March 26th, 2013
Racist media flaps: from Imus to Businessweek
It’s been almost six years to the day that Don Imus had the loose lips to call Rutger University’s (mostly Black) girls basketball team “nappy-headed hoes” on MSNBC’s Imus in the Morning radio show. Now, this was no small blip in the world of media and the short-lived punishment suffered by Imus was plentiful for the public eye. After what was then considered a significant amount of pressure from various women and racial advocacy groups, Imus was fired from CBS, MSNBC cancelled Imus in the Morning, and millions of advertising dollars (American Express, Sprint Nextel Corp, and Proctor & Gamble) were lost in pulled sponsors – it seemed that Imus had paid for his verbal sins. Eight months later, however, Imus was back on radio working for WABC Radio.
It took a ton of protests, lost advertising revenue, some more protests, a hefty severance check from CBS (MSNBC?) and eight months for Imus to “get over” the fallout of his loose-lipped disrespect. Fast forward to six years later and The Onion has called the youngest Best Actress Oscar nominee ever – who happens to also be African-American – a c*nt on Twitter to its 100,000+ followers. Then there’s the Numero Magazine spread of a sixteen-year-old white model dressed in blackface and described as an “African Queen.” A few days later, Bloomberg’s Businessweek magazine issues a cover full of the images that take us back to the good ol’ Sambo days of yore. Well, if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a caption its value increases exponentially, as you can see for yourself. Last but certainly not least, the latest cultural blunder du-jour drawing criticism is actress Michelle William’s red-faced pose for Anchor magazine. These lashings from the media were especially in poor taste when they took place during a month meant to celebrate Black history.
In the years that have followed Imus’ major verbal faux-pas, it seems that the true answer to media which demean women and minority groups is a slap on the wrist, wagging of the finger, and a swift sweep under the rug. In 2007 it took eight months for Imus to be right back in the saddle on radio. Time has sped up in more ways than one, and now an egregious offense that happens one day is simply old news on the next day – only to be replaced by the latest and more egregious affront to Blacks, the President, women or other minorities.
We have all become desensitized to the media and its messaging. One of the downsides of our highly-interconnected digital world is that we don’t even get angry in the same way. In 2007, Imus was fired because Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson got a bunch of people together the old-fashioned way, knocked on some doors, and were as annoying as that mosquito buzzing in your ear in the summer to get the results they wanted. In 2013, The Onion simply apologized. Bloomberg Businessweek issued this:
“Our cover illustration last week got strong reactions, which we regret,” Josh Tyrangiel, the magazine’s editor, wrote in a statement sent to POLITICO. ”Our intention was not to incite or offend. If we had to do it over again we’d do it differently.”
Nowhere in any of that do I read a real, sincere, apology, unless getting ‘strong reactions’ was the problem. The fashion spread hasn’t garnered even as much as a statement far as I could tell – but even if there was an apology, what could mitigate the fact that everyone involved green-lighted the spread, and no one actually sought a Black model?
The media culture that we love to live in and parlay with is in the driver’s seat, and the more time goes on, it seems we as consumers take an even further back seat. Spreading all of these images through social media means nothing, just as these quickfire apologies mean nothing when the next offense comes up tomorrow and buries the last guffaw. How many people do you know stopped reading Bloomberg Businessweek for just one week to demonstrate their dissatisfaction? How many of the advertisers for The Onion pulled out for disrespecting a young lady who made history in the month that celebrates Black history?
I’m going to steal a quote from my cousin and share it: “If it doesn’t make dollars, it doesn’t make cents.” It’s time for the disrespect from the media to stop making dollars and gambling our cents.
Anne Desrosiers is the founder and Executive Director of The World is Your Oyster, nonprofit consultant and former Americorps Volunteer in Service to America. As an avid media consumer, Anne enjoys engaging in the critique and debate of improving what we see, hear and eventually become as a result of media and its influence on our lives.