Promoting racism on the radio
ON JUNE 10, 2008, Bob Lonsberry, a radio personality of WHAM 1180 radio station in Rochester, N.Y., made racist, sexist and classist remarks targeting children of color and recipients of the Black Scholar's award program. Known for being fired several years ago after comparing the city's Black mayor to a monkey and an orangutan, his targets now include children.
The Anti-Racism Movement (ARM) of Spiritus Christi Church called for a meeting with WHAM and Clear Channel Local Management team to dialogue and call for his removal.
The management team went on record denying that the comments were racist, sexist or classist in nature. They would not even concede that the nature of the comments perpetuated racial stereotypes but felt his comments were "strong opinions that made us uncomfortable."
Uncomfortable? Outraged is a more accurate description, and rightfully so!
In the initial hearing of the audio clip, it might be easy to miss the harm in Lonsberry's words. While it may appear at the onset that there are real issues embedded in it, you will find them laced with old, oppressive, philosophical, white supremacist positions wrapped in abuse.
One only needs to unpack Lonsberry's statements to see that this is not about free speech, but rather the use of institutional power to make racism, sexism, classism and other forms of oppression acceptable in the hearts and ears of WHAM listeners.
Young girls in a young mothers teen program who garnered 100 percent graduation rates were addressed this way: "Keep your legs together, uh Sweet Cheeks, and everything will be okay." This was followed by the claim that they should not be regarded as brave for their accomplishments, but in Lonberry's words, regarded only as "easy."
In most corporate settings, males would never get away with using this kind of sexist pornographic language in referring to females in the workplace, but Lonsberry thinks it's okay to target female students with these remarks. These insults are not unfamiliar in our racial history when Europeans were wrongly socialized to believe Black people were lazy, inferior in intellect, had uncontrolled libido, untrustworthy, more culpable and animalistic in nature, etc. These socializations continue to define race relations today in the marketplace and in the community. They must be challenged and unlearned!
The nature of the language is grossly offensive, but when you add that some of the students in the program became pregnant as a result of rape, it becomes even more disgusting. Imagine the psychological trauma of being forced to relive that experience through his words, and feeling vulnerable and isolated.
How about his line: "Who is it we give the certificate to? 'Little Sister Take-Your-Pants-Off-and-Spread-Your-Legs,' that's who?" What self-respecting person could feel there are two sides of an issue with this kind of pornographic, degrading, sexist rhetoric?
In addition, Lonsberry made classist remarks like "Oh, and by the way, I'd like to point out the whole thing is being paid for via welfare and by the taxpayer."
Here, he even tries to get away with placing the burden of the welfare system on the teens' backs. Major corporations have been getting government welfare for ages--renamed "subsidies"--yet we continue to allow the demonization of poor people and people of color for getting the help they desperately need. What does that say about us?
The most racist statements were his views expressed about the Black Scholars Program. Lonsberry not only disparaged the hard work of African American students by arbitrarily devaluing the considerable achievement of attaining a B grade average. He brought up the idea that they received it as result of being lazy and doing nothing more than showing up in class. He outright implied they hadn't worked hard at all for it.
"I am not exactly going to put 'Black' and 'scholar' together," he says as he ends his tirade, concluding that celebrating the Black scholars who received a B grade is a mistake. In a tone of chastisement, he cautioned us to not endorse what he calls failure and mediocrity.
What group does he believe he's speaking for? I wouldn't want him as my spokesperson, and we don't have to pay him to abuse children with this violent absurd, inappropriate, oppressive language. We have had enough.
Our community needs racial healing and harmony, not more division around race, sex and class. In the coming months, let us rise to our fullest potential and call for not only Lonsberry's removal from our communal airwaves, but a new culture of inclusivity and racial justice.
In Rochester, we stand with and support all children. Lonsberry has not exercised the noble right to freedom of speech. Rather, he has harassed and verbally abused the most vulnerable among us, our children.
Myra Brown, from the Internet