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Stephen Chao Headshot

Will Someone Please Put a Little More Energy into the N-Word?

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The media desperately needs your help. They need to sell some papers and magazines, grab some Nielsen ratings. That highly touted showdown between the black man versus white woman did not bear one prejudicial spark during the longest primary campaign in history. And now with just 14 weeks left, time is running out. The issue of sex has expired. So, when, oh when, will the much ballyhooed topic of race actually become an incendiary issue to anybody (beyond the media)?

Lord knows, it is not for lack of trying. When the New York Times ran a front page article on the "hushed worry" of a possible assassination of Obama, I nearly spit my coffee. That article was a thoughtless editor's reckless way of soliciting a flame. In my opinion, irresponsible and tabloid. The New Yorker recently ran a cover cartoon with racial innuendo. It stirred controversy among the elite few with subscriptions and might have aided newsstand sales. But all of this racial innuendo in the headlines seems so lopsided and manufactured by... the media itself. I am not hearing or seeing any populist groundswells of racism, no systematic, secret stirrings in the Spanish moss drenched bayou country.

Ooo -- I do stand corrected. There was one recent slur of note during this campaign. It received a lot of press because it was recorded and publicized on Fox News. A mountain out of mole hill. Jesse Jackson says the N bomb! The irony was obvious. But dag nabbit. It was not what the press really needed to sell papers and boost ratings. A dud. A misfire. A false start. So, in the minds of the people, did anyone really care about Jesse's blunder. If Google search pages are any kind of Richter scale, race is, in fact, a pretty small topic. Obama himself commands 155 million pages of results. And Jesse's slurs command only 3.5 million search pages. Having stirred the pot (vainly) about the Election 2008 sexist and racist showdowns for months, it is time to wonder. Maybe... editors care but people don't?

In this odd world of TMZ reportage, Americans have become less shocked by the warts of politicians and celebrities. We can observe Karolina's cellulite, or David Hasselhoff's poor drinking habits just as we can absorb Jesse's indiscretions. They are like us... (we love that part.) And we forgive them. In a perverse way, the warts and all reporting of TMZ (and A Current Affair before, and the National Enquirer even before) have made Americans more tolerant. Yes, tolerant. We can tell the difference between locker room talk and racism, even if editors cannot.

For a moment... a little prayer for the Chicken Littles. Will some public figure please step up to the plate? We need a gaffe that ranks as unequivocal spectacle. Not an off color whisper. I mean, a big un-self conscious force of nature comment. As powerful as the 6.9 San Francisco earthquake of 1989.

It might happen. But the odds are diminishing by the day.

I bring a unique perspective to this topic as I happen to run www.wonderhowto.com, the Internet's largest search and index website for free instructional video. It is a site whose essence is about as far from politics as you can get. But for that reason, it is an unselfconscious barometer of the populace. The site is a combination of professionally generated video as well as user generated video. We filter the results only for the integrity of the tutorial content, but not for political views or racial remarks. People can, and do, say whatever they want. Just for fun, we searched our data base to see if race was implicit in any of the tutorials. In truth, race and racism do not seem to be in evidence. (My subjective view is that race is just not top of mind: there are plenty of recessionary things to worry about.) In WonderHowTo.com there are exceedingly few instances of the N word, and in those instances it is usually a black teen bragging about his ability to perform the C-walk. There is one amusing video on how to make Obama hot chocolate, but that one is really tongue in cheek. Elsewhere among the hundreds of thousands of videos, there are no guys in white sheets lecturing on how to spread white supremacy, no rednecks in bass fishing boats making disparaging remarks about people of color, no black people making instructional videos on how to overthrow whitey.

Well. Maybe that is a great thing. Headlined for months as an "issue" by the press... perhaps the populace is simply more in touch.