Last Thursday afternoon, the jury began its first full day of deliberations in the sexual harassment suit against Isiah Thomas. Although the verdict is still out in the case, the issue of appropriate codes of conduct and behavior norms has been firmly resolved. There will be no double standard or disparity in treatment of black women by their male counterparts -- not in the workplace, not on the airwaves nor in any other locale.
Anucha Browne Sanders, former Knicks' senior vice president for marketing and business operations, accuses Thomas of harassing her for the duration of two seasons. According to Ms. Browne, Isiah made unwanted sexual advances toward her and, when she rebuffed his advances, he called her a "bitch" and a "ho." When Ms. Browne reportedly brought this to the attention of senior level management, she met with indifference. Ms. Browne alleges that in January 2006, James L. Dolan, the Chairman of Madison Square Garden, fired her in retaliation for her sexual harassment complaint.
Isiah Thomas, Knicks coach and president of basketball operations, denies all accusations made by Ms. Browne. According to Isiah, Ms. Browne was fired due to under-performance on her part. By his own admission, Isiah Thomas "knows how to treat women" and disavows calling Ms. Browne a "bitch." In a video deposition, Isiah said that while it was always wrong for a white man to verbally abuse a black woman in such a manner, it was "not as much ... I'm sorry to say," for a black man to do likewise. As a black woman, I am truly at a loss as to how Isiah makes this distinction.
Back in April, shock jock Don Imus felt the wrath of the community at large when he referred to members of Rutgers University basket ball team as 'nappy-headed hos." Initially, MSNBC suspended Imus then went on to drop its simulcast of Imus in the Morning radio program, in response to the growing outrage. Civil rights groups and women's groups denounced the comments made by Imus. If the jury is convinced that Ms. Browne's claims against Isiah are credible, then the reaction should be the same. I was highly offended by Don Imus' statements; I am doubly outraged by Isiah's comments.
Over a decade ago, C. DeLores Tucker challenged the music industry, when she launched a campaign against gangsta rap lyrics, which she labeled "sleazy, pornographic smut." So passionate was she about her campaign against gangsta rap that Ms. Tucker, a Democrat, even formed alliances with conservative Republicans like William Bennett. On one occasion, at Time-Warner's annual meeting, Ms. Tucker challenged the company's leaders to read out loud the lyrics on one of their recording labels, but to no avail. Even after her death, Ms. Tucker's legacy endures. Young women in student organizations across campuses nationwide continue to rally and protest against gangsta rap's misogynistic lyrics.
I posit that the next step will be to take Ms. Tucker's campaign to the boardrooms of the corporate world. As Black women in increasing numbers join Black men in the transition from basketball courts to the management office, it is paramount that the safeguards designed to protect against hostile work environments are enforced. There must be a "zero tolerance" policy towards sexual harassment, whether it is white-on-black or black-on-black.