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Racy Sex, Sexy Racism

So Don Imus finally pushed the envelope too far by calling the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy headed hos”. This lethal combination of racism and sexism galvanized African-American and women’s groups, media watch-dog organizations and members of the public into action. His fate was sealed when major corporate responses, including Staples and Procter & Gamble pulled their advertising on his show, which reached 1.6 million people each week on 61 stations across the country. On canceling the show, CBS president Moonves stated that “there has been much discussion of the effect language like this has on young people, particularly young women of color”. While some supported Imus on the grounds of free speech, CBS’s decision to cancel the popular and profitable show became inevitable in the face of a rising chorus of condemnation and outrage. Reason won out. As much as Imus has the right to express racist and sexist comments on his own blog, he doesn’t have the right to be paid millions of dollars to broadcast his diatribes on the public airwaves. The CBS president correctly observed that the mass media play an important social role, and his decision acknowledges that this imposes a burden of responsibility.

Can we now relax and luxuriate in the knowledge that sexist, racist speech is no longer accepted in American media? If only! The Imus ruckus erupted one week after a local event had the Boston media talking. Simmons College students invited porn producer/performer Ron Jeremy to campus to “debate” pornography with feminist Susan Cole. This ignited a firestorm at Simmons where some students protested Ron Jeremy’s appearance and felt that paying more than $12,000 to the speakers was a misuse of student funds. Predictably, those who supported hosting Jeremy on campus invoked the mantra of free speech.

Would the Simmons students invite Imus to campus after this week’s uproar? The content of Jeremy’s productions makes Imus look positively quaint in comparison. Jeremy’s film titles include “Black Babes in Heat,” “Black Cherry Coeds,” “Girls of the Third Reich,” and “Three Men and a Geisha”. This type of sexism and racism is mainstream throughout the $57 billion porn industry yet hardly warrants a peep from those groups who organized against Imus. And these are not just offensive titles, but allude to powerful images of sexual degradation and racial humiliation. Jeremy defended pornography as “fun”, just as Imus claimed that he was trying to make a joke.

Why does pornography get a free pass? Go to any so called “interracial” pornography web site, and you are assaulted by images and words that suggest that African American women are sexually debased and deserving of abuse. Images of Asian women generally portray sexual submission. These movies are marketed as racy sex, when what they really do is sexualize racism.

One particularly hateful site — pimpmyblackteen.com — shows young black women in ‘before and after’ pictures illustrating how a pimp can turn her from an ugly “hood rat” to a “sexy ho.” Pornography gets a pass because it’s considered “sex” rather than the sexist and racist hate speech it actually is. Had Jeremy expressed the real message of his movies, it is doubtful he would have been cheered by the students. Instead Jeremy and the pornography industry wrap their hatred of women and their racism within a “sexy” and “fun” package that renders invisible the actual violence and harm done to the women in the pornography industry and everyone living in a porn culture.

GAIL DINES is a professor of American Studies at Wheelock College in Boston. Dines is one of the founding members of the National Feminist Anti-Pornography Movement. She can be reached at gdines@wheelock.edu.

 

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