by the score with our cluster bombs, most of our Muslim population enjoyed the freedoms the USA provided and we rarely had conflict. As long as Muslims followed our laws protecting basic human rights, they were afforded the right to live Islamic Law as they saw fit. It is all about civilized democracies embracing a set of basic human rights and sticking to them no matter what the religion "de jour". BTW, cluster bombs violate every basic human right.

The Netherlands can end this problem with extremist Muslims by
#1)denouncing the illegal invasion of Iraq & Afganastan
#2) Adopting a Secular Bill of Rights that can only be nullified with a 90% vote. If 90% of a population want to beat their wives or murder homosexuals, then the remaining 10% should leave like Lot left his wicked city.
#3) Make every school child, including Muslims, watch "Muhammad; Legacy of a Prophet"
#4) Create a Supreme Court to help interpret this New Bill of Rights and make sure these rules are applied to all religious people. No Mormon, Christian, Jew, Hindu or Muslim may beat or rape anyone no matter what their religious beliefs are. That is not intolerant, that is humanistic!

I am not the best writer but was impressed with this show and feel obligated to share my outside the box thoughts the best I could. No offense meant to anyone on this show and Bill Moyer is one of my heros.

Sincerely,
Jack RN


I'm on Melissa's side. Just giving up a few tacky words is far too easy. Doesn't get to the structure of things at all. Charming interview. I hope she gets to spread her wings and speak on other topics, as well. As for Barack, I love him, but he needs to be VP first for want of experience -- nothing to do with race. (Ideal ticket for moi would be Edwards - Obama.)

I will comment on comment on
Bruce Bower's book by saying
that thank God Bill Moyers
has the guts to cover stuff
like this. I used to think
that reports from Europe about sharia law in the Muslim sectors was all right wing paranoia and racism. I can see now why I would never call myself a liberal even apart from this. I think for myself & now I
know the truth about so-called liberals & about
people who know the truth
but lie to themselves. I do
believe that radical Muslims
will fail in their attempt
to hijack Europe with pop-
ulation bombs but I also
believe that too many on the
left are afraid just like
moderate Muslims.

Bill,

Thank you *so* much for this segment with Professor Harris-Lacewell. It was a wonderful piece of television, a wonderful interview, and solid journalism.

Please make sure she does come back to the Journal. Smart, pointed, informative, funny, what's not to like?

All the best,
-Jay-
Portland, OR

thought the interview was extremely insightful. I am curious though. Dr. Harris-Lacewell stated that although her focus of discussions is on race matters, she is also capable of speaking on other topics such as the electoral college. I agree that limits shouldn't be placed on who can talk about what. so does Dr.lacewell feel it is ok for people who are not african-american to talk about race? It seems that all interviews on television on this topic are limited to african-americans. I never see a white person interviewed or even a person of a different ethnic background. On occasion hispanic individuals are included in the dialogue, but mainly it seems the entire race issue has been limited to black and white. And for the most part, only the black perspective is really examined. A true dialogue should require multiple thoughts and experiences be brought to the table. Far too often it seems this is rarely if ever done.

AH, this young woman is energetic, responsive, happy,and good looking! I agree with Every Letter she spoke. I screamed when in my estmation that Mr. Obama will not be elected the first man of Color to the US pres. before a white woman; not this season. I know he does not want to be second to none, but in this USA the color barriers still exist, and he will have to be the Vice before the Pres. Oprah exceeded a black male talk show host, and it is by design because it is eaaier to control a worman. After Oprah now a black man if one chooses to take a positon as talk show host maybe could achieve her kind of status.
Thank you.

Bam

I was hoping to comment on the Bruce Bawer segment, but, strangely, there is only this.

So, what the heck, a little comment about race. It doesn't exist, except in the minds of men. Barack Obama is neither "black" nor "white." Part of why his supposed "blackness" or "whiteness" is an issue is because people in the journalism industry are hyping it.

It's all about identity. As we have seen with the creation of the "nation" of "Israel," if you force an identity on people as the "other," they eventually take it on. As this identity enforcement intensifies, it can lead to ethnic cleansing, holocausts, Ku Klux Klan Klaverns, and paranoid enclaves.

Without a lot of "hard" evidence, it's hard to say how much effect there has been to the identity enforcement that has been the back-channel agenda of the Bush criminal regime's pursuit of empire, there is little question that it has exacerbated the process.

How will this pan out in the future? The Western mind, with its proclivity for the isolated argument, free of context, is ill-equipped for a systems approach.

For instance, this is all happening in the context of climate change, depletion of natural resources, and the unsustainability of our economic system. Again, the Western mind is stymied at approaching these problems even in isolation.

The obvious solution to identity enforcement is to stop doing it, including on the Bill Moyers show. As far as the integrative, systemic problems of the environment, an infinite growth economic system on a finite planet, and their shared dynamic with intensified fanatical identity, the first challenge is to recognize our limited perspective.

Ultimately, there will be no solution to any of these man-created problems unless there is the intention to solve them. This intention can be generated by recognizing what is as what is.

For instance, the Bush regime is a criminal operation, pure and simple. Everything promoted, planned, enacted, and dreamed of by this regime is of a criminal nature. If we, as a people cannot call this regime what it is, we don't have much chance of recognizing much of anything for what it is, and are, deservedly, doomed.

Professor Harris-Lacewell may not be aware that almost half the persons in the United States were forced to be ruled by a government that they democratically voted not to be a part of and America suffered 970 thousand persons killed to maintain the control of this central government. Under cruel treatment and occupation, these persons in the South turned all this hatred toward the only group who they could exercise some control over, the freed slaves. The underlying hatred displaced on freed slaves and their decendents continues today. History, controlled by the country who won the Civil War, tells us nothing but the propaganda of "freeing slaves" and nothing about the less popular idea of central government rule that people objected to and were killed for their desire for freedom from this distant rule. (President George from across the Potomac or King George from across the Sea). We, as Americans, pick any excuse for the existance of racism but the real underlying, original cause.

Thank you for the good discussion with Dr.Harris-Lacewell. As a U of C alumnus, I've followed her work for several years. Some of her points were similar to ones I made in an essay I recently posted at anewdayinmedia.blogspot.com.

I would welcome comments on my analysis:

Don Imus and the Gansta Rappers:
Viewing Black Women Through the Corporate Male Gaze

By Dennis Day

For several decades, feminists, cultural and film critics have advanced the notion of a �male gaze.� This idea offers a useful construct for analyzing the case of Don Imus.

Gaze theory argues that European patriarchal entitlement encourages and allows white males the privilege of viewing women primarily as objects of male sexual spectacle. Women are positioned as defenseless under the penetration of the gaze and rendered powerless to reciprocate. They become passive recipients of voyeuristic pleasure derived by more powerful male onlookers. Those who possess the power to gaze are empowered to impute value to women on the basis of sexual appeal determined by subjective male sensory experience. The male gazer assesses a woman�s physical attributes and personal qualities in relation to what he deems sexually and visually pleasurable.

Historically in America, Caucasian women have been venerated atop the gaze�s pecking order and accorded the highest social esteem and worth. Conversely, black women have had to overcome a historical legacy of being commodified as chattel property during their enslavement.

The recent Don Imus incident offers a telling glimpse into the role assumed by the corporate mainstream media�s agents as enablers of the male gaze when black women, in particular, become its focus. Imus and Bernard McGuirk rendered a vivid, public example of the raw male gaze in action when they framed their post-game analysis in language referencing Rutgers� Scarlet Knights as �hardcore hos,� �nappy-headed hos,� and �Jigaboos� (the latter a demeaning 19th-century slur for persons of African descent).

These racial and sexual insults conjure images of the auction block, where Southern slave masters leeringly examined the breasts of young potential concubines. The late singer-poet Oscar Brown Jr. brilliantly captures the brutal impact of the white male gaze in his classic recording �Bid �Em In,� a slave auctioneer�s narrative. Four hundred years ago, plantation owners and slave traders established a caste system that assigned levels of intrinsic value to black women based upon physique, skin tone, hair texture, and degrees to which these features were deemed suitably European or Caucasian.

