Talk show host Dr. Laura (Schlessinger) quickly and predictably bowed to public pressure and apologized for her on air N word laced diatribe. The apology is not good enough for the National Urban League. It demands that Talk Radio Network pull the plug on her show. Dr. Laura is a soft target because she's a white woman that seemingly sprinted way over the line of racial etiquette. It was a no brainer that the League would rage against her. She got the same treatment that the pack of white celebrities, politicians and public figures that have used the N word.
But Dr. Laura is not of that ilk. In fact, she got it right about the word, or more particularly who uses it, condones it, and even glories in it. And that's the legion of black comedians and rappers that have virtually canonized the word. They sprinkle the word throughout their rap lyrics and comedy lines; and black writers,and filmmakers go through lengthy gyrations to justify using the word. During a panel discussion at the Summer Television Critics Association tour in 2005, Aaron McGruder, creator of the popular comic strip, Boondocks, defiantly told the audience that he'd use the N' word as much as he pleased in his comic strip and in his series on the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. If folks didn't like it, well tough, said McGruder.
N word users and apologists serve up the lame rationale that the more a black person uses the word, the less offensive it becomes, which is precisely the point Dr. Laura picked apart. They claim that they are cleansing the word of its negative connotations so that racists can no longer use it to hurt blacks. Comedian-turned-activist Dick Gregory had the same idea some years ago when he titled his autobiography, Nigger. Black writer, Robert DeCoy also tried to apply the same racial shock therapy to whites when he titled his novel, The Nigger Bible.
The black N word apologists tick off an endless storehouse of defenses to justify use of the word. They claim that that it is a term of endearingly or affectionately. They say to each other, "You're my nigger if you don't get no bigger." Or, "that nigger sure is something." Others use it in anger or disdain, "Nigger you sure got an attitude." Or, "A nigger ain't s...." Still, others are defiant. They say they don't care what a white person calls them since words can't harm them.
They forget, ignore or distort one thing. Words are not value neutral. They express concepts and ideas. Often, words reflect society's standards. If color-phobia is a deep-rooted standard in American life, then a word, as emotionally charged as nigger, will always reinforce and perpetuate stereotypes. It can't be sanitized, cleansed, inverted, or redeemed as a culturally liberating word. Nigger can't and shouldn't be made acceptable, no matter whose mouth it comes out of or what excuse is tossed out for using it.
There are still dozens of daily examples where whites (and other non-blacks) taunt, and harass blacks by calling them nigger, spray paint the word on their homes, businesses, churches, physically assault and even murder blacks. In the FBI's annual count of hate crimes in America, blacks still make up the overwhelming majority of victims.
The N word reigns supreme at the top of the stack as the favorite racial epithet hurled at blacks during these crimes. Even when the word isn't used, the sentiment is that blacks are still fair game to be abused and dehumanized, and the N word reinforces that belief. The word nigger is and will always have grotesque and deadly meaning to them. And, even if some blacks do occasionally go off the deep end and wrongly harangue whites for using the word, maybe that's because nigger, pricks agonizing historical and social sores.
A handful of black activists have waged war against the N word. Their target is those rappers and writers that have turned the N word into a lucrative growth industry. They have been the exception. Blacks have been more than willing to give other blacks that use the word a pass. The indulgence sends the subtle signal that the word is hardly the earth-shattering, illegitimate word that black and white N word opponents brand it.
Dr. Laura gave no public hint before her spew of the word that she is a closet bigot who routinely uses the word in reference to blacks. But she didn't have too. The obsessive use of and the tortured defense of the word by so many blacks gave her the license to use the word without any thought that there'd be any blow back for doing it. She was wrong and got publicly called out for it. But that doesn't make her rationale or her explanation for using it any less valid. Dr. Laura got it right about the N word.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts a nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk show on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles.