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Imus' comments hit close to home

For the record, I've appeared on the Imus Show as a reporter here at NBC News. I have relatives who graduated from Rutgers University. And, before it started disappearing, I had short, and rather tightly curled, hair -- so all of this is hitting very close to home.

I've heard Imus apologize, a few times. He sounds sincere. I understand he wants to meet the Rutgers team. He'll be on Al Sharpton's radio show.

But I still can't forget those words: "nappy headed hos," and then more banter about "jigaboos and wannabes." Where did that come from? How could Imus -- and don't forget his producer -- feel comfortable enough to think that's funny? How could they not anticipate a firestorm? When people speak that way publicly, it makes you wonder what's said, and felt, in private?

If you say the words out loud rather than just listening to them or reading them, each carries even more power. And they strike at the heart of the negative images that so many people have fought so many battles to rid our culture and society of. When I hear those words, I think of people I know -- the insults they endured, and more importantly, the injustices along the way. We're reminded that some of America's most horrible history -- history we hope to leave in our past -- happened during our lifetimes. We're reminded of parents and grandparents who combed and brushed our tightly curled hair.

Clearly, an apology hasn't made all of this go away. Something more has to happen, and is happening. I think some of the media companies trying to keep their distance now realize they remain tainted. I believe many here where I work will do the right thing. It is being taken extremely seriously. One dilemma is that many of the country's most influential decision makers seek out Imus, appear regularly on his show, relish the platform he provides in morning drive time. So far, many of those  powerful voices remain silent.

So what do you do when a significant, powerful institution and corporate interest crashes into what many see as profound issues of morality and decency? What's reasonable, fair and just? Honestly, I don't know the answer. I'm encouraged by the fact that people in positions of power are listening to what a lot of folks out there have to say. Perhaps Imus and his producer should take a break while all this works itself out.

Some people have pointed out he's hurled slurs at everyone during the years. He's a "shock jock," and everyone knows he's edgy. Personally, I don't think being an "equal opportunity " insulter makes this OK.

Ultimately, this is more important than one radio talk-show host. It's important because the "mainstream media" has a tremendous influence on how we see each other, how we think of ourselves, how we determine what's acceptable and what's not. Organizations such as the National Association of Black Journalists and other advocates for diversity have long argued that if America's newsrooms looked like America -- if the faces we see on the air, behind the scenes, and in the management suites -- looked, thought and had sensitivities and experiences more like everyone, the culture inside these institutions would be much different.

And so would what's considered to be a joke.

Think of how you'd explain this to a young little girl, with tightly curled hair, when she asks, "why did he call people who look like me that?"

Something more has to happen. Not just with one individual, but also with the environment that produces all of this. Something that people in power can look back on a few years from now and tell that little girl that we tried very hard to do the right thing.