Understanding key to racial harmony

By Helena Rodriguez: Freedom Newspapers

By the time you read this, Don Imus’ racial slur aimed at the Rutgers women’s basketball team will have been talked to death. But will there be a resolution to forgive and forget?

I doubt it.

Since Imus recently referred to the mostly black team as “Nappy-headed hos” after they lost the NCAA women’s title to the University of Tennessee, his words have opened a new wave of dialogue on racism in the United States. This dialogue resurfaces every time another shock jock or politician utters the wrong words.

You know the scenario. We saw it last week, though not to the same degree, when Newt Gingrich took to YouTube to apologize to many Spanish-speaking people.

Gingrich upset people by saying, “…We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto.”

The scenario following such utterances usually goes like this:

—Person uttering the slur is chastised by various ethnic groups and the media.

—Person uttering the slur gets a slap on the hand.

—Person uttering the slur takes to the air to deliver a half-hearted, well-scripted apology.

—Person uttering the slur checks into therapy to deal with the problem while their staff tries to justify actions.

—Person uttering the slur meets with those offended or offers to make a donation to their cause.

—Everyone lives happily ever after and the media abandons the dialogue, which is left incomplete — until the next incident.
Then the scenario replays itself.

These instant replays without resolution have become the norm. With the Imus situation, the media have focused on the often-ignored issue of a double standard, and opponents of political correctness have been quick to jump on the bandwagon.

You know the argument: “If it would have been a black person saying it, it wouldn’t be a big deal.”

True. Maybe. But we cannot forget Bill Cosby’s ill-taken words a few years ago, when he said of many African-Americans: “These people are not parenting. They are buying things for kids — $500 sneakers, for what? And won’t spend $200 for ‘Hooked on Phonics.’”

His words weren’t a racial slur per se, but they offended many African-Americans and the ensuing comments evolved into a discussion about social classes within a culture.

What many PC opponents do not understand is that it’s not so much what you say, but how you say it, and under what context.

It’s one thing for black girls to jokingly call each other “Ho,” if they feel they possess ownership of that phrase. When a person outside the group says the same thing, it takes on a different connotation.

Imus was not joking around and backslapping with these girls after their loss. He spoke these words on national radio and in such a way as to cast a shadow on their glory.

That makes it racist.

Now should these basketball players use this hurtful incident to pocket $200,000 for exclusive interviews with the media? Certainly not.

Will this happen?

Perhaps. I hope not.

If it does, the issue is no longer a continuing dialogue about racism in America, it becomes a marketing issue — a market in which people are putting up their culture for sale.

And then we’re back at square one, again.

Whether you agree or not, it seems the rule of intercultural communication today is you can laugh at yourself but not at others, unless they give you permission.

Millions of Latinos have given comedian George Lopez permission to laugh at us and make us laugh with him because, “He is one of us.”

But when it’s someone on the outside doing the laughing, it becomes a question of whether they are laughing with you or at you.

How does one get permission from members of another ethnicity, culture, race or socio-economic group? By first developing an understanding, a respect and an open line of communication.

Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at: