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Imus Incident Sparks House Hearing on Discrimination

The House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection held a hearing yesterday to discuss the impact of sexist, misogynistic and racist themes in the media, with an emphasis on Hip-Hop music and culture. Members were joined by corporate executives, Hip-Hop artists, and scholars specializing in the effects of discrimination in media on women.

Philippe P. Dauman, President and CEO of Viacom- the owner of MTV, BET and numerous other media outlets- said that ultimately the responsibility lies with parents and the consumer to avoid explicit content, such as music containing the “N,” “B,” and “H” words. Hip-Hop artist Levell Crump, aka “David Banner,” said his music- including the song “Like a Pimp” -lets him express the frustrations of a difficult youth and gave him an outlet other than violence. When asked if he thought his misogynist and violent lyrics were having a negative impact on women, he replied “It’s still just a song,” later adding, “I actually call my music the Bible with a ‘Playboy’ cover.”

Vanderbilt University professor and scholar in both feminist and black theory, Dr. Tracy Sharpley-Whiting argued that explicit material only portrays the negatives of the culture and is being taken by many to represent the norm. This results in the misinterpretation of hip-hop and black culture, particularly among white listeners, who compromise perhaps as high as 70% of the industry’s consumers.

Exposure to images of females as sex objects has significant impact on girls: the 2007 APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls report cited the negative link between the exposure to these images and mental performance, eating disorders, low self-esteem, depression, physical health, and healthy sexual development.

While the hearing was an important start, explained Dr. E. Faye Williams, the National Chair of the National Congress of Black Women, who also testified, more pressure must be placed by Congress on the FTC and FCC to make clear that “Along with the right of freedom of speech goes the responsibility not to bombard those airwaves with filthy, derogatory, offensive, indecent language that crosses the line of decency.”

Sources:

Testimony of Philippe P. Dauman 9/25; Testimony of Levell Crump 9/25; Testimony of Dr. Tracy Sharpley-Whiting 9/25; 2007 Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls; Testimony of Dr. E. Faye Williams 9/25