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Life After Imus

Now that shock jock Don Imus has been fired for the racist and sexist remarks he made about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team, attention has turned to whether rap music perpetuates a culture in which the denigration of Black women is acceptable.

The debate started long before Imus called the mostly Black team of accomplished student-athletes “nappy-headed hos” and claimed rappers routinely “defame and demean Black women” and call them “worse names than I ever did.”

More than a decade after Dr. C. DeLores Tucker, chairwoman of the National Political Congress of Black Women Inc., led a national campaign against obscenities in rap lyrics, the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. DeForest Soaries Jr., pastor to Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer, have launched initiatives to clean up the music.

Meanwhile, the grace with which the Rutgers players and students handled the Imus situation has won the university accolades from across the nation. And with all the new attention, donations to the university are up, more students are applying and merchandise with the school’s trademark bright red “R” is seemingly everywhere.

“You can’t pay for publicity like this,” says Shalonda Tanner, a Rutgers alumna who works as a recruiter for the university. “The class and dignity of those women brings more positive publicity to us.”

Stringer says the decision by MSNBC to stop broadcasting Imus’s program “shows that we do have moral fiber. And people are speaking up.” CBS followed suit by cancelling Imus’s show.

Imus was universally condemned for his remarks, but the debate over rap music still rages.

Scholars have mixed views over whether current activists should follow in Tucker’s footsteps.

“If a group of people want others to respect them, they have to respect themselves,” says rap music critic Dr. Tukufu Zuberi, a professor of sociology and the Lasry Family Professor of Race Relations at the University of Pennsylvania.

“The people who are part of this music and who sponsor this music should reconsider what they say É it’s not a question of what happens on the street, but showing respect on the street because that is where women are still disrespected,” adds Zuberi, who is also the director of Penn’s Center for Africana Studies.

But Dr. Leith Mullings, a professor of anthropology at the City University of New York Graduate Center, says the debate over rap music is a diversion from the real issue of the pervasiveness of racism and sexism among people like Imus who are in positions of power.

She says that racism and sexism have been fundamental to the building of the country, and slavery gave rise to certain rationalizations – not stereotypes – that absolved the slave owner.

“It continues around the notion that Black women are whores. It is also implemented around discussion of poor women and how sexually promiscuous they are as opposed to not [wanting to work legitimate] jobs,” says Mullings. “Imus is a crude example, but similar examples  [of  sexist  and  racist  commentary]  exist in  the  congressional records.” 

Dr. Benjamin Chavis, president of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, and rap industry mogul Russell Simmons is-sued a joint statement saying the compar-son between Imus and hip-hop artists was unreasonable.

“Comparing Don Imus’s language with hip-hop artists’ poetic expression is misguided and inaccurate and feeds into a mindset that can be a catalyst for unwarranted, rampant censorship,” said Simmons.

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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