Let me begin, lest I be kicked off the pages of OpEdNews, by saying that Don Imus was stupid and wrong to say what he said about the Rutgers Women’s Basketball Team. However, he is an entertainer, and I hear far worse on television and at the movies on a regular basis. Whether Imus is truly a sexist and racist, only he knows for sure. What I do know is that I have fought for women’s rights and racial equality my whole life and I sense a certain amount of hypocrisy in the hysterical responses to Imus. Those who marched for equal rights in the 60’s and 70’s heard far worse, let me assure you.
Mainstream media has made the Rutger’s Team media darlings because the team feels like they “have been robbed” of their moment in the sun. Women, get real. So, you were called some nasty names. Ask yourselves why you are the center of attention when 42,000 women and children have been raped, some set on fire with burning tires after the attacks in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). 4,000 have been treated in the struggling Doctors On Call Service (DOCS) hospital in Goma. It goes on every day, day after miserable day.
The Guardian Unlimited recently reported on an elderly woman who walked 90 miles to get treatment, watching her companions shot and raped after they were killed along the way. The tents at DOCS in Goma are filled with similar heartbreaking stories, women and children, burned, mutilated and worse. A little name calling would have been their salvation.
So, Imus is punished by sponsor withdrawal by Bigelow Tea and Staples. On the surface, all seems good, proper, and well-intentioned. Dig a little deeper and you will find an obscure US Department of Labor Report on Tea, fair trade, child labor and imports. Child labor in the third world was a big concern, and Bigelow Tea, to its credit, was one of the few tea importers which responded to questions about child labor practices. Several of the companies surveyed, including Bigelow and Reily Foods, purchase all teas through third-party importers. Bigelow reported that it was “unaware of child labor practices.”
A 2003 pilot study of “Child Labor in the Tea Sector of Malawi,” commissioned by the Norwegian Fafo Foundation, showed that 48 million children between the ages of five and fourteen are employed in the agricultural industry in sub-Saharan Africa. This includes the tea industry. The report is extensive, but the general opinion is that child labor is extensive in the tea industry in Malawi. Sticks and stones and horrible working conditions will break their backs, but a little name-calling would be welcome.
If Bigelow really wants to step up to the plate and champion racial equality, perhaps the company can take their advertising dollars and commission their own human rights study of the tea industry, or better yet, take some dollars over to a needy village. Don’t give your money to an NGO—it will vanish.
Meanwhile, the sports heroines continue to whine.
"Our moment was taken away -- our moment to celebrate our success, our moment to realize how far we had come, both on and off the court, as young women," said sophomore forward Heather Zurich. "We were stripped of this moment by degrading comments made by Mr. Imus last Wednesday. What hurts the most about this situation is that Mr. Imus knows not one of us personally."
I know of a nameless, faceless village in DRC that has been robbed of its land and resources by American interests. These villagers have no fame, certainly no fortune, and it is beyond their world view to expect more than survival from day to day. No one knows them "personally."
When will Americans wake up, and turn away from glorified sports heroes and champion the poor, the dispossessed, the robbed, and the abused in the third world?
The Imus tempest in a teapot is a national shame and shows how ignorant Americans are of real suffering and racism.
If Jesse Jackson wants to get involved in something really important, I can take him to the village I have in mind where women are told it is dangerous to their health to have babies, are chemically sterilized with no medical monitoring, and AIDS is killing so many that the birth rate can hardly keep up. Ethnic cleansing in the name of the environment is ignored and a radio program gets top media attention. Malaria is killing more than AIDS and US interests ban insecticides.
In Congo, moment after moment has been taken away and buried with the hopeless and abandoned. There are no microphones, no podiums, no cameras to record their despair, shame, and hurt.