Monday, October 29, 2007

The Noose and Racial Terrorism

This is from The Curvature: A Feminist Perspective on Politics and Culture

On nooses and white reactions
I haven’t yet written about the recent string of noose incidents. I don’t have a good excuse for that.

Today, though, the Times has an article about those instances which have taken place in NY, and I’m using it as a reason to get up of my ass and open my mouth. Over the past few weeks, seven nooses have been found, left for blacks to find as obvious attempts at intimidation and threats of violence.

Three noose episodes took place on Long Island in three days. On Wednesday, two were found at a sanitation garage in the Town of Hempstead — one of them looped around the neck of a stuffed animal with its face blackened. On Thursday, a noose was discovered hanging in a Nassau County highway department yard in Baldwin. On Friday, a worker at the Green Acres shopping mall in Valley Stream found one slung over a door at a construction site.

Public officials said they were outraged, determined to catch the culprits — and stumped.

“It would diminish the seriousness of these events to call any of them copycat situations,” said Kate Murray, the supervisor of the Town of Hempstead, a sprawling township of 750,000 residents, about 15 percent of them black, where all of last week’s incidents occurred. “But I’m not a sociologist. I am surprised by it.”

. . . “I don’t know what the pattern is, if there is one,” said Thomas R. Suozzi, the county executive of Nassau County, which includes Hempstead. “Are people more hateful than they have been? I just don’t know.”

I think that the last question is a legitimate one worth considering. Are white people becoming more racist? You could be forgiven for thinking so, lately. Though institutional racism has always been there and supported by whites, it lately seems like loud, overt racism is somehow becoming more acceptable. There’s the recent string of celebrities (Paris Hilton, Michael Richards) using the N-word. There’s the overtly racist response to the Jena 6, and there are all of the blackface parties being held as a “joke” by young whites.

Though I don’t have an explanation for it, I don’t think that more white people are suddenly more racist. For the most part, I’m not really sure how unacceptable racism has been in America against groups other than African Americans. A look at our discussions over immigration tell us that prejudice against Latino/as is considered mostly okay, our discussions over terrorism tell us that prejudice against Muslims, and really people of any other ethnicity that might bear some faint resemblance in skin color to Arabs, is just fine, everyone likes to try to forget that Native Americans even exist, and when has prejudice against Asians really been taken seriously? Racism against blacks has been the main issue for whites. No, I don’t think that racism is getting worse. I think that racism has always been there, and yes, it has been this bad. I do think that somehow the white community has gotten a cue that this overt racism against blacks is acceptable again.

I can’t explain why. Yes, I do think that Jena has played a huge role. How could it not have? Nooses aren’t just suddenly popping up everywhere out of coincidence. Jena has forced many white people who try to never think about, let alone talk about, issues of race to actually do so. And in case you haven’t been paying attention, it hasn’t exactly gone well. I’m not sure that “copycat” is the right word to describe the instances, but they all seem to be committed by different individuals. And they certainly are all related. And while with each one the outrage grows, so does the level of desensitization and acceptance. It’s getting to the point where whites are saying “oh, gee, another noose?” Firstly, those words should never have to be spoken. Secondly, the apathy with which their spoken is telling.

“In the context of today, the noose means, ‘There is still a racial hierarchy in this country, and you better not overstep your bounds,’” said Carmen Van Kerckhove, the founder of a New York consulting firm, New Demographic, that specializes in workplace problems, including racial tension.

. . . Willie Warren, an equipment operator at the Nassau County Public Works yard here, was among three workers in the garage on Thursday when an employee ran in to tell them he had found a noose hanging from a fence outside. Mr. Warren, 41, who has been with the department for 20 years, filed a racial discrimination suit in 2004, producing tape recordings of a supervisor referring to him with racial epithets. He won the case, got a promotion, still works for one of the supervisors named in his suit, and considers himself unflappable on the job.

The noose shook him. “It’s hard to explain, but it made me upset the whole day,” Mr. Warren said. One white co-worker was as upset as he was, he said. Another said, “What’s the big deal? It’s only a noose.”