After generations of legally sanctioned rape, a class of mixed-race �mulattos� emerged. Lighter complexioned black women were often granted privileges and physical proximity to the slave master�s resources as house servants, nannies, and mistresses. Such caste distinctions became a troubling source of tension, fostering divisions and complex social stratification among American blacks that linger today.

In the 18th century, President Thomas Jefferson, himself a slaveholder and founding father, would prove influential in fixing colonial America�s early patriarchal gaze and adding a racial aesthetic. Based upon the pseudo scientific understanding of the period, Jefferson attempted to explain physiological differences among African blacks and between the races. Writing in his Notes on Virginia in 1781, Jefferson argues:

�Whether the black of the negro resides in the reticular membrane between the skin and scarf-skin, or in the scarf-skin itself; whether it proceeds from the colour of the blood, the colour of the bile, or from that of some other secretion, the difference is fixed in nature, and is as real as if its seat and cause were better known to us. And is this difference of no importance? Is it not the foundation of a greater or less share of beauty in the two races?�

Jefferson further suggests that blacks themselves prefer what he called �the more elegant symmetry of form� and �superior beauty� that, in his view, distinguished the white race. From that time forward, spurious biblical interpretations and pseudo scientific claims enabled racist views to gain considerable currency.

By the middle 19th century Social Darwinism was widely accepted by America�s aristocracy, firmly evoking the idea of blacks as a lower form of human species. The patriarchal establishment appropriated Darwin�s thesis to bolster their view of white racial superiority, further reinforcing a social order to legitimize white male entitlement by supporting and institutionalizing a belief in racial segregation and the inferiority of nonwhite races as scientific fact.

In 1900, Charles Carroll�s best-selling book The Negro a Beast or In the Image of God? argued that blacks were classified as a species of ape and therefore had no soul. These racist ideas were widespread and used to justify the oppression and maltreatment of African descendants, who were viewed as sub-human, and to perpetuate the male gaze as the exclusive domain of white patriarchal privilege.

For blacks to return the gaze often meant swift retribution, so black codes of conduct forbade black males the privilege of the sexual gaze. Violation of this code precipitated hundreds of black lynchings and promulgated laws against interracial marriage only repealed in the last few decades. Daring to gaze at the white female form resulted in barbarous death, as in the 1955 case of 16-year-old Emmit Till, who was savagely murdered for allegedly looking and whistling at a southern white woman.

To this day these debunked racial myths have been slow to extinguish, and have shaped the racial disposition of many Americans towards blacks. The power of the white male gaze has historically contributed to entrenched racist attitudes and oppressive social policy in our national life.

Spike Lee�s film School Daze, which includes the sartorial musical number �Jigaboos vs. the Wannabes� to which Imus and friends referred, provides a context for viewing American racial attitudes. By dramatizing subtle aspects of caste and class distinctions among African Americans, Lee�s movie portrays ways in which racial and physical variation, such as skin color, hair texture, body type, and the contour and thickness of a woman�s hips and buttocks are still commonly used by the male gaze to ascribe value.

For black audiences, Imus�s glib remarks and smug attitude of white patriarchal supremacy are as iconic as the ten gallon hat he sports. Imus imposed a value judgment on black women whom he assumed could not return the gaze, and did so for the consumption of his 73% male audience. This should have been a moment of transcendence for women aspiring to achieve another step toward athletic parity in American sport, crowning their hard-won victories on the shoulders of women�s suffrage, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, the Civil Rights Movement, and promises of Title IX. Instead, a serious athletic contest was reduced to a mere beauty pageant.

Imus and McGuirk concluded that the Tenneessee Volunteers, led by stately Candace Parker and Sydney Spencer, were the �cuter� of the two teams. In a thinly veiled attempt at �humor,� they denigrated the Rutgers players as women flawed physically and morally � as promiscuous and androgynous, likening them to the NBA�s Raptors and Grizzlies.

But the Rutgers coach, Vivian Stringer, and her team stood up and dared to gaze back. By compellingly returning the gaze in a press conference, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights garnered so much public support that corporate media heads feared an unprecedented consumer and advertiser backlash from blacks � a multibillion dollar consumer constituency. Imus�s mindless attempt at racial parody was aptly perceived as a bigoted Freudian slip that would not easily be dismissed by the growing public outcry. So, with financial bottom lines at stake and fear of plummeting network ratings, neither CBS nor MSNBC, who profit hugely from the male gaze, had any choice but to finally banish Mr. Imus from the air waves after decades of his broadcasting the gaze with impunity.

