Sunday, April 15, 2007

Obama/Imus Timeline: breaking out of the white storyteller and black storylistener existence

After reading Andom's post yesterday, I was pretty sure Senator Obama's quotes were taken out of context. In the original article, the question was not reported. In the other two, his comment about rap was an answer to the question of what inspired him. Ridiculous, I thought. It just didn't make sense.

After some investigation, here is one account from Charleston's The Post and Courier that provides a lot more context:

The only time the topic drifted away from education came when a young man asked Obama about what inspires him. Obama replied that he was inspired by God and past civil rights leaders, and then he talked a little about what doesn't inspire him.

"We've been focusing on Don Imus lately," Obama said, referring to the New York shock jock fired Thursday for calling the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos."

"I've got two young daughters, both of them tall, and I hope they get basketball scholarships. ... I don't need somebody on a radio station degrading that," Obama said, "but I think it's fair to say that there are a whole bunch of young rappers who look like us, who use the words that Don Imus does, who are on our radio stations. ... That doesn't inspire me.

"That does go back to education," he said. "Part of our best is instilling in our young people that you should be pursuing excellence and having high standards."


This is very different from the original quote where Obama is portrayed as randomly attacking black rappers. In fact, Senator Obama's comment does not differ that much from some of our comments on the original post. The problem I have (and I think others do too) is with white storytellers who record and frame everything Obama has to say. I think of the media as an incentive based system, not a teller of truths. The incentive for the media in misreporting this story is to set up a war between Obama and popular rappers. Think of the headlines, interviews, and white fascination with it all. I think that's why we're seeing entire articles based solely on an answer to one question as opposed to anything substantive that tries to pull together a timeline of Obama's reactions throughout this Imus controversy. I understand that we shouldn't rally around Senator Obama just because he's black. But we also can't call him a traitor to his race without realizing that, perhaps, a largely corrupt media system wants us to think exactly that. I hope the following timeline illuminates our discussion and gives us a resource to sidestep the media's heavy focus on the AP article. Instead, let's wrestle with what seems to be our central question: how does a public black figure not contribute to pathologic arguments of black failure but still hold the people who fail accountable in a way that focuses on transforming them and our community?

How can we write our own stories?

The Imus/Obama Timeline

4/4/07 Imus says "nappy headed hos."
4/6/07 Imus apologizes.
4/7/07 Sharpton calls for Imus to be fired.
4/11/07 The Boston Globe writes a piece about Obama's silence on the issue thus far. Sharpton, who has not endorsed any Presidential candidate, is interviewed.
4/11/07 Obama is interviewed by ABC and is the first presidential candidate to demand Imus' firing.
4/11/07 Obama appears on Wolf Blitzer's The Situation Room. He condemns Imus without mentioning rap.
4/11/07 Imus is fired from MSNBC.
4/12/07 Imus is fired from CBS.
4/13/07 Obama speaks at Florence High School in Florence, South Carolina. His speech is about education. He answers one question about what inspires him. After saying God and former Civil Rights leaders, he said Don Imus does not inspire him then acknowledged neither do rappers who use the same language.
4/13/07 Obama's comments start to go viral and the preface of Don Imus not inspiring him is dropped from most reports leaving a seemingly harsh and out of place critique of rap.
4/13/07 The second article Andom linked to provides a context of misogyny in rap but not a context of Obama's speech.
4/13/07 6:56pm "Obama Compares Rappers to Imus" The definitive AP article that has limited context and the widest readership comes out and is reproduced in hundreds of publications.
4/13/07 A gala event occurs that is not covered by mainstream press. At this event, Obama receives a standing ovation from the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus after saying about Imus' comments, “That’s not funny, it’s not amusing, it shouldn’t be tolerated. But we’ve got to admit to ourselves it’s not the first time we heard the word ‘ho'....[It's] the same language we’ve been permitting in our homes and schools and iPod....If it’s not good for Don Imus, I don’t know why it’s good for us.” The State covers it.
4/14/07 An article claims Obama "launched an outspoken attack on rap singers" with his comment from the 4/13 AP article that has limited context.
4/14/07 Article with context comes out revealing that Friday's AP article entirely left out Obama's critique of Imus. It also shows that Obama disapproval of rappers who use the word "ho" was a truthful conceit to the audience. This article does not mention the gala event.
4/15/07 "Black Candidate's Burden" The editorial asks why "should Barack Obama be more outraged than anyone else...?"


Elizabeth said...

thanks for this josh.

Anonymous said...

I like what you did with the timeline, and of course sticking up for Obama

Brittani said...

What bothers me is how surprised some people were about what Imus said. If you think people don’t think this way then the kinks in your hair must be knotting up your brain too.

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