This attitude is not only frightening, it’s also frighteningly common. The fact is, most white people don’t get it. Many don’t even realize that hanging a noose is a concrete threat of violence. It’s extreme ignorance and extreme stupidity, it boggles the mind, but it’s true. There’s a “sticks and stones” mentality from all of those who have never had to think about race, or how they will be discriminated against today, or whether they face institutionalized violence because of their skin color.

Because as one professor points out, this is about institutions:

Rachel E. Sullivan, an assistant professor of sociology at Long Island University’s C. W. Post College, said most people do not understand what lynchings were. “They think it was a few guys coming in the night, in their hooded sheets, taking you away,” she said.

She teaches a course on African-American history, including the killings of thousands by lynching in the United States between the end of the Civil War and the end of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

“But in reality these were whole, big community events,” she said. “Children and families would come to watch. Hundreds of people attended. They would watch a man being burned and mutilated before he was hung. They would pose for pictures with the body.

“If people had a grasp of what really happened at these things,” Professor Sullivan continued, “they would understand the power of the symbol of a noose.”

I don’t know if it’s true that white people don’t know this. I mean, I was certainly taught this in schools. Maybe everyone else wasn’t. Or maybe they just never paid attention enough to remember. Maybe it’s easier to dismiss if you lie about it.

But the fact that this view is held so widely needs to be acknowledged. The most striking case of this that I’ve seen comes from a post by Magniloquence about an NPR segment that she caught on the radio:

I’ve started listening to NPR in the morning, in between songs and snippets of useful information (like, say, the traffic reports) on other stations. And lo and behold, one day I hear the following: “Ignore the Nooses.”

Yes, that’s right. From the little summary at their webpage:

All Things Considered, October 16, 2007 · In light of the resurgence of nooses appearing in places like Jena, La., and Columbia University’s Teacher’s College, here’s a modest proposal: The next time somebody plants a noose, let’s just ignore it. Perhaps paying less attention to these acts will take away their racist power.

I heard that, verbatim, and then several minutes of different people commending the logic and telling us to man up and stop being so sensitive. Stop giving the bullies what they want.
This kind of groupthink from white people, though I am white, never ceases to amaze me. I’m sure that it’s really easy to “ignore” violence when you are not the one facing the threat.
For those of you who still don’t get it, think about when men don’t “get” why women/feminists get so riled up about a little old rape threat. Because it’s not like they’re actually going to rape you. They’re just trying to get a rise! Whereas we know that there a chance of the threat actually being followed through on, and we also know that rape is not a game.

Lynching is not a game, either. Nooses aren’t funny or trivial. They’re not only as bad as racial slurs, but actually a lot worse. Ignoring threats of violence is never an appropriate response.
I will admit that I have been guilty of this “ignore it and it will go away” line of thinking. One example is my reaction to Ann Coulter. I think that we’ve given her far too much attention for far too many years. I think that not only are all of the media outlets who keep giving her a microphone responsible for the hatred that she spews and that they need to stop giving her the microphone, but that covering what she says has stopped serving a point. I think that continuing to talk about her gives her exactly what she wants and will only delay her crawling back into the dark hole from which she came.

Maybe I’m wrong about that. I don’t know. Since she talks an awful lot of shit about white women, too, I think that I have a bit more perspective on the issue. But I could still be wrong. I could also be right. Maybe there is in fact a difference. Coulter, though she can be perceived as encouraging violence, is not actually committing a crime. Hanging nooses, thankfully, is. We’ve also tried everything else we could with Coulter. We’ve denounced her and exposed her and she’s as popular as ever.

The problem is that we haven’t tried something different with racism. We’ve been going about this “let’s not talk about it and it will go away” mentality for a long time. We’ve been doing the “black people are making a big deal out of nothing” thing for a long time. When, exactly, have we tried talking about it honestly — not in a “is racism good or bad?” sort of way, but a “why are we racist and what can we do?” sort of way — on a wide-scale? I’m struggling to remember a time.

