Kathleen Parker

WASHINGTON -- I'm an Imus fan and often tune in for headlines, a shot of guyness and a pinch of politics. He's sometimes funny, sometimes smart, and every now and then, dumber'n a box o' rocks.

As recently, when he referred to the Rutgers University women's basketball team as ``nappy-headed hos.'' It was ridiculously unacceptable, mean and insensitive.

But was it unforgivable?

Piling on is awfully fashionable at the moment, and while tempting, it's also awfully easy. Let's try something hard. Like thinking.

The offensive remark was meant to be funny on a show that is a mix of serious and humorous commentary, both irreverent and sometimes adolescent. We all can agree it wasn't funny. As Imus has acknowledged during his stations of the cross, it was ``repugnant, repulsive and horrible.''

It was also racist.

But the public scourging of Don Imus -- and his ``I'm a good person who said a bad thing'' mea culpa -- borders on the ridiculous. Most absurd was his lashing by Al Sharpton on the latter's radio show.

Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and others have called for the I-Man's' firing. A two-week suspension isn't enough, according to these self-appointed arbiters of acceptable speech, who seem to have made peace with their own racist remarks of the past.

In 1995, Sharpton organized a protest and called a Jewish landlord a ``white interloper'' after the man terminated the lease on a black-owned music store. Later, the landlord's own store was burned to the ground, and eight people were killed.

Jackson called New York City ``Hymietown" and Jews "hymies" in a 1984 interview with The Washington Post. When accused of anti-Semitism, he said, ``Charge it to my head ... not to my heart.''

Fair enough for Jackson, but not for Imus?

What Imus said was not hateful, but it was thoughtlessly unkind to young women who are not, in fact, ``hos.''

Anyone who caught the student-athletes' Tuesday news conference couldn't help being impressed by the players' maturity, integrity and poise -- and feel a little bit sorry for the less-mature Imus. His chastening has been severe and his humiliation must be painful.

The strength of the country's reaction may suggest that our tolerance for gratuitous insult has reached a tipping point -- and that is a welcome development. What would be even more welcome is if that news were to reach the places where the word ``ho," short for ``can't-be-printed-here,'' is frequently used.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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