In Practice, Racism is not an Equal Opportunity Offender

Here is an interesting point to ponder: what if Don Imus had referred to a mostly-white woman’s basketball team as “dumb blonde ho’s,” would it have been any less racist or sexist than the “nappy-headed ho’s” comment he used against a mostly black team?

Not in my book; by all accounts, it would be just as sexist and – given that blonde hair is a racial feature no less than coarse hair is – it would be just as racist.

Would it have caused the same uproar culminating in his termination after 30 years on the job?

Probably not.

Is there a double-standard going on here?

Yes there is.

Is it warranted?

Yes it is.

Here’s why: though both slurs are comparable in theory, the practical repercussions they have on the lives of the women they target are in no way comparable – a factor that seems to be missed on many commentators.

In other words, the “dumb blonde” stereotype does not bear the same impediment against the social normalization of blonde women that the vile stereotype of black women perpetrated by Imus does. It would be foolish to deny that in terms of opportunity, America remains a place where black women are among the most disadvantaged and blonde women among the relatively privileged. Black women walking into job interviews still face a very real concern that they should never have to face: “do I intimidate you”? Blonde women don’t.

This does not mean that it is OK to stereotype Blonde women by any means.

What it does suggest is that racist statements against minorities who suffer vulnerabilities go beyond the tasteless and into the dangerous because they have a direct negative impact on how they are perceived and dealt with.

It is more so spineless than it is tasteless to jokingly cast black women, who are already the single-most socially disadvantaged demographic group in this country, as inner-city good-for-nothing crack heads, prostitutes, or gangsters – given the reality of the everyday racism they face on the ground. It is particularly remarkable when you have a group of black women who have done everything right, worked hard, gone to college, and excelled academically and athletically, still be slapped down with that stereotype.

Many apologists for Don Imus have thrown around the “he is an equal opportunity offender” argument. No he is not; he couldn’t be even if he tried for the simple reason that victims of racial offense themselves face unequal opportunity in our society. Let’s not factor that out of the equation.