So maybe I’m wrong about Ann Coulter. Maybe I’m not. But I do know that NPR is wrong about the noose, as is everyone else who holds the “ho-hum” point of view. They’re more than just some kind of sick and twisted fad. They’re a part of a trend. And yeah, if we don’t deal with it and talk about it, I am quite terrified of where it’s going to take us next.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Michael Medved and Conservative View of Corporations

I thought students might be interested in this article in relation to the work of Karl Marx and John Locke. Students might ask themselves about the extent to which Marx would disagree or agree with Medved's views.

Corporate power blesses, not oppresses, the American people
By Michael MedvedWednesday, October 17, 2007

Why should so many Americans resent and distrust the very institutions that make possible our productivity, pleasure and opportunities? Given the fact that major corporations provide virtually every one of the commodities and comforts we consume, it makes no sense to feel hostile and contemptuous of the corporate organization of the contemporary economy.
As I write these words – and as you read them –we all rely on the products of major companies with increasingly far flung and international operations. Leave aside for a moment the obvious example of the complex combination of brilliantly designed computer hardware and software that allows me to transfer my thoughts to a word processor and broadcast them to the world. I’m also relying on a light fixture above my desk and the bulb to illuminate it and the electricity to drive it, on the books stacked on the filing cabinet behind me, printed and distributed and transported across the country, on the paper and the pens that allowed the scribbled notes and, very significantly, on the ceramic mug filled with steaming coffee based on beans brought from far corners of the globe, then roasted and packaged and finally brewed in the wonderfully efficient coffee maker beneath our kitchen sink. Though “corporation” has become a dirty word to many Americans, successful corporations made possible each of these wonders and blessings and amplifications of our personal power. Without those engines of economic energy, we’d retreat to darkness and frustration and the dead ends of poverty.

The late Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman used to hold up a common pencil and to ask his students at the University of Chicago to consider the labor and resources that made it possible. At one point, timber workers cut the trees sawmill workers shaped into usable milled wood, while miners drew the graphite from the earth, and others smelted and shaped it into the thin but durable pencil, then encased in the octagonal rod of wood, in turn painted and varnished and stamped, with a milled metal tip (also mined and processed and stamped) connecting it to a pink and functional eraser relying on gum from remote jungles. This miracle of technology and cooperation, in other words, relies on literally hundreds (if not thousands) of workers in different corners of the earth, but then, ultimately, makes its way into your hand at the shockingly, insanely, irrationally low price of --- about ten cents. Consider the amazing efficiency that brings you this versatile and remarkably efficient common writing implement that you take for granted every day. This deceptively simple pencil costs the typical American less than 20 seconds of his time at work. For higher income toilers, you can earn yourself a pencil for a mere second of your effort.

And yet we commonly curse the very rise of corporate power and productivity that puts such wonders into our hands. “Enlightened” commentators, politicians, academics, activists and malcontents of both left and right never tire of deriding for-profit companies as some parasitic alien life form that devours honest toil, crushes creativity, pollutes the environment, and steals power from ordinary Americans.

A few undeniable truths about corporate power in the United States can liberate every day citizens and the society at large from such sour and ungrateful folly.

1) FROM THE DAYS OF EARLIEST SETTLEMENT, AMERICA EMERGED FROM RISK-TAKING AND PROFIT-MAKING CORPORATIONS. The famous colonies at Jamestown, Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay (not to mention Walter Raleigh’s similarly celebrated and tragically unsuccessful settlement of Roanoke) depended on British investors who put up the considerable capital to fund the expensive business of sending “venturers” across the Ocean. Of course, some of these sponsors shared religious ideals with some of the settlers, but they all fervently cherished the (often frustrated) hope of earning a handsome return on their risky investments. Meanwhile, other corporations like the Hudson Bay Company and the British East India Company also played an outside (and sometimes heroic) role in exploring a wilderness continent and establishing a British presence in the New World.

