Chief of Federal Civil Rights Enforcement Agency Speaks Out Amid National Debate
WASHINGTON – Naomi C. Earp, Chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the nation’s leading civil rights enforcement agency, today publicly called on the media and entertainment industry to make greater efforts to combat racism, in light of the dialogue spurred by Don Imus’s remarks:
AN OPEN LETTER TO DON IMUS, BERNARD MCGUIRK, MSNBC AND CBS FROM EEOC CHAIR NAOMI C. EARP
As I read the media coverage of the racist and sexist remarks made by radio jock Don Imus and his producer Bernard McGuirk, who collectively referred to the Rutgers University women’s basketball team as “rough,” “hard-core hos,” “nappy-headed hos,” and “jigaboos,” I shuddered and became outraged at the unfairness of the situation. As an African American woman giving leadership to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the nation’s foremost civil rights agency charged with combating discrimination in the workplace, I cannot stand silent on this matter.
How dare these two men utilize the airwaves to assassinate the reputations and denigrate the accomplishments of these talented Black collegiate women who, against all odds, advanced to the NCAA championship and represented their university in stellar fashion. Given their academic and athletic achievements, these young ladies should have been celebrated and not castigated.
The popular ditty, “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me,” is untrue. Names, especially racial and sexist slurs, can and do hurt! It is one of the reasons that the EEOC recently launched E-RACE -- Eradicating Racism And Colorism from Employment, a national campaign designed to hold businesses accountable for the discriminatory conduct of their officials, managers and employees.
Pursuant to this campaign, the EEOC intends to make clear that race and color discrimination in the workplace, whether verbal or behavioral, is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. The offensive remarks of Imus and McGuirk, the belated reaction of the networks and radio station, and Imus’ defense of his comments by pointing to rap lyrics – as if two wrongs make a right -- indicate the need for a clear and unambiguous dialogue about racism in America. It also points to a need for a change in this particular corporate culture, namely entertainment. Right is right and wrong is wrong. Employers must become intolerant of racist and sexist behavior in the workplace and invoke a zero-tolerance stance towards such offensive conduct, and so must the media and entertainment industry. Just as employees must be encouraged to demonstrate respect towards others, so must entertainers. Offenders in the workplace and in entertainment should be swiftly and effectively disciplined even if, as Imus contends, they’ve done a good deed for the offended community.
Recently, such appropriate corporate action was taken by WSBG 93.5, a Pocono radio station, that immediately terminated Gary Smith, its on-air personality of 17 years, after he used the phrase, “I’m a nappy-headed ho” as the "Phrase that Pays" following the Imus incident. As Rick Musselman, executive vice president/chief operating officer for Nassau Mid-Atlantic, the parent of WSBG, stated in the Pocono Record: “Gary has done a tremendous amount of good for both African-Americans and whites, but we feel his comments crossed the line.”
It’s time for corporate America, especially the entertainment industry, to be more proactive in preventing and eliminating racist and sexist behavior in the workplace. No person should be judged by the irrational and irrelevant criteria of race or gender nor have their reputations assassinated by irresponsible pundits. During their diatribe, Imus and McGuirk mentioned Spike Lee’s movie, “Do The Right Thing.” That’s my challenge to you all – do the right thing. Otherwise, you are part of the problem, and not the solution. Firing Imus does not address the real issues at hand. Instead of jokes, we need a serious dialogue about race in 21st century America.
According to the EEOC, racism remains the most frequent claim filed with the agency nationwide, accounting for more than a third of all private-sector charges. In Fiscal Year 2006, the EEOC received 27,238 charges alleging race-based discrimination. Additionally, the EEOC has also observed a substantial increase over the past 15 years in discrimination charge filings based on color, which have risen from 374 in FY 1992 to 1,241 in FY 2006.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.