The suspension last week of two popular radio hosts in Los Angeles over offensive remarks about the late singer Whitney Houston has sent shock waves through LA and, thanks to the Internet, the nation.
Black people everywhere, who have never even heard of the “The John & Ken Show” on KFI AM 640, are in an uproar about the two white men, John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou, who called Ms. Houston a “crack ho” on air and made other derogatory remarks. Now there’s even talk in Los Angeles about a day of protest against the show and station.
The men said that the star who struggled with drugs was “cracked out for 20 years,” and remarking on her death they wondered: “Really, it took this long?”
As a black woman who listens to the conservative KFI religiously Monday through Friday, and who is not one of the millions of people mourning the death of Houston, even I had to do a double take when I heard this slip of the tongue live last week. I remember thinking, did they really just say that?
Coming off of the Don Imus 2007 controversy and his on-air “nappy-headed hos” comment about Rutgers women’s basketball players, the suspension of John and Ken wasn’t that much of a surprise. We’ve been there and done that.
For the record, white people calling black women derogatory names is nothing new. And even though I listen to The John & Ken Show, as a black woman, at the end of the day I know exactly where I stand with them and what they think about black people.
Are their comments enough to justify national outrage from blacks? Maybe.
However, I’d argue that before a single finger is pointed at John or Ken, most black people need a quick reality check.
While the word “ho” was seldom used on KFI, the same can’t be said for black America where the word is in heavy rotation on a daily basis. From the barely bleeped-out lyrics that we listen to on the radio, the videos we watch on television, and how we speak to and about each other – there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t hear this word. And it’s usually coming out of the mouth of another black person.
Just one scan of the most requested songs on Los Angeles hip-hop radio station Power 106 proves my point. The 2012 Best New Artist Grammy nominee J. Cole’s “Work Out,” features the lyrics, “She bad and she know it. Some niggas save hos, I’m not that heroic.” Nice.
Add to that, this year’s Best Rap Album Grammy nominees Jay-Z and Kanye West and their “Niggas in Paris,” which, if you can get past the title, uses the word “bitch” four times. It is topped by Tyga’s “Rack City” which manages to use that word 22 times in a little over three minutes and says, “All the hos love me you know what it is.”
I could go on and on, from city to city, radio station to radio station and still come up with the same examples.
But it’s not just radio that helps to keep the word ho alive in black America. Thanks to CD players and iPods where censoring is not even an issue, much worse is played in the cars and homes of many of the same black people offended by John’s and Ken’s characterization of Houston.
So while these hosts were undeniably wrong in their demeaning choice of words about Houston, the reality is that they are two white guys on the radio in Los Angeles who have a majority conservative white audience they play to. And even if they used the word ho everyday to describe black women, they still wouldn’t come close to the damage that continues to be done on a daily basis in the black community with our own use of the word.
Black children and teenagers are not listening to KFI but they are listening to Mommy and Daddy enjoy those songs, watching MTV and BET, and listening to music that says much worse than what was uttered by John and Ken. Last Thursday, in a statement, John Kobylt said, “We made a mistake, and we accept the station’s decision. We used language that was inappropriate, and we sincerely apologize to our listeners and to the family of Ms. Houston.”
When was the last time a rapper apologized for using everyday derogatory words?
John and Ken apologized and were suspended. Is it enough? I think so. The chances of them describing a black woman on air this way again are slim to none.
Protesting to extend their suspension or boycotting KFI and its advertisers, even if it were successful, would do nothing to change blacks’ own use of the word and that’s really where the issue is.
Whitney Houston was a talented singer who died tragically and wasn’t alive to hear herself being called a “ho.” Millions of other black women, however, hear it every day – either coming out of someone else’s mouth or sadly – their own.
A former press secretary in the California State Assembly and US House of Representatives, Jasmyne A. Cannick writes about the intersection of race, sex, politics, and pop culture from an unapologetically black point of view. Follow her on Twitter @jasmyne and on Facebook at /jasmyne.