The incident brought considerable attention to a question that was voiced repeatedly in the ensuing days by Imus supporters, bloggers, and media pundits seeking to be perceived as presenting �all sides� to keep audiences titillated. The question was: Why does the black community allow hip hop musicians and black comedians to use the same, and even more incendiary, language with impunity? And that question was always followed by a second: Why is the black community not outraged and not speaking out about these insults to women?

Media personalities like Imus and artists like Snoop Dog and 50 Cent are all extensions of the same corporate male gaze. Ultimately, they garner enormous profits for, and are personally enriched by, the same mainstream media establishment. Their relationship has been a profitable trade-off.

Like Imus, many hip hop and rap musicians are simply reflections of the attitudes of those with responsibility and privilege for creating and mediating the images and content that the public consumes. Media synergy is the glue that allows big media content providers in the network and cable television industry to earn staggering profits as producers, distributors, and promoters of the patriarchal male gaze, positioning women as �hos� and �bitches,� and black people as �niggas.�

Hip hop and rap music boasts higher sales among the 18-to-34-year-old white male demographic than any other musical genre. Corporate radio syndicates and record companies form a complex web of interlocking financial streams, each interdependent on the other, generating enormous profit margins. As long as the formula works, what is being lost or devalued goes unquestioned.

For over a decade, black leaders, including Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, have been speaking out and resisting the pernicious messages of conspicuous consumption and misogyny so prevalent in �gangsta rap� and other commercial art forms. But the perception that this is not the case stems from the fact that these protests have not received mainstream media attention, although they have been covered in the minority media. It is not in the financial interests of the large media entities to publicize serious moral criticism of their most profitable assets.

As long as greed, xenophobia, sexploitation, and racism are part of mainstream corporate media�s culture and are buoyed by a historical legacy of patriarchal privilege, rappers will continue to serve as an extension of the gaze. In the end, they may need to ask, reflexively, �Are we not the ones being pimped � out-hustled by our more powerful corporate allies?�

Heretofore impervious to social critique, these large media conglomerates have operated unchecked, uncensored, and unaccountable. Until now they have appeared unwilling to relinquish their exclusive birthright to define and impose the gaze. Locked in a symbiotic profitable arrangement with hip hop and rap artists and the outlets that promote them, each continues to benefit while innocent young black women become viciously stereotyped in America.

This may be slowly changing as women dare to return the gaze by exerting their considerable influence in shaping their own images and narrative as did the Rutgers team. In the end, perhaps the Imus affair has given us just the silver lining our nation so desperately needs � an authentic, long-overdue discussion of our racial legacy and its effects on our national future and well being.


Dennis Day is President of D-Day Media Group Inc.
www.ddaymedia.com

�2007 D-Day Media Group, Inc.

Professor Haris-Lacewell is limiting Barack Obama because of his race. She did not talk about his being the best candidate because of his ideas, experience, education, family background,etc. Rather, it appears her argument is that white America will not accept Barack because of his race, so Black American should follow suit. Martin Luther, Rosa Parks and others have proven this theory wrong. Black America should get behind Obama if they believe he is the best candidate for America right now. Not because he is Black, not because white people don't like him. The professor and her ilk should take the lead. Black intellectuals have been 'followers' long enough.

She rocks! This is such a great show--i love the point about how Constitutional understanding has always been filtered through entirely straight white men for the most part.

I'd never even heard of her--wonderful!

Disrespect is disrespect, whether it's based in ethnicity, gender, or age.

There's no excuse for bad manners, and it is NOT entertaining to listen to people call each other names.

That kind of TV or radio is puerile and speaks to a lack of imagination, breeding, and/or talent.

Also, the racist origin of the word "picnic" mentioned in the first comment is an urban legend.