2) THE REVOLUTION RESISTED GOVERNMENT INTERFERENCE WITH FREE MARKETS, NOT THE POWER OF BIG BUSINESS. The Stamp Act Protests, the Boston Tea Party and other Colonial challenges to British authority aimed their wrath (and occasional property destruction) not at the traders or merchants who brought their products to New England, but against the government officials who insisted on telling the colonists what they could buy and how much they must pay. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson specifically condemned the king for “imposing taxes on us without our consent” and for sending his tax collectors to interfere with commerce: “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our People, and eat out their substance.” Any contemporary American who’s faced an IRS audit can relate directly to Jefferson’s complaint. The Declaration also attacked King George for his protectionist export-import policy and “for cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world.” The Founding Fathers never embraced anti-business attitudes because most of them were themselves ambitious and successful entrepreneurs. George Washington and John Hancock may have been the two richest men in the colonies – with Washington one of the largest land-holders (who loved speculating on frontier real estate) and Hancock the owner of America’s most formidable fleet of merchant ships. At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, when the Founders laid out the powers of the new Congress and Government in Article 1, section 8, all of the first 8 provisions concern setting up an economic system (“power to lay and collect taxes,” “to establish…uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies,” “to coin money,” and so forth) before the document finally gets around to such relatively trivial matters as setting up courts and raising an army.

3) THE FAMOUS DEPRADATIONS OF THE SO-CALLED “ROBBER BARONS” INVOLVED GOVERNMENTAL, NOT BUSINESS, ABUSES. In his indispensable 1986 book “The Myth of the Robber Barons,” Burton W. Folsom of the University of Pittsburgh makes the important distinction between “political entrepreneurs” and “market entrepreneurs” who played very different roles in the development of the new nation and its economy. The political entrepreneurs WHO manipulated their insider influence relied upon sweetheart deals and special concessions and monopoly power granted by government, rather than their own efficiency and competitive advantages. At the same time, market entrepreneurs (like James J. Hill of the Great Northern Railroad) refused to entangle themselves with the political process and built their much more successful and durable corporations without favoritism from bureaucrats or officeholders. As Folsom writes of the emerging and crucial steamship industry: “Political entrepreneurship often led to price-fixing, technological stagnation, and the bribing of competitors and politicians. The market entrepreneurs were the innovators and rate-cutters. They had to be to survive against subsidized opponents.” Significantly, all of the most significant economic reform movements from the Jeffersonians at the turn of the nineteenth century up through the Progressives at the turn of twentieth, sought to disentangle government from its involvement in the free market, not to impose to new bureaucratic controls. As the great historian Forrest McDonald of the University of Alabama wrote: “The Jacksonian Democrats engaged in a great deal of anti-business rhetoric, but the results of their policies were to remove or reduce governmental interference into private economic activity, and thus to free market entrepreneurs to go about their creative work. The entire nation grew wealthy as a consequence.”

4) THE ERAS OF GREATEST CORPORATE INFLUENCE WEREN’T NIGHTMARISH PERIODS OF OPPRESSION AND RETREAT, BUT RATHER GOLDEN EPOCHS OF PROSPERITY, PROGRESS AND GROWING AMERICAN POWER. While historians and other intellectuals invariably deride the “Gilded Age” following the War Between the States, no generation in world history achieved comparable progress in rapidly raising standards of living, absorbing and assimilating unprecedented waves of immigration, settling the remotest frontier and building a dozen new states and scores of glittering new cities, while establishing the United States for the first time as a world power of the first rank. As the editors of American Heritage Magazine wrote in the introduction to their book, “The Confident Years,” about US life from 1865 to 1914: “It was a period of exuberant growth, in population, industry and world prestige. As the twentieth century opened, American political pundits were convinced that the nation was on an ascending spiral of progress that could end only in something approaching perfection. Even those who saw the inequity between the bright world of privilege and the gray fact of poverty were quite sure that a time was very near when no one would go cold or hungry of ill clothed. These were indeed the Confident Years.” An era of rampant capitalist power, in other words, that saw the emergence of giant corporations that touched the lives of every American, corresponded with the most dynamic and dazzling achievements in our history. Other eras associated with big business also brought unparalleled blessings of peace and prosperity to the nation at large and virtually all of its citizens – such as the 1920’s, where President Coolidge produced snickers from cognoscenti by saying “the business of America is business,” or the 1950’s, when Defense Secretary Charlie Wilson declared (not unreasonably) that “what’s good for General Motors is good for America."

