Thursday, August 19, 2010

On the L-word

Okay, so "Dr." Laura Schlessinger has announced her merciful intent to step down from radio when her contract is up at the end of the year. (She says she wants to "regain her First Amendment rights," which are apparently being violated by her national radio platform from which she can say pretty much anything she wants.)

Her assertion that her Constitutionally protected right to free speech has been violated rises from her most recent scandal, in which she drops the N-word a full eleven times in a five-minute period--during a call with an African-American woman who just called in to ask a question about a few, well, racist comments from her husband's friends. After that show, people were pissed off, which is censorship for some reason


What I don't get is why everyone wants to say the N-word. That's what situations like this devolve into every time--some people get to say it, and so other people want to be allowed to say it. "Rappers get to say it all the time. Why don't I get to say it?" Like it's the awesomest ride at Six Flags, but you're stuck on the ground watching everyone else have all the fun. So either there's something super-extra-special-cool about the N-word that I'm just not getting, this linguistic Batman: The Ride, or you just want desperately to use this really hurtful racial slur because you're not supposed to (which is totally mature). Or you're genuinely racist. Regardless: Stop worrying about what other people "get" to do and recognize that it's not okay when anyone does it. And get over yourself.

When we were little, my brother and his best friend used to run around the house yelling "pantyhose!" because that was the naughtiest word their little six-year-old brains could conceive of. This is basically the same thing, but blown up to truly dickish proportions.


All of this attention to the N-word completely misses the fact that the call in question wasn't about the N-word. The caller, Jade, who is African-American, called in with concerns about her white husband's friends. Her initial complaint wasn't about the language they used--it was about the questions, the "Do black people like this?" and "Do black people do that?" And of course as a white person, I can't speak to Jade's experience, I'd imagine her thoughts would be something along the line of, "Well, I don't know. Why don't you ask all of them?"

Those questions point out two things about the questioners: One, that Jade being black is seriously significant to them such that they notice it all the time and see it as something that sets her apart from them and makes her different. And two, that the black population is so monolithic and hive-minded that what "they" like and what "they" do can easily be condensed and reported on by one black woman.

Jade's response to Laura's comments, of course, are hard to discern because Laura rolled right over her as soon as she got her head. But a few words made it out--"stereotype," for one. And if she only got one out, that was a good one. Because that's what Jade was dealing with--stereotypes from her husband's friends. And racial stereotypes are, well, racist.*

But for some reason, a white woman doesn't see it that way. From her fully applicable experience and perspective as a white person, Laura is able to determine that the comments aren't racist because "sometimes people are hypersensitive" and black people voted for Obama and black comedians say the N-word and her bodyguard is too polite to call her a dumbass to her face. And also, "chip on your shoulder" and "too much sensitivity and not enough sense of humor."

And that's the real problem with Laura's barrage of N-bombs during that call. She certainly wouldn't have gotten nearly this much attention--if any--had she not said the N-word eleven times. But now that it's in the public eye, those N-words and the ensuing controversy are obscuring something even more troublesome--that Laura is (shockingly) completely tone-deaf* on the subject, completely disregarding this woman's legitimate concerns with accusations of hypersensitivity and a chip on her shoulder--because if it doesn't bother her, if it doesn't bother Laura, it must not be important. And if Jade didn't want to be treated this way, she shouldn't have married outside her race.

But yeah, it was the N-word that was the big deal.

P.S. Oh, and Laur? Telling your black bodyguard, "White men can't jump; I want you on my team"? Whether or not it was racist, referencing an overplayed 18-year-old Woody Harrelson movie is definitely not funny. Take some time during your sabbatical to dig up some new cultural references.

*Does saying a racist thing necessarily make you a racist person? Opinions differ; I happen to think no, but other factors frequently come into play. Check out Evil Fizz's take on it over at Feministe and a pertinent video by Jay Smooth.

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