I was in Chicago for the past week (some of you contacted me to see if we could get together, and I’m sorry I was not–I was so busy that instead of being at the office at work, I’m decompressing at home, still exhausted) for the Midwest Political Science Association. So I heard about Imus getting jacked, but I didn’t get a chance to write about it. To be honest I didn’t think I would originally, because so many others had gotten a crack.
But I think this neatly fits within my research interests, so I’ll take a stab and see what type of response I get.
I’ll start off with a question. What if the women that Imus talked about were identifiable, and were both “nappy-headed” and “bad-ass girls”/”sexually promiscuous women”? We would probably have to take them out of college for them to fit the stereotype perfectly, but let’s not. What if when the girls got on television, they performed down to stereotype, wearing afros, and talking massive shit?
I’d make the case that Imus would keep his job.
In my own work I examine intra-racial politics. What are the types of macro and micro-level politics that lead to an unequal distribution of resources within black spaces? There are all types of issues that we think about as “black issues”. Racial profiling and Affirmative Action are two of the most notable ones. I make a distinction between issues that are blamed on external forces (externalized consensus issues) and issues that are blamed on internal forces (internalized consensus issues). HIV/AIDS is an example of an internalized consensus issue in that most people now believe that this is an important problem for black people to deal with, but for the most part it’s spread is blamed on black men.
Externalized consensus issues can (and often do) cause black people to rally against external forces. To vote against referenda designed to end Affirmative Action in college admissions for example.
Internalized consensus issues do not have the same effect. If black people themselves are to blame the best we can expect is some type of call for self-help. At worst we can expect some form of cannibalization, where subpopulations of black people are being “eaten” in order to save the entire group (the “down-low” syndrome is the best example of this).
What make the Shaquanda Cotton and Don Imus cases externalized consensus issues? Externalized consensus issues are usually issues that affect either upper-income blacks (class=money here) or upper-income acting blacks (class=performance here). There is a sense in both cases that the victims are innocent and their behavior did not lead to their victimization. The Shaquanda Cotton case does not perfectly fit this scenario, but this explains why black people in Paris, Texas did not fully rally behind her, and also explained why some more conservative bloggers had questions about her case. Don Imus was pretty much dead on arrival as soon as we saw the team–notice how all of the black teammates had neat perms?
Snoop, in response to the charge that Imus was no different than rap MCs who routinely call black women out of their name, had this to say:
â€œ(Rappers) are not talking about no collegiate basketball girls who have made it to the next level in education and sports.
â€œWeâ€™re talking about hos thatâ€™s in the â€˜hood that ainâ€™t doing s**t, thatâ€™s trying to get a n**ga for his money. These are two separate things.
See the move he makes here? This is the move we all make when we decided whether a given claim is worth pursuing–remember, we don’t have money and time up the wazzoo, so we’ve got to pick our battles carefully. If the women Imus was referring to in some ways were “nappy-headed hos” whatever that means, some of us would still have been outraged. Many of us though would have passed. Because we would not have felt this issue worth our time and energy. If Shaquanda Cotton did have a record no matter how thin, she too would have been ignored. Not because the issue itself wasn’t one that we should deal with, but because she brought it on herself.
Just as in the Shaquanda Cotton case, folks have asked “what’s next?” For me, what is next is trying to figure out how we can get to a space where we are willing to fight racism and injustice when the victim isn’t as perfect as Rosa Parks was.