5) THE RISE OF BIG BUSINESS NEVER IMPOVERISHED AND ALWAYS ENHANCED THE LIVING STANDARDS OF ORDINARY WORKING AMERICANS. In their 1998 book, “The History of the American Economy” Gary Walton and Hugh Rockoff summarize the progress of the working class. From 1820 to 1860, wages grew at a 1.6% annual rate, while the purchasing power of an average worker’s paycheck went up between 60 [SPACE] and 90 percent (depending on the region of the country). Between 1860 and 1890 (that genuinely gilded age) real wages (adjusted for inflation) increased by a staggering 50% in America. The average work week shortened at the same time, so that the real earnings of the Average American worker increased more like 60 percent in just thirty years. As Thomas J. DiLorenzo points out in his illuminating book “How Capitalism Saved America,”: “Capitalism improves the quality of life for the working class not just because it leads to improved wages but also because it produces new, better and cheaper goods…When Henry Ford first started selling automobiles only the relatively wealthy could afford them, but soon enough working-class families were buying his cars.” The efficiency and productivity made possible by corporate organization gave typical Americans a range of choices and an economic power unimaginable for prior generations. As Federal Reserve Board economists Michael Cox and Richard Allen made clear: “A nineteenth century millionaire couldn’t grab a cold drink from the refrigerator. He couldn’t hop into a smooth-riding automobile for a 70-mile-an-hour trip down an interstate highway to the mountains or seashore. He couldn’t call up news, movies, music and sporting events by simply touching the remote control’s buttons. He couldn’t jet north to Toronto, south to Cancun, east to Boston or west to San Francisco in just a few hours. He couldn’t transmit documents to Europe, Asia, or anyplace else in seconds.

He couldn’t run over to the mall to buy auto-focus cameras, computer games, mountain bikes, or movies on videotape. He couldn’t escape the summer heat in air conditioned comfort. He couldn’t check into a hospital for a coronary bypass to cure a failing heart, get a shot of penicillin to ward off infection, or even take aspirin to relieve a headache.” In this context, jeremiads about the “horrifying” gap between rich and poor miss the point that poor people in America’s 21st century enjoy options and privileges that the wealthy couldn’t claim a hundred years ago. Far from oppressing the working class, the corporate system brought about a vast improvement in purchasing power for all Americans. The 1999 book “Myths of Rich and Poor” by Michael Cox and Richard Alm indicates that a worker in 1900 worked two hours and forty minutes to earn the cost of a three point chicken; in 1999, a mere 24 minutes of toil could buy him the bird. If anything, the growth in rewards for working only accelerated in the last fifty years. In 1950, typical workers put in more than two hours to afford 100 kilowatts of electricity; by 1999, the cost had dropped to fourteen minutes. A three minute coast-to-coast phone call cost 104 minutes of labor in 1950, but by 1999 that was down to two minutes (and it’s no doubt even less today).

