Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Imus(t) Be Hearing Things, Part II

April 15th, 2007 by Ajuan Mance

Jezebel or Mammy

Sambo or Pimp

Welfare Queen or Criminal

Coon or Mandingo

Savage or Tom

Absentee Father or Less Qualified Minority


Don Imus, producer Bruce McGuirk, and sometimes sidekick Sid Rosenberg’s racist, sexist banter is only the most recent example of the continuing incapacity of many outside of the African diaspora to see comprehend and form of Black identity that reaches beyond the old, tired categories.* These stereotyped classifications, or what Patricia Hill Collins refers to as controlling images, do in fact exercise considerable control over how Black people are perceived, what Black people are allowed to do, and sometimes (and most tragically) how Black people understand themselves.

Many have attributed Imus’s, McGuirk’s, and Rosenberg’s comments to the common use of sexist epithets in contemporary rap music. To accept this explanation, however, would be to ignore the long history of white racism in the U.S., particularly that form of racism that seeks to force into one of the stereotypes listed at the top of this post any African Americans whose public performance of erudition, expertise, or talent contradicts public conceptions of U.S. Black identity. In the case of the Rutgers women’s basketball team, Imus and his cronies sought to recast these hard-working, talented, and intelligent student-athletes as Jezebels.

Here are some other shining moments when the anxiety of racial identity (fear induced in some white Americans when people of African are perceived as intruding in the metaphorical space [activities, interests, talents, modes of discourse] for whiteness) got the best of white public figures and resulted in these stunningly offensive comments (as compiled by Media Matters:

The Jezebel: On March 31, 2006 syndicated radio host Neal Boortz said that Representative Cynthia McKinney’s new hairstyle made her look “like a ghetto slut.” Around the same time he posted on his website that McKinney “looks like ghetto trash.”

The Welfare Queen: On February 1, 2007 Rush Limbaugh expressed disbelief at young Black people’s reported alienation from government, observing that “The government’s been taking care of them their whole lives.”

The Savage: According to Fairness and Accuracy in Report (FAIR), Rush Limbaugh’s reckless indulgence in Black stereotypes and controlling images can be traced all the way back to the 1970s, when he advised a Black caller to “Take that bone out of your nose and call me back.”

The Less Qualified Minority: 1) On February 7, 2007 Michael Savage described Condoleezza Rice as “A schoolmarm who has been pushed up the ladder all of her life because of social engineering,” and who “was chosen by George Bush as part of an affirmative action program in order to make his Cabinet look like America.” 2) On Martin Luther King Day 2007, Savage called civil rights “a racket that is used to exploit primarily heterosexual, Christian, white males’ birthright and steal from then what is their birthright and give it to people who didn’t qualify for it.”

*Click here for a transcript of their comments.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Posted in African American Students, African Americans, Higher Education, Hip Hop, Imus, race, racism, Rutgers

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