Don Imus got fired by CBS for calling the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy=headed hos", culminating a week of interminable, relentless news coverage with people from Snoop Dogg to Oprah weighing in. I don't think he should have been fired, but my apathy outweighs my outrage by about a factor of ten. I don't listen to Imus, don't know anyone who does, and generally don't understand why anyone listens to talk radio. So I'd like to discuss my experience with the word "hos".
Like most kids in the suburbs, I first encountered the word through the music of Dr. Dre. As a teenager, I made a lot of horribly clever puns about Santa Claus and gardening equipment, but I always knew "ho" was a derogatory term - at least until I heard Queen Latifah's "U.N.I.T.Y." If you're unfamiliar, the chorus includes the line:
You gotta let him know
You ain't a bitch or a ho
A message of empowerment, right? Unfortunately, I heard the lyrics as, "You ain't a bitch, you're a ho." It was confusing, but I tried to suss out Latifah's meaning. Maybe this song was about owning one's sexuality and freedom - the "ho" as liberated woman. I would have thought "bitch" had more positive connotations, but who was I to decide what word the Queen wanted to reclaim? I made a mental note: "Bitch" was a bad word, but "ho"? Not nearly as bad.
I don't remember when I was finally set straight, but I'm pretty sure I was singing along to the song when someone corrected me. Generally, being caught singing along to Queen Latifah is embarrassment enough, but the shattering of my semantic hierarchy of misogynistic rap lyrics was devastating. I'm glad I never saw Latifah on the street, since she might have punched me dead in my eye.
Imus got fired as much for "nappy-headed" as he was for the "hos" part. In the future, he'd do well to heed this advice from Latifah:
Instinct leads me to another flow
Everytime I hear a brother call a girl a bitch or a ho
Trying to make a sister feel low
You know all of that gots to go
Now everybody knows there's exceptions to this rule
Now don't be getting mad, when we playing, it's cool
Only when we playing, Don.