6) THE INDUSTRIALIZATION THAT DRIVES PROSPERITY RESCUES RATHER THAN ENSLAVES THE WORKERS IT EMPLOYS. Adam Smith, who defined capitalism more than 200 years ago in “The Wealth of Nations,” described the essence of the system as a series of mutually beneficial agreements: “Give me that which you want, and you shall have this which you want.” This captures the essential fairness and decency of the free-market system, which relies on voluntary associations that enrich both parties. Concerning the process of industrialization, which saw millions of workers engaged in powering the mighty, productive engines of major corporations, the great economic Ludwig van Mises (cited by DiLorenzo) trenchantly observed: “The factory owners did not have the power to compel anybody to take a factory job. They could only hire people who were ready to work for the wages offered to them. Low as these wage rates were, they were nonetheless much more than these paupers could earn in any other field open to them. It is a distortion of facts to say that the factories carried off the housewives from the nurseries and the kitchens and the children from their play. These women had nothing to cook with and to feed their children. These children were destitute and starving. Their only refuge was the factory. It saved them, in the strict sense of the term, from death by starvation.” The same process applies to newly opened factories throughout the developing world today, despite the efforts by “anti-globalist” and “anti-corporate” activists in the United States to obliterate the only jobs that keep suffering millions from a return to misery and destitution.

7) CORPORATIONS DON’T DESERVE BLAME FOR “PUTTING PROFITS OVER PEOPLE,” SINCE PROFITS INEVITABLY BENEFIT PEOPLE. Corporations don’t exist in order to provide welfare for workers, or cheap products for consumers, but rather to earn profits for investors and operators. If they succeed in earning such profits they can provide more jobs at higher pay, and better products at lower cost. If a company fails at bringing in those profits it will shed jobs and provide fewer products – ultimately going out of business altogether. The idea that laborers or customers somehow benefit if a corporation feels squeezed, or facing shrinking profits, remains one of the profoundly illogical legacies of discredited Marxism. In the free market system, the boss Peter can’t benefit long term at the expense of his employee, Paul. They either prosper together or fail together. Increased profitability brings increases in capital that allow increases in productivity – directly and simultaneously rewarding management and labor (not to mention the public at large). Political demagogues who rail against “immoral” or “obscene” profits need courses in remedial economics. For a corporation, only a lack of profitability counts as immoral and going out of business represents the ultimate obscenity.

8) THERE’S NO LOGICAL REASON TO FAVOR SMALL BUSINESSES OVER BIG BUSINESS. A recent Wall Street Journal poll showed that the public felt more approval of “small business” than of “big corporations” by a ratio of more than three to one. This makes little sense, since virtually every “big business” started out as a small operation before success brought growth, and virtually every small business dreams of getting bigger one day. Not far from my home stands the original Starbucks Coffee stand (still operating) at Seattle’s Pike Place Market: an unprepossessing shop that couldn’t accommodate more than twenty customers at a time. Did that quaint operation do a better job providing coffee to its patrons than today’s multi-billion dollar, globe-straddling colossus? Any coffee connoisseur can certify that one of the major improvements in American life over the past twenty years involves the now universal availability of strong, delicious, gourmet coffee (and innumerable exotic derivatives), as opposed to the watery, flavorless blandness of the old-fashioned “cup of Joe.” Could any sane observer honestly believe that a small business could do a better job than big international companies in providing us with the automobiles and computers and cell phones and medical supplies that do so much to enrich our lives?

9) CORRUPTION IS MORE OF A PROBLEM FOR BIG GOVERNMENT THAN BIG CORPORATIONS. Since the beginning of the 21st Century a series of tawdry and hugely destructive corporate scandals (Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, many more) led the commentariat to conclude that business ethics had been hopelessly compromised and we needed to turn to government for redemption and purification. This assumption ignores the long history of hideous corruption in every endeavor of flawed humanity – including religion, education, charities and, most spectacularly, government itself. Giving government greater power over corporations increases rather than reduces the likelihood of corruption, since so many of the prior business scandals involved existing entanglements of bureaucracy with the free market. When political office holders decide winners and losers in the business world, the temptations for bribery and favoritism become more acute, not less so. Moreover, the public enjoys greater and swifter recourse against an abusive or inefficient corporation than it does against an abusive or inefficient government. The customer can always decline to patronize a business, a product or a service he dislikes, but with a dysfunctional government you’re stuck till the next election – or long after that, in this era of entrenched and immovable bureaucratic power. A determined individual can escape the reach of even the most ubiquitous corporation (yes, even our Seattle neighbors at Microsoft) but the only way to choose for yourself a different national government is to flee the country. Yes, corporate power frequently corrupts government, and government power even more frequently corrupts and warps corporations, but the best way to avoid this mutually destructive influence is to bring about less bureaucratic involvement in the free market, not to insist on more.