I would just like to point out that this:

'Look, we recognize that even if we got rid of every derogatory, racial utterance, even if no one ever, black or white, used the 'N' word again, that this would not actually end racial inequality in America.'

is shoddy reasoning. The question is not whether proscribing or significantly lowering the incidence of certain words will end sexism/racism/homophobia/etc., but whether it will have any positive effect at all. And I believe it would, as I believe that the social deprecation of white use of the N-word has contributed to the spread of racial equality as an ideal in this country. Now it just so happens that I don't think a ban is the best way to reduce derogatory language, but doing so is still a good idea.

Proverbs 18:21
"Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof."
The words we speak have power regardless of what one thinks! The word "Picnic" is not a nice word to people of African decent in this country but we still use it and most of us have no clue where it came from! Why do we use the word "race"? You can check that to!
Its time we take responsibility for our behavior!
I spent over 20 years of my life in the record business and I'm proud to see Russell Simmons take the posture he is taking considering some of the stuff Def Jam has put out over the years! Imus screwed up, his mouth finally got him in trouble but that’s what is does...he once again has provoked thought and if all this attention gets folks thinking about where they really are in there hearts, than thank God!
The difference between a Southern racist and a Northern racist is that the Southern one has enough chutzpah to let you know he don't like you!
The bottom line is that it is an inside job! Getting to the exact nature of what is causing you to think and act the way you do is work! The question is do you really want to?
Got sompin to say, hit me back!
The LazMan

Words. Their use, meaning, implications and even spelling changes over time. Pick any word, assign it derogatory meaning and its use will change. Don't even try to BAN words, books, or thought. Rather, TRY to educate everyone. Almost everyone knows what is RIGHT - inside. Let us praise the good and express distain for that which devides humans.

I believe that words carry weight - their own vibration, if you will. It is because of this that I feel it is important to be aware of their impact, both subtle and not so subtle. I agree that banning certain words in casual conversation or writing in some ways does simply cover up the underlying racism, but I also feel it sends the clear message that the majority of society does not approve of such use. The intention of their usage changes the vibration of the dialogue. If these words are used only in the informed discusion of how to improve society, they carry a positive value. If they are used for other purposes, they do the opposite. I guess, as usual, it all comes down to what kind of a society we choose: a kinder, more compassionate one or that which we are creating now. We need to encourage the best in each other, not the basest of instincts. As Maya says, Once you know better, you do better. I think as a society, we need to raise the bar for each other. We each have so much potential to make a difference.

my mother tongue is german but I live in Italy. In Italy they now call male homosexuals gay, in German the former derogatory word "schwul" has become the accepted term.
The German solution seems better to me because you have to rethink your prejudice, while the Italian solution which consists of putting a new label on old stuff doesn't change much.

Phenomenal interview Mr. Moyers! Marilyn Young is a heavy weight and a hurricane of fresh air!
Thank you for all the time, intellect, exemplary reporting and interviews!

I once worked for a CPA who had only female employees. He amused himself by calling us "dumb broads" whenever he felt like it. I called him on it, and he stopped, but that didn't change the fact that his entire business plan was based on hiring women for,as he put it, the kind of pay no man would ever accept.

The nasty words my father used to use (jig, spik, wap, sheeny) I don't hear anymore. That doesn't mean the underlying prejudice has gone away. Seems there is a steady supply of people in the world who need someone to feel superior to.

Rap Moguls are just trying to "keep it real" by using such language. In their music they are trying to express how tough life is for billionaires. I mean how would you like to live in a mansion, own a dozen luxury cars, and expensive jewelry? And just think of the upkeep on that private jet!

Words are quite important; the choice of synonyms can carry very different subtexts. Banning words just makes them forbidden and thus delicious; the really powerful act is when a large portion of the audience denies attention to people using hateful words.

Words are tremendously important in fighting prejudice. Think back to the Civil Rights movement and black men not wanting to be called “boy”. Think back to the movement for women’s rights when women no longer wanted to be referred to as “girls”. These words were used by white males to make themselves feel more powerful than those who were not white males. Those words imply that the people they are assigned to are somehow not as smart and not as powerful as the people who use them.

Now think about “ho”, ‘bitch” and “nigger”. These words go beyond implying that a person is not smart or powerful. These words have a devastating connotation that one is of no value, irredeemably dirty, beyond hope. It is understandable that those who have felt the full impact of these bullets try to disable the weapon from where they came. But the approach is all wrong.

