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CNN Exchange: Commentary

Martin: Imus might be spark for debate on sexism

By Roland S. Martin
CNN Contributor
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Editor's note: Roland S. Martin is a CNN contributor and a talk-show host for WVON-AM in Chicago.

(CNN) -- No one would have thought that when Rosa Parks opted not to give up her seat to a white man in 1955, a dozen years later blacks would have the full right to vote, the ability to eat in hotels and restaurants and see Jim Crow destroyed.

We might look back in a few years and come to realize that the removal of Don Imus from the public airwaves put America on a course that changed the dialogue on what is acceptable to say in public forums.

The downfall of a long, successful and controversial career, on the surface, took eight days. But for Imus, this has actually been 30 years in the making. He has used his sexual and racial schtick to pad his pocketbook. Only this time, he ran up against a group of women who presented such a compelling story, his bosses couldn't ignore the reality of his sexist and racist rant.

Although the National Association of Black Journalists led the fight to oust Imus, there is no doubt that it was that moving news conference by the Rutgers University women's basketball team that cemented the demise of Imus. Coach C. Vivian Stringer was poised and strong in demanding that America look at the 10 women and see them as the real face of Imus' slurs.

And that is really the issue we must focus on. So many people tried to make this a race issue. But for me, that wasn't the primary point. I never wavered from the attack as one of a sexist. It didn't matter that he was trying to be funny. He insulted a group of women who are already accomplished.

Then again, that happens to women every day.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, a New York Democrat, is smart and talented, but to many, she's nothing but an opportunist. She's called too aggressive, not cute and is slammed regularly. But she should be praised for being a woman who has achieved a lot in her career.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is portrayed as a bumbling idiot, but her academic credentials are impeccable. You can disagree with her ideology, but to question her womanhood is silly.

Women all across this country have to play by a different standard. They often make less than men, even when doing the same job; are accused of being too tough when they are the boss; and are treated as sexual objects.

America, we have a problem with sexism. Don't try to make this whole matter about the ridiculous rants made by rappers. I deplore what's in a lot of their music and videos, but hip-hop is only 30 years old. So you mean to tell me that sexism in America only started in 1977?

Now is the time for this nation to undergo a direct examination of the depths of sexism. My media colleagues shouldn't go just for the easy target ­ rap lyrics. That is no doubt a logical next step, but sexism is so much deeper. It is embedded in our churches, synagogues, mosques, schools, Fortune 500 companies and in the political arena. We should target our resources to this issue and raise the consciousness of people, and expose the reality.

Don Imus should not be the period. He can be the comma. Civil rights organizations, media entities, women's groups and others have an opportunity that they can't pass up. We have the chance to seize the moment to begin a conversation ­-- an in-depth one ­-- that has the opportunity to redefine America along the lines of race and sex.

I hope and pray that we have the courage to do so.

What is your take on this commentary? E-mail us

The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the writer. This is part of an occasional series of commentaries on that offers a broad range of perspectives, thoughts and points of view.

Your responses asked readers for their thoughts on this commentary. Below you will find a small selection of these e-mails, some of which have been edited for length and spelling:

Ade Kanny, Nashville, Tennessee
While I agree that Imus' remark was mostly sexist, I think that the backlash is due to the fact that the remarks were pointed at 10 girls; there was a face to the insult. His statement was not directed to a general public as in statements by rappers.

I also think the backlash on Imus has a lot to do with white America being scared of nobodies like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton; those noisemakers. Imus got carried away behind his mic, but that is no excuse. CNN must stop giving audience to Sharpton and Jesse.

Denis Arvay, Mahopac, New York
This commentary is an ill-considered expression of support for censorship. The suggestion that no one should question Hillary Clinton or Condoleeza Rice because they are women is outrageous. If someone asserts that Clinton is an opportunist, or that Rice has bungled, it says absolutely nothing about their womanhood. Perfectly brilliant people have been known to be opportunists and bunglers. Any reasonably sentient person knows that sexism is a sad fact in our society, indeed, in much of the world. But this kind of crude political correctness won't help.

Barbara Henderson, Flower Mound, Texas
I applaud Mr. Martin for being the voice of reason and getting to the real heart of the matter. This country is very much a sexist country. If you haven't noticed it, then your eyes are closed. In the current political climate it seems anything goes. Say what you like with no remorse or accountability. There are several so called "news" shows which need to be put on notice; their attacks are not to be tolerated. We can have a difference of opinion without being attached personally, politically, or sexually. The "good ole boy" mentality pervades everything from pee-wee sports to corporate boardrooms. If a woman is direct, and tough, then she is called "butch" or "bossy." A man is perceived as "strong." I am tired of watching women's underwear commercials on TV, and beer commercials where women are sex objects. Sports teams seem to try and get their cheerleaders in as little as possible. What are we telling our little girls, do we even care? We are more than we are portrayed. Thank you, Mr. Martin for your point of view. Well said!

Thomas Trigo, Ventura, California
I think this was a well written article, and he hit some very good points. One point that was missed however: Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Two opportunistic racists, who were at the forefront of Don Imus' firing. I don't think the firing had anything to do with the women's team at all. Al and Jesse are constantly using the race card to threaten people and businesses into getting what they want. I would like to know what they told Les Moonves in that little meeting they had, prior to Imus' firing.

By the way, I think Don Imus is a racist idiot. That is why I do not listen to him.

Coletha Woodson, New York City
Sadly, you're mistaken. Take a look at our history and you will see this is a racial issue. Your mind is clouded with CNN psychobabble and you're ignoring your black culture. Stop denying yourself the truth. Don't let European culture pass judgment on "our" history in America. Black people have lived this and we know what truth lies behind every racial confrontation. It has been our life for 400 years and we don't know! Tell the truth.

Michele, Huntersville, North Carolina
That was very well said. Here is a group of women who were shot down because they accomplished something. I agree that it was a purely sexist comment.

I wonder, however, if any fuss would have been made had D. Imus only referred to them as "hos"... would anyone (Jackson, Sharpton) have come to their defense if D. Imus hadn't added the racial slur?

BJ Clinton, Bowie, Maryland
I don't how Mr. Martin made the determination that Mr. Imus' comments were "sexist" not racist, but in my eyes, "nappy-headed hos" was a racist remark. Mr. Imus said "nappy-headed" hos, a term that has been used in the past and present to refer to a "black" woman! Mr. Martin, "wake up and smell the coffee!"

Susan Vair, Indianapolis, Indiana
Amen to that Mr. Martin. And, let's not forget about the rampant violence against women in this country.

Bonnie Frankum, Dahlonega, Georgia
Mr. Martin, I have heard a lot of women make this argument, but until I read your article, I was sure that men just didn't "get it." Thank you, sir, for proving me wrong. It seems to me that a good number of men don't like to see females "stealing" their headlines in the sports section -- or in any other section, for that matter. The sexism against the Rutgers women is obvious, but look for a moment at some other women athletes, such as Anna Kournikova. I don't personally follow tennis, so I can't give you her stats or tell you what she's won or lost. But I can tell you that most of my male friends (who don't watch tennis, either) think she's "hot." In fact, I had no idea who she was until her risqué photo shoot... and I'm a woman!

And I read a boring article about Serena Williams once -- it wasn't boring because it was about Serena, rather, it was boring because it was strictly a critique of her tennis attire. It's ridiculous, it really is. I really do believe that if people (men and women) would stop staring at women's breasts for 5½ seconds, they might see that we are, in fact, talented, athletic, intelligent, and a million other things besides a "nice rack." And while that would be one small step for women, I fear it is going to be a giant leap for mankind.

Keith Francis, Morrison, Colorado
I don't believe Roland Martin's analogy of Rosa Park and Don Imus has merit. I think even the most pro-anti-racist African-American advocate knows Don Imus isn't a racist. He just uses the same racist comments as black rappers, comedians, and those of lesser celebrity, and believes it's funny. I guess he learned the hard way it wasn't. But the question should be asked, did we authorize him to make these comments, by not speaking up earlier?

I'm concerned what this means for our society. Are we so sensitive about the crime of the spoken word that we can punish to the extent of taking away 40-year careers of people who misspeak these contemptuous, but personally licensed words? What about the words that people like Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson have said that maybe a bigger majority, albeit white, may find offensive? What about the words the Rev. Phelps says about gas or white supremacists say about people of color? At least that intent is clear, and is offensive merely for their intent rather than just the words themselves. Do we live in a society of double standards where some people of specific color or means or job title or political office can say certain words, and others can't? As a society we need to look inward at not our values, but our outrage and our reaction, if we are to progress.

Sue Marie, Roanoke, Virginia
Absolutely! This was exactly what I was thinking -- someone finally said it. The comments were an affront to all women. They were blatantly sexist and as a white woman, I was offended. It is apparent what Mr. Imus thinks of women and I am concerned that in all the news coverage no one noticed this sooner. Unfortunately, there are still lots of men who have trouble even with the idea that women play basketball! Yes, it is tough to be a black woman in our society, but it is also tough for any woman to be taken seriously. What is it that men are afraid of?


CNN contributor Roland Martin sees comments by radio host Don Imus as a mostly sexist attack.

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