Thursday, May 3, 2007

An Open Letter to Mr. Daniel Henninger

The following is a letter I submitted in response to Daniel Henninger's editorial column "After Imus," part of his "Wonder Land" series, published by the Wall Street Journal on May 3, 2007. Read Mr. Henninger's opinion here.

While Mr. Henninger might have made a legitimate argument about censorship, he chooses to embrace one of the most untenable (and often criticized) counter-arguments, which may be paraphrased as, "Well, black people use these words, too"; "Disparaging remarks about women at the supposed greatest intellectual institution are okay"; and "An entertainer's profession is equal to the head of an administration, political party, company, or university" (please consult Jon Stewart vs. Tucker Carlson).

What is lost in Mr. Henninger's opinion are the very real effects of this language use—no matter who is doing the speaking. The case of the former Harvard president, Larry Summers, suggests a gender bias at the highest level in the administration—what female faculty member would not have reason to think that her career was likely to be or had already been impeded by such bigotry? Such comments cannot be unmade, and Harvard has every right to improve the culture and morale at that place of business by correcting the problem. Moreover, it has a responsibility to do so. 1

While many cogent arguments might be made that affirm the firing of Imus as an overreaction (which I contend it was, as well), I wonder why an implied conservative (I've not read Mr. Henninger before, so he may well be a self-defined conservative) laments the market correcting itself: to suggest that CBS and MSNBC fired Imus for ideological reasons (their own or those promoted by Rev. Sharpton et. al) is absolutely ludicrous, but sponsors' abandonment of Imus's programs is a much more likely cause.2

Ultimately, Mr. Henninger chooses to write on behalf organizations and people long associated with white privilege, and he seems incredulous that one's words might bespeak one's beliefs and that those beliefs matter when put into practice.

Then again, Mr. Henniger is a journalist himself, now isn't he?

Perhaps this is why Mr. Henninger feels secure in his ability to trivialize hip-hop in his article by hyperbolically stating the number of WSJ readers who do not listen to hip-hop:

For the eight or nine Journal readers who don't listen to the rhymes of hip-hop, "b" rhymes with witch, and "n" rhymes with bigger.

Only the obdurate or the willfully ignorant would ignore the racial implications in such a claim, as well. Yet if someone were to hold Mr. Henniger accountable for those implicit ideas, he would likely consider himself a victim, largely ignoring the demographic impugned by his remarks for the ostensibly-different demographic that is the WSJ's readership.

Mr. Henninger, a number of my closest friends are partners at Wall Street houses, and I have enjoyed many an occasion with them when we have listened to hip-hop music without smug irony (and to respond to your inevitable thought right now, we are, in fact, Caucasian).

Enjoy these days, Mr. Henniger; your era is passing.

1Mr. Summers has also made several comments about Cornell West which were quite suspect. In response to Mr. Henniger's claims that Mr. Summers' "entire career as president of Harvard was immolated," it is important to note that Mr. Summers has been invited back to Harvard after the 2006-2007 school year. Flame on, fiery phoenix, indeed.

2Read this article about it at the Washington Post.

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