Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Essay 1984

From The New York Daily News…


He hit raw nerve in my nabe

By Errol Louis

In the black community, Imus’ sickening attack on a group of talented college women was seen as an attack on our daughters, cousins, wives and sisters.

Men and women of a certain age are conditioned to react to such attacks. When I was growing up, every boy I knew with sisters (I have three) heard the message loud and clear from their parents: If anybody hurts your sister, you put them on the ground. Period. It was neighborhood law, and one of the few excuses for street-fighting you would never get punished for.

There are a lot of us old-school types out there in newsrooms, civil rights organizations, corporations and churches. We have been fighting for years against the daily onslaught of cultural contempt aimed at our children, families and communities by Hollywood, Madison Avenue and the recording industry.

In this case, the college women slandered by Imus on national television and radio were the best of the best: high academic achievers at a school with tough standards, and hardworking, competitive athletes. Epiphanny Prince, a star freshman on the squad, is already a New York legend, scoring an unheard-of 113 points in a single high school game.

They did all anybody ever asked of them — they stayed out of trouble, got an education, worked hard and literally played by the rules. They deserved much more than to be dismissed as “nappy-headed ho’s” before a national audience.

Imus also hit a raw nerve with his sneering contempt for black achievement, playing out the worst fear of many black professionals: that in the end, everything you ever learned or accomplished might end up counting for nothing, dismissed with a racist epithet by a group of chuckling, middle-aged white guys with power.

That part of the Imus shtick started long before his latest outrage. Bill Rhoden, a talented author and sports columnist at The New York Times, was called a “quota hire” on the show. Gwen Ifill, who covered the White House for The Times and is now at PBS, was once lampooned as a “cleaning lady.” Sid Rosenberg, a former Imus sidekick who ultimately got fired from the show, once said that Venus and Serena Williams, the tennis champions, belonged in the pages of National Geographic.

This history of contempt comes from a man who got fired from NBC in the 1970s due to cocaine and alcohol abuse so severe that he missed 100 workdays in a single year, according to an article about him on the MSNBC Web site. Imus is the last man on Earth to be sneering at genuine achievement.

I happened to end up sitting about 6 feet away from Imus in the radio studio where he was mixing it up with the Rev. Al Sharpton two days ago. When I juggle the image of Imus — anxious, arrogant, desperate and ruined — against the bright, beautiful faces of the young Scarlet Knights and their ferocious, eloquent coach, C. Vivian Stringer, it’s not hard to choose sides.

“These young people continue to show us as adults what it means to have a moral fiber and how to conduct themselves,” Stringer said on CNN last night.

That was an understatement. These young women have a nation of fans cheering for them — and ready to fight long and hard for the removal of a vicious bully who tried to hurt them.

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