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The Art of Diversion

I’m sure nobody will be surprised to hear that Don Imus is now trying to blame his racist comments on hip-hop culture. It’s pretty much the knee-jerk reaction these days for any public personality that lets loose with ignorant diatribes and then has to scramble to find some way to explain themselves. Apparently the radio host is now saying that he learned the term “nappy headed hos” from hip-hop music. Which is absurd.

First of all, I highly doubt that dude is bumping rap tracks in his spare time. I’d be shocked if he could correctly identify the name of any hip-hop song on the radio right now. Second—as Davey D already pointed out in his excellent essay on the subject—since when was that term bandied around in hip-hop music anyway? I can’t recall ever hearing a rapper refer to a black woman that way.

The thing that’s so mind-blowingly irritating about Don Imus dragging hip-hop into the mix is that it obscures the real issue. Which I suppose is the point of employing that PR strategy. People stop thinking about how a major cultural figure—a man who has had a prominent voice in American culture for decades, who has loads of influence—harbors such vitriol for black people. People stop thinking about what’s wrong with White America. Instead, they are invited to focus on the sexism of young, black male rappers. Introducing hip-hop into the discussion totally, completely muddies the waters.

For proof of how this works, one need look no further than Snoop’s comments on MTV News:

It’s a completely different scenario. [Rappers] are not talking about no collegiate basketball girls who have made it to the next level in education and sports. We’re talking about ho’s that’s in the ‘hood that ain’t doing sh–, that’s trying to get a n—a for his money. These are two separate things. First of all, we ain’t no old-ass white men that sit up on MSNBC going hard on black girls. We are rappers that have these songs coming from our minds and our souls that are relevant to what we feel. I will not let them mutha—-as say we in the same league as him. Kick him off the air forever.

On the one hand, Snoop makes some excellent points. The Rutgers team is a group of young women who are striving to get an education and excel at sports. Their behavior in the media since this controversy exploded has shown them to be mature, classy individuals. Of course they don’t deserve to be insulted by a vulgar radio personality. But then, on the other hand, neither do women in the hood. And it’s troubling that Snoop feels like they do. It’s troubling that that’s what he feels in his “mind and soul.” His comments, however well intentioned, wind up encouraging people to contemplate sexism in hip-hop (paving the way for articles like this), as opposed to focusing on the real issue at hand—which is the fact that Don Imus is a raging asshole.

All of this is why hip-hop makes such an ideal scapegoat in these types of situations. Hip-hop’s weakness—it’s collective sexism—exposes it to becoming some sort of twisted justification for blatant, ugly racism in white culture. It’s wrong. It’s infuriating. But it’s a tremendously effective PR strategy.

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