Despite all the shortcomings and silliness, bureaucratic bungling and bankruptcies, foreclosures and failures, conniving and corruption, the big corporations that inevitably emerge in free and fair markets continue to perform remarkably well in terms of giving the public what it wants and needs. Our daily lives bear wondrous witness to the amazing achievements and efficiencies of the system. Any honest examination of the past and the present must lead to the conclusion that major corporations in their appropriate pursuit of profit will continue to bless, not oppress, the people of the United States.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Newsweek on Black Misogyny

Race & Gender: We're Not Gonna Take It
One woman's case opens a dialogue about black misogyny.

By Allison Samuels

Oct. 15, 2007 issue - Will 2007 be remembered as the year black women said "Enough is enough"? At no small personal cost, Anucha Browne Sanders stood up and demanded an end to the kind of abuse African-American women regularly tolerate from some black men. We are not "bitches" or "ho's," to be harassed sexually or otherwise, she declared.

It was a brave thing for an African-American woman to do. Our community is reluctant to talk openly about the problem of black men mistreating black women. Our leaders will rise up in unison against Don Imus for his detestable slur against the Rutgers women's basketball team. Yet they remain silent when Isiah Thomas says it's less offensive for a black man to call a black woman "bitch" than it is for a white man. Black leaders are justifiably in an uproar over the Jena Six, yet none rushed to West Palm Beach, Fla., this summer when an African-American mother in a public housing project was gang-raped. Nor did they talk about domestic violence when self-help minister Juanita Bynum told police in August that she'd been beaten by her husband, which he denies. Even rapper R. Kelly—still awaiting trial on charges of having sex with an underage girl in 2002—gets a free pass.

"We have to say 'No more'!" says author Terry McMillan, who's made a career writing about the complicated and sometimes strained relations between African-American women and men. "No other culture disrespects their women the way our culture does, and it has to stop. Black men have to start taking responsibility for being a part of the reason black women are so disrespected in the first place." McMillan has never shied away from challenging the ways black men portray women in film, videos and rap songs, but plenty of blacks—men and women alike—are loath to point fingers publicly. (For his part, the Rev. Al Sharpton finally weighed in late last week on the Browne Sanders dispute, threatening a boycott of the Knicks until Thomas apologizes for the "bitch" comment.)

The reasons for the silence are complicated, but mostly it's about not wanting to make things tougher for black men than they already are. (For the record, this reporter is conflicted about adding to the woes.) More black men are in jail than college, they face unemployment twice that of white men and they are subjected to plenty of negative media attention. So any additional attacks from black women are seen as betrayal. "We have enough people eager to attack us that we don't need to do it to each other," says rapper and actor Ice Cube, who was publicly taken to task by the Rev. Jesse Jackson for making fun of civil-rights icon Rosa Parks in the comedy "Barbershop."

Yet without open dialogue, nothing is solved. Two years ago, when Spelman College, a historically black women's campus in Atlanta, invited rappers to discuss misogyny in hip-hop, most of the big names declined. "So where does that leave us?" asks Beverly Bond, founder of the group Black Girls Rock, a nonprofit dedicated to raising young black girls' self-esteem. "There's not been a lot of willingness to talk about this until now, with Imus. It's a shame it took that, but finally rappers—if they are honest—understand the damage."

But can a radio host's firing or a basketball legend's loss in court continue to give rise to the voices of women that the Harlem Renaissance author Zora Neale Hurston once referred to as the "mules of the world"? "I was glad Imus got fired, and I was glad that a black woman won the case in New York," says 16-year-old LaTisha Johnson of Inglewood, Calif. "But I don't see that changing the boys I know or the rappers I see on TV. They don't think it's wrong, and a white man getting fired doesn't change that." But perhaps a black woman talking about it will.