A lot of people have been beating up on Dr. Laura Schlessinger lately, but I'd actually like to thank her. Before you start drafting your irate comment or e-mail to send my way, let me explain.
By no means am I a fan of Dr. Laura, (as she's known), but I'm even less of a fan of the N-word, which I find more offensive, more harmful, and more poisonous to our community than Dr. Laura will ever be. So the reason I'd like to thank her is because I'm hoping that her recent on air meltdown will finally help settle a philosophical debate over the n-word that has raged for years. On one side of the debate are those of us who believe that no one should say the N-word -- not a white racist and not a black comedian -- ever. On the other side are those who believe that if you're black, you essentially get an N-word lifetime free pass. (I don't recall ever receiving mine in the mail, but I am black so I must have one lying around somewhere.) But Dr. Laura reminds us why such logic is not just flawed, but dangerous.
For those of you who have been living under a rock or without electricity for the last few days, let me catch you up. The controversial radio host said the racial slur nearly a dozen times in the context of telling a black caller that she was being too sensitive about her white husband's friends and others using the N-word, since so many black comedians use it. As a parting shot she also told the woman that if she was so sensitive she never should have married a white guy. (So much for the myth of post-racial America.)
Now I happen to consider Dr. Laura's laughably flawed logic more offensive than her use of the N-word, but considering her doctorate is actually in physiology and not psychology like many believe, it's really not that surprising that she knows so little about people or race relations. But the fact that she felt justified saying what she did confirms a fundamental reality: Arbitrary rules about who can say the N-word and who cannot simply do not work. Dr. Laura felt justified saying what she did because a host of rappers and comedians continue to validate her perspective.
In 2007 the NAACP hosted a funeral for the N-word, a symbolic gesture aimed at putting the word to rest in our community and the community at large. The effort was met by derision and scorn by many, among them celebrities who argued the words' artistic merit and those who noted that there are a host of more important issues plaguing our community.
That's certainly true. As I (and others) have written about before, AIDS is the leading cause of death of young, black women and gun violence is one of the leading causes of death of young black men. But here's what I find interesting. I notice that those issues do not seem to generate the same level of outrage and even reaction in cyberspace among black Americans that a white person saying the N-word seems to. So clearly the word does have an impact, even if it's one that's not as lethal as AIDS or a firearm.
But, we all know that words do matter. Call a child stupid enough times, and eventually that child -- no matter how bright -- will grow into believing that they are not. Despite its racial connotation, the official definition of the N-word is this: "a person of any race or origin regarded as contemptible, inferior, ignorant, etc." So here's my question to those who believe that as long as the word remains within our community, it's harmless. If a child hears his uncle refer to his father as the N-word on a regular basis, but has been told that if a white person says it to him it's bad, do you honestly believe the word remains harmless? Are children really savvy enough to grasp the nuances of a word being an alleged term of endearment around certain types of people, but a term of degradation among others? Is it any wonder then that so many inner-city high schools have nearly fifty percent drop out rates among black boys, when many of them have likely been called the n-word (as a term of "endearment") much of their lives? Why would they think of themselves as better than that, when they've been raised to believe, and say that they're not?
Here's my other question to everyone from Sherri Shepherd to Jaime Foxx who believe the black community gets a lifetime N-word free pass. How black do you have to be to be allowed to say it? Can a biracial person say it? How about Mr. "Cablinasian" Tiger Woods? Legendary actress Carol Channing, who's in her eighties and regarded as white, recently revealed that her father was part black. I wonder how Sherri Shepherd or Whoopi Goldberg would react if Channing greeted them during her next appearance on The View with a boisterous, "What up my ni****?"
And for those who argue the word's artistic value. Newsflash Kanye, Jaime, Sherri, Whoopi and others: if you are funny and talented enough, your act shouldn't cease being entertaining with the elimination of one word. The N-word is not like air or water. We can live without it, so why not try?
Which brings me to my final point. One thing that strikes as so strange about this entire debate is that our community has so much that is actually worth fighting for. We still lag behind in all of the areas in which it actually matters: graduation rates, life expectancy, compensation, and financial security. Why have some of us decided that keeping the N-word alive and well is a battle that deserves our time, attention and support? That seems to be a sad statement on our priorities.
As I said on MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan Show just like I believe that those who choose not to vote can't complain about the government they get -- ever -- because they're not doing their part to make things better, maybe we should implement a rule that anyone who uses the N-word is no longer permitted to complain about racism from a public soapbox ever again, because they're not doing their part to make things better either. Just think, Kanye "George Bush doesn't care about black people" West would be forced to keep such thoughts to himself in the future until he stops using that word his songs.
And if I still haven't convinced you, maybe 11-year-old Jonathan Emile McCoy can. Displaying the eloquence of a man twice, if not three times his age in a groundbreaking speech last year he said: "I'm sending a message to everyone who knowingly or ignorantly uses this word to describe our people, whether you are a gangsta rapper who uses it to communicate with your boys or someone who looks down on those without a college education... It is implausible to me that forty years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. we still use this word... so I'm petitioning you to join me in deleting this word from our vocabulary as a people, as a nation and as a world." (To hear the rest of Jonathan's AWESOME speech click here).
I'm with you Jonathan. How about the rest of you?
So thank you Dr. Laura, for reminding us yet again how truly useless and destructive this word really is, and how tiresome efforts to defend and preserve it really are.
This piece republished courtesy of TheLoop21.com for which Goff is a political blogger.