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Imus factor belies blacks' internal ills

Make believe for a moment that Don Imus never returns to the air.

Pretend corporate America believes that not tolerating racial and sexist slurs is more important than making a buck off of bigotry that's presented in the guise of "entertainment."

It would be a fitting end for one of black America's longtime enemies from without. But getting rid of Imus would do little to combat a more pernicious threat: the enemies from within.

History is replete with examples of cultures that withstood attacks from outsiders. In fact, African-Americans have to look no further than their own past, in which racists more powerful than Don Imus were relegated to bigotry's dust bin.

What no culture can survive is rot from within.

At the same time the Imus controversy was gaining traction last weekend, the Rev. Darius Pridgen was using his radio show to talk about -- he couldn't quote them, because they were too vulgar -- the postings of some of young Buffalo blacks on the MySpace Web site.

The degrading manner in which these teens depict themselves makes what Imus said sound almost tame by comparison. The graphic, sexually demeaning way some young ladies describe themselves and the things they will do should cause as much outrage among blacks as anything schlock radio can serve up.

"It becomes difficult for me to talk about how others treat us when I continue to see us treat each other badly," Pridgen said. "It's almost giving others a permit, or license, to think that they can do the same."

In fact, Imus -- during one stop on his apology tour -- complained that the phrase he used "originated in the black community."

"We have to acknowledge how degrading and hurtful it is to speak about ourselves in such negative terms," said Pridgen, the True Bethel Baptist Church pastor who has a history of combating community ills.

On this front, he said, he has converted his Thursday night Bible study -- which regularly draws about 500 participants -- from the typical spiritual fare into a focus on "revitalizing the mind."

That means, for instance, telling parents it's not appropriate to have children referred to as "little pimp" or "mommy's little player" -- some of the tamer descriptions -- in a MySpace profile.

You'd think that all of that would go without saying. But when music moguls push such trash and create a culture in which such self-degradation seems the norm, someone has to say it.

Pridgen said he has gotten parents to change their Web profiles.

"Imus was wrong, totally wrong, inappropriately wrong," Pridgen emphasized. "But at times, so are we; and we've got to get it together."

That's something African-Americans have control over, even if we can't control Imus or his enablers -- CBS Radio and MSNBC.

As a repeat offender, Imus should be fired after his "nappy-headed hos" comment, and the protests should continue. But I'm not optimistic after hearing his defenders. Apparently, the guy gets good ratings. As long as there's money to be made in racism, the degradation of blacks will be a viable American commodity.

But that doesn't mean blacks have to buy into it. Those who mounted the last civil rights movement knew that only a population that respects itself can command respect from others.

Given what Pridgen has uncovered, that means some African-Americans should spend as much time looking in the mirror as pointing at the radio.

e-mail: rwatson@buffnews.com

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