Words, it turns out, can hurt as much as sticks and stones. By using these words themselves, the oppressed have become their own oppressors. The sting has not gone out of the words by increasing their use. The prejudiced feel vindicated that even the “hos”, “bitches” and “niggers” realize how beyond hope they are since they refer to each other by these derogatory names. I have not seen any people of color I know rise to a higher level by using these words on each other. Indeed, all one needs to do is visit a school that is predominately attended by African-American students to hear what harm these words are really doing. Racism and poverty have caused many of the children to be in constant “battle-mode”, wanting to appear tough so that they don’t get picked on. They seem to live by the creed, “The best defense is a good offense.” And the offensive words they use on each other? Bitch, ho, nigger.

While it's true that attitudes can exist whether or not the language to express them does or not, I think it's equally true that the usage of language facilitates the communication of attitudes (as well as ideas) and, by the choice of language the attitudes related to those ideas are also expressed. For example, there seems, to me, a world of difference between someone yelling "Dirty rotten _______ (fill in; Pole, Jew, Negro, Caucasian, or whatever)" and "Dirty rotten ______ (fill in...well, ya'll know, all to well, what the other choices are). The tenor and effects seem different even if the attitudes aren't. Over time, absent the framework to communicate the effects & emotions, the attitudes must also moderate.

On another tack, as children my friends and I passed though a stage of calling each other "Jew-boy" - similar to what's happening with the N-word in Rap Music - (we were all Jewish) until my Dad mentioned to me the nature of the disrespect the term implied and suggested that, if I had so little self-respect as to denigrate myself in front of others, why should I expect them to respect me? It also came to me that, for Jews, that epithet was probably the last thing many ever heard in their lives before dying in Inquisition, pogroms, or the Shoah and that made it even more important that the term's use be limited to important discussions where it served a greater purpose. Similarly, the N-word was certainly the last thing many blacks heard during the Middle Passage, the lynchings of the Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Struggle. In the same vein, using it to express anything less than important concepts denigrates those lost lives as well.

So, yeah, it's important which words we choose. Some have a greater weight than others (often due to the history they carry) and, by choosing one over another, we intentionally or sometimes unintentionally say more than we intend.

Having lived through and disparaged the racism of the 50's and 60's I still find it's
existence in 21st century America sad.

In our very common human bodies we all
are African with variations of color, form
and culture. "If you prick me will I not bleed?" from the Merchant of Venice is
the truth.

The immigration controversy, the anti
gay movement and cultural/racial/ethnic cleansing are views of a small
minority. Our diversity is our strength.

Thank you

To equate racism to the use of words is a charge that can continue indefinitely. I suggest that we measure action on the part of all of all citizens. It seems there is too much talk and little action. When I rub shoulders at work with another, share a meal, show a kindness...then I begin to absorb the essence of that person and THEN the conversation begins. I fear we have it reversed.

Bear in mind that at least two of these objectionable words are probably used more by African-Americans than the rest of us white folks.

Fred McElhenie

Words are merely one manifestation of attitudes. Racism and personal prejudices run much deeper. While I'd love to see every derogatory word axed from our language, it would make my job as a novelist very difficult.

The challenge, as Professor Harris-Lacewell notes, is to begin and sustain the conversation -- to move from the myriad soundbites we use into true examination and exploration of this destructive human tendency to generalize, stereotype, and deride those different from us.

Post a comment

THE MOYERS BLOG is our forum for viewers' comments intended for discussing and debating ideas and issues raised on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL. THE MOYERS BLOG invites you to share your thoughts. We are committed to keeping an open discussion; in order to preserve a civil, respectful dialogue, our editors reserve the right to remove or alter any comments that we find unacceptable, for any reason. For more information, please click here.

THE MOYERS BLOG
A Companion Blog to Bill Moyers Journal

Your Comments

Podcasts

THE JOURNAL offers a free podcast and vodcast of all weekly episodes. (help)

Click to subscribe in iTunes

Subscribe with another reader

Get the vodcast (help)

For Educators    About the Series    Bill Moyers on PBS   

© Public Affairs Television 2008    Privacy Policy    DVD/VHS    Terms of Use    FAQ