Clearing the airwaves

Fifty years ago, nine black students in Little Rock, Ark., wanted simply to attend the high school of their choice. They suffered insult and injury in the process, but handled it with the utmost dignity.

Fifty years later, 10 members of the Rutgers University women's basketball team, eight of whom are black, not only entered the school of their choice, but took the school to the NCAA national championship game.

We've come a long way.

But amazingly, these student athletes, too, have suffered injury and insult, from shock-talk radio jock Don Imus.

And they, too, have handled it with dignity and maturity beyond their years.

The young women met the nation Tuesday, standing on the national stage and fielding all manner of questions about Imus and his despicable comments that they were tattoo-wearing "nappy-headed hos."

Now, in many ways, the nation is depending on these young ladies to help us make sense of all this - and perhaps after they meet Imus soon in a private setting, they will.

Will they accept his apology? And even if they do, should he keep his job after his two-week suspension?

More importantly, where will this discussion lead the nation?

In several directions, we hope.

First, we need to reassess our penchant for rewarding entertainment that is nothing more than hit-job insults. The Rutgers team is not Imus' first victim. Naked incivility and hatefulness, which Imus specializes in, isn't funny - and, as we've seen with the Rutgers women, there are real people on the other end.

If people like Imus need to be fired, it's ultimately the listeners who will have to do it.

Second, Imus' remarks smacked of both racism and sexism - but mostly sexism. Such disparaging terms, after all, are used about women in the black community as well. Where and when did it become acceptable to refer to all women as a slang term for prostitutes?

Answer: In a culture that falls far short of honoring women as the good book commands.

"They are the antithesis of the vulgar portrayal that Imus made," Rutgers Athletic Director Bob Mulcahy said of his team.

Indeed, so are almost all women.

Imus' remarks are, Mulcahy said, a "stunning reminder" of the consequences of hurtful comments.

Rutgers President Richard McCormick lamented Imus' "disregard for the dignity of human beings ..."

That's what this is really about. Our God-given responsibility to honor each other.

Neither racism nor sexism has a place in this society, as McCormick said Tuesday. Especially so far removed from Little Rock.

It isn't as important what happens to Don Imus as what happens to his persona, and others like it. Whatever happens to Don Imus, his schtick has to go. This meanness as entertainment, this racist and sexist insults for laughs, this incivility for hire, it's got to go.

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