Don Imus should not have been fired and rappers should be getting a bit more love.

Excuse me if I slip away from tennis for a day. The Monte Carlo Masters starts on Monday so we’ll have plenty of tennis next week. I’ll also do a preview of Monte Carlo tomorrow.

It’s been a wild week for American discourse on ‘isms. As for racism and sexism, Don Imus managed to invoke both by calling the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos.”

On Wednesday, sports columnist Jason Whitlock wrote a piece in the Kansas City Star subtitled: “Instead of wasting time on irrelevant shock jock, black leaders need to be fighting a growing gangster culture.” On Thursday, two black leaders, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, met with Imus’ employer: CBS. By the end of Thursday, Imus had been fired.

Micheal Ray Richardson was fired from his job as coach of the Albany Patroons in the CBA basketball league after saying that he had “big-time Jew lawyers” and “in this country the Jews are running it.” Richardson played basketball in Israel. His second wife and their child are Jewish. I seem to remember that Jesse Jackson had a few problems with anti-semitism. When he was running for President in 1994, he called Jews “Hymies” and New York “Hymietown.”

Whitlock himself was fired from ESPN for calling ESPN basketball writer Scoop Jackson a clown and also criticizing Mike Lupica. No ‘isms there but Whitlock still thought the firing was unjust.

By Friday morning, Whitlock was all over the sports talk shows. Dave Smith on Sporting News Radio was particularly happy with this paragraph from Whitlock’s column:

While we’re fixated on a bad joke cracked by an irrelevant, bad shock jock, I’m sure at least one of the marvelous young women on the Rutgers basketball team is somewhere snapping her fingers to the beat of 50 Cent’s or Snoop Dogg’s or Young Jeezy’s latest ode glorifying nappy-headed pimps and hos.

Smith was happy because he’s been asking the same question for forever: “Why is it that blacks can use the N word but whites can’t?” In this case, why is it o.k. for rappers to call black women hos but not Don Imus? Or, as Whitlock also said in the column:

Dave Chappelle was offered $50 million to make racially insensitive jokes about black and white people on TV. He was hailed as a genius.

Don Imus has been insulting people for almost thirty years and a lot of people have been listening to him. He’s in the National Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame. He’s been walking the tight rope between being shocking enough to compete with Howard Stern but not so shocking as to get fired and finally, he fell off. It was bound to happen because the landscape is constantly shifting. Rappers can trash black women and Dave Chappelle can trash both black and white people, but Don Imus can’t.

Do I agree with Whitlock? Mostly. I’m not in favor of firing someone after they’ve been on the job for twenty years or so because it’s unlikely that they all of a sudden did something different than they’ve already been doing. Suspend them then explain the new rules and make them toe the line. If they don’t, then fire them.

I also agree that there is a dearth of black leaders and those that exist have been ineffective in stopping the war on drugs which has left so many of the black community in jail. But Whitlock excoriates rappers and I think that’s shortsighted. Whitlock is a good sports columnist but I would not hire him as the music critic for the New Yorker or the Village Voice.

Rappers have filled some of the void of black leaders and they’ve carried out their jobs as artists. From Public Enemy and Grandmaster Flash forward, rap has been a voice of protest and a strong voice of cultural identity. If rap is rooted in jail culture, that’s because so many young black man are in jail or, if not, many of their friends are.

Imus lost his job because the black community has finally had enough of the negative stereotypes aimed at them by white people and members of their own community. Rappers have done their job by reflecting the culture around them and they’ve done it well enough that they might have finally fomented a big enough outcry to bring about some change.

I cringe when I hear bitch and ho on the radio. I did not appreciate Lauren Hill’s rap, “so why you imitatin’ Al Capone/I be Nina Simone and defecating on your microphone.” It’s definitely time for that and many other things to change. If they do change, though, rappers deserve some of the credit.

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