Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Is Dr. Laura Racist?

Not long ago, Laura Schlessinger, Sirius XM radio's "Dr. Laura," found herself the unwitting center of a race relations jökulhlaup. Over the course of a 3 minute conversation with caller Nita Hanson (pseudonym "Jade"), Laura used the n-word no less than 11 times. Many were offended by this ill mannered tirade and Laura eventually issued the following apology:

"I was attempting to articulate a philosophical point, and I articulated the n-word all the way out. More than one time. And that was wrong. I'll say it again—that was wrong."

The Original Conversation

Laura Schlessinger Is an Unpleasant Twat
I don't like Dr. Laura. I don't find her informative or entertaining. In fact, I find her simple, ill informed and an intolerable bore. I don't listen to her show or see a reason for it to exist. Schlessinger calling herself "Dr. Laura" in the first place is its own conceit, one bordering on intellectual dishonesty. Even Michael Alan Wiener, better known to some as conservative firebrand Michael Savage, isn't a pretentious enough prick to refer to himself in the third person as "Dr. Savage." Laura is neither a psychologist nor a psychiatrist; her PhD was in a field of study providing little if any authority to give advice to troubled couples. And yet I question whether she should have to apologize for this particular debacle. Or at least, for the least offensive part of it.

Stereotypes, Ignorance and Stupidity
The friend of the caller's husband is an ignoramus whose thinking is influenced by whatever stereotypes he has of other races. His curiosity seems to stem from confusion; I postulate his contact with other races is limited at best. This woman contradicts the ignorant friend's appreciation of who and what a black person is. His questions describe an attempt—quite a feeble, naive and clumsy one, from the sound of it—to process sensory input contradictory to his unstated false premise, "race a is defined by qualities x, y and z not exhibited by races b, c, d etc." Assuming one woman is fit to speak on behalf of all Afro-Americans is stupid. Assuming there is a singular black perspective makes about as much sense as assuming there is a singular white perspective. With all of that said, I find this man passive in his ignorance. Is it racist? Undeniably. But is it hateful? Jade didn't get that far. She instead recapitulated their casual use of the n-word, something Schlessinger excused as simple confusion over a supposedly ill defined double standard.

"Black guys use it all the time. Turn on HBO and listen to a black comic and all you hear is 'nigger, nigger, nigger.' 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 very affectionate."

There doesn't seem to be a lot to get; group a is using an appropriation of the word as a term of endearment or for comedic effect. Group b is using it an expression of contempt, hostility or at the very least, disdain.

The n-word is like the word motherfucker; it can be used invectively in an expression of great disrespect, or affectionately as an expression of familiarity.

1. "Eat shit and die, motherfucker!"
2. "Hey motherfucker! I haven't seen you in ages. How you been?"

Context clues are a large part of discerning either word's intended use. Nuance is also a non-negligible indication of the speaker's esteem for the one being addressed as a nigger or motherfucker. Intelligent people don't struggle to grasp which of the statements above is intended as an expression of disrespect and which is intended as an endearing display of familiarity; here I exclude Dr. Laura.

Double Standards, Context Clues and Irrationality
From this writer's perspective, Laura was, in her own ham fisted way, attempting to denounce Rock et al.'s flippant use of the n-word, thereby illustrating—however bumblingly—how double standards contribute to continued ignorance. More specifically, Jade's husband's friend's passive racism. Jade's initial response was appropriate. Racism is offensive. Laura's casual disregard for the ignoramus' use of the n-word is appalling, as is her feeble attempt to excuse it. Jade's response to Laura's HBO excerpt however is not an appropriately leveled emotional reaction. If her disbelief at Laura's merely speaking aloud a slur is any indication, she is irrationally reacting to Laura simply saying the word "nigger." As though this in and of itself constituted a malicious attempt to stigmatize.

Laura was quoting someone else who was using the n-word, and doing so to illustrate how her fellow simpletons, i.e., the ignoramus friend, are easily confused by double standards. I am put off by her contrarian instinct to defend both her own stupid confusion and others' but don't arrive at Jade's apparent conclusion, that anyone who speaks the n-word aloud, regardless of the context in which it arises, has something to apologize for. Reductio ad absurdum, reading a passage from Mein Kampf with an intonation of disgust doesn't make you an anti-semite. By the same rationale, disdainfully referencing Chris Rock et al.'s casual predilection towards using the n-word every other sentence for comedic effect is even less hateful. Dr. Laura might be a racist; her use of the n-word in her discourse however is not innately racist.

Baneful Ignorance Ignored
The main thing I actually find genuinely appalling about Laura's tirade is the conclusion she nonchalantly draws about Jade and other so called hyper sensitives, that being the solution to marry within their own race. This shifting the burden of responsibility—advocating conformist surrender to ignorance as a means of avoiding discrimination—is far more offensive than anything preceding it. It actually bothers me quite a bit that this receives considerably less attention than her dropping of the n-bomb. Had Jade stayed on the phone a few minutes longer, she could have easily made a cogent argument that Schlessinger is in fact an ignorant simpleton with no qualifications to give advice over the radio for a living. But instead she harps endlessly on the n-word, even clinging desperately to the infallibility of her unstated premise.

"You said nigger. Is it okay to say that word? Is it ever okay to say that word?...But you're not black, they're not black, my husband is white...I can't believe someone like you is on the radio, spewing out the nigger word. You said 'nigger, nigger, nigger.' I hope everybody heard it. So what makes it—...I know what it means and I know it came from a white person. And I know the white person made it bad!"

Talk about fumbling the ball in an open field.

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