Thursday, April 12, 2007


Bob Herbert wrote in the April 12, 2007 New York Times: In a “60 Minutes” interview with Don Imus broadcast in July 1998, Mike Wallace said of the “Imus in the Morning” program, “It’s dirty and sometimes racist.

Imus recently referred to the Rutgers women’s basketball team as, “nappy-headed ho’s.” I have two beautiful bi-racial grandchildren. I am saddened by Mr. Imus’ remarks. How would my spirited and joyful granddaughter, Saige, feel if she were referred to in those terms? How would my special grandson, Stephon, feel to hear Saige called a “nappy-headed ho?”

I was an executive at the Minneapolis Star Tribune for many years. One day a young black woman came to see me. Lisa was a proud and assertive woman. She was angry. She told me that she had an argument with a white woman in another department. The other woman called Lisa a bitch. Lisa told her boss, and he and a man from Human Resources investigated and handled the situation. Lisa did not know what happened but she did not feel that she was heard and understood. She felt that the white men had tried to pacify her. “How would they know how this feels to me,” she asked.

Lisa explained that in our society white men have the most status and power followed by white women, black men, and finally black women. Because of this perception of low power and low status, to be called a bitch is the ultimate insult to a black woman. “A person could get killed on the street for calling a black woman by that name,” Lisa said. She wanted the white employee to understand how she felt and why she felt so strongly about what had happened. In an instant, I realized how little I knew of Lisa’s world.

I learned many things from these experiences. I better understood the pain of anyone in an organization who is different from the majority or different from those in power. I learned that in a crisis the bureaucracy cares more about protecting the organization than about the people. I realized that the white man’s views are institutionalized in the cultures and systems of organizations and institutions. The white male’s world view prevails, and white men are mostly oblivious to this fact—it is just normal to them. I realized how very, very little we understand about diversity in organizations.

I feel proud of the articulate and intelligent women of the Rutgers basketball team for the dignity they displayed. Bravo to the employees--especially women--at NBC and MSNBC who made powerful statements about how black women are devalued in this country, just like Lisa at the Star Tribune, and forced Imus’ show off of cable television and finally got him fired.

I don’t think of Mr. Imus as a “bad” man. I think of him as an ignorant and arrogant caricature of a fool—like so many other blabbering mouths on talk radio.

The media needs to increase its efforts to put a human face on the world of callous talk-radio garbage-talkers. Each of us needs to bear witness when cowardly bullies hurt others: at home, at work, and in the community.

I hope Mr. Imus uses this experience as the springboard to his growth as an empathetic human being. Each of us should examine our own attitudes and behaviors.