By Roland S. Martin
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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.
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the writer. This is part of an occasional series of commentaries on CNN.com that offers a broad range of perspectives, thoughts and points of view.
CNN.com 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
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
Barbara Henderson, Flower Mound, Texas
Thomas Trigo, Ventura, California
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
Michele, Huntersville, North Carolina
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
Susan Vair, Indianapolis, Indiana
Bonnie Frankum, Dahlonega, Georgia
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'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