I've been mulling over Dr. Laura Schlessinger's on air n-word meltdown for the past two weeks. My friend, writer Mark Olmsted, calls Dr. Laura's n-word rant a "positively orgasmic repetition of the word."
Dr. Laura's agitation with the black woman who called her show to ask for advice on handling racially insensitive comments from her white husband's white friends was very clear. She immediately suggested that the caller was overly sensitive to questions from her white husband's white friends asking her to explain all things black. Feeling that perhaps Dr. Laura didn't fully understand her concerns, the caller offered what she considered to be an egregious example of offensive comment.
CALLER: How about the N-word? So, the N-word's been thrown around --
SCHLESSINGER: Black guys use it all the time. Turn on HBO, listen to a black comic, and all you hear is nigger, nigger, nigger.
CALLER: That isn't --
SCHLESSINGER: I don't get it. If anybody without enough melanin says it, it's a horrible thing; but when black people say it, it's affectionate. It's very confusing. Don't hang up, I want to talk to you some more. Don't go away. (Follow this link to read the entire transcript or to listen to the audio.)
Jeez Dr. Laura, what's so confusing about this? The n-word was used as the most degrading insult that a white person could use in speaking to or of a black person for more than 300 hundred years. It was not ever used with affection by white people. I won't belabor this point. Thoughtful people already get it and trying to reach the lame-brained Dr. Laura and her clones is about as rewarding as trying to teach a pig to salsa.
What I don't understand is under what circumstances does Dr. Laura or any white person want to use the n-word? Is it a desire to be able to greet black people with a joyous, hello n-word? Or to demonstrate one's street cred by dropping the word in casual conversation? If you are white and feel that your freedom of expression is severely impacted by being unable to freely use the n-word, then I have a suggestion. Develop a close, affectionate relationship with a black person, and then ask your new BFF if it's okay to call him or her the n-word.
Clearly, Dr. Laura isn't alone in her resentment that there is a double standard when it comes to the use of the n-word. Comments abound from Internet users lamenting, "Why is it okay for black people to use the n-word but white people can't?" By the way, it appears to only be white people (not all, just some) who are feeling deprived. I've never heard any Latino, Asian, or Indian people who are woebegone because they have been denied the use of the n-word.
In spite of Dr. Laura's repeated use of the n-word (11 times in under seven minutes), I find her use of the word to be the least offensive part of her comments. Her assertion that the only reason that black people voted for Obama was because he was half-black says far more about her racist assumptions than her fascination with the n-word.
SCHLESSINGER: No, no, no. I think that's -- well, listen, without giving much thought, a lot of blacks voted for Obama simply 'cause he was half-black. Didn't matter what he was gonna do in office, it was a black thing. You gotta know that. That's not a surprise.
What absolute arrogance to assume that her vast "black" experience has qualified Dr. Laura to identify any set of behaviors as a "black thing." She also tells the caller that it's the caller's problem that she doesn't have a sense of humor.
CALLER: I know what the N-word means and I know it came from a white person. And I know the white person made it bad.
SCHLESSINGER: All right. Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Can't have this argument. You know what? If you're that hypersensitive about color and don't have a sense of humor, don't marry out of your race.
Perhaps I'm just humorless, but it has never crossed my mind to laugh at being called the n-word by a white person.
Dr. Laura appears particularly obsessed with the use of the n-word by black comedians on HBO; she mentions it more than once in her discussion with the caller. She takes particular offense at the notion of the n-word being restricted to use by only black people.
CALLER: Is it OK to say that word? Is it ever OK to say that word
SCHLESSINGER: It's -- it depends how it's said. Black guys talking to each other seem to think it's OK.
CALLER: But you're not black. They're not black. My husband is white.
SCHLESSINGER: Oh, I see. So, a word is restricted to race. Got it. Can't do much about that.
The doctor is correct; there is a double standard. The n-word is loaded with history and all sorts of emotional baggage. White people don't get to say it to black people. That's what this is really about. If white people want to call each other by the n-word, I really don't care and I've never heard any other black person lamenting that white people are calling each other by the n-word. The prohibition isn't against using the n-word; it's against white people calling black people niggers. You can't say it because we won't tolerate it any more. What black people say to each other has nothing to do with it. I laugh at jokes in which black comics say the n-word because it's a shared joke, an insider thing. We don't have any problem with white audiences laughing at the use of the n-word by black comedians, but white people do not get to address us under any circumstances by that word, so get over it and move on to things of substance.
By the way, comedian Jeff Foxworthy self-identifies as a redneck and he's darn funny doing it. When is the last time you've heard black people getting all bent out of shape because we want to call white folks rednecks?