Last week, Dr. Laura Schlessinger dropped the N-bomb on her radio show while giving advice to a female African American caller. Actually, dropped is the wrong word; strafed might be more apt, for to drive her self-proclaimed philosophical point home (although I could tell you neither what her point was nor to what philosophy she ascribes) she repeatedly blasted her black caller and radio listeners with N-bomb following N-bomb, making me think, perhaps incongruously, of the last image of Bonnie and Clyde.
Subsequently, Dr. Laura has announced on Larry King Live that she will quit radio. She explains, "I want to regain my First Amendment rights," whatever that's supposed to mean. According to Dr. Laura, her rights "have been usurped by angry, hateful groups who don't want to debate, they want to eliminate." And so, before these treacherous groups get their diabolical way, she has decided to sign off when her contract ends at the end of the year.
I have a wee confession to make. I will miss my Dr. Laura time. I've not always agreed with her "get over yourself and get under your man" advice, but there's something about the way she bitch slaps ignorant America that I find highly entertaining.
Over the years, radio listeners have been attracted to Dr. Laura's strong moral compass, all the while unable to live up to her strict standards, especially on subjects of marriage, infidelity and child rearing. I'm unclear how these standards lapsed when she herself was a home wrecker, had an affair with a married man which led to his subsequent divorce, and ended up pregnant before their wedding day. But those are past discrepancies. Peccadilloes really. The Dr. Laura of today refuses to look backwards. Her tongue is as sharp as a block of cheddar, and even after the N-bomb brouhaha her rules remain uncompromising.
Every now and again, she may lend one of her callers a sympathetic ear, however more often she flexes her superior intellect (I only know it's superior because she reminds her listeners on a regular basis) by interrupting the caller before he or she has finished spelling out the problem at hand. Then Dr. Laura will offer a quick-fix solution, sometimes attached to a personal, funsy story, all within a two to three minute segment. You tell me: therapy or entertainment?
And quite aware of Dr. Laura's almost fascist morals, single parents and multi-divorcees brave her wrath and continue to call in. They butter her up by telling her how much they love her books and by repeating one of her personal catch phrases like "I am my child's mom" in the hopes that they won't be chewed up and spat aside like a wad of overcooked gristle. It's reality pablum at its best and I find it a hoot.
The African American woman who called in said she had an issue about the racist comments made by her white husband's family and friends. She said she was beginning to resent her husband because he wouldn't stand up for her. This peaked my interest. Living in a multiracial household, Michael and I have had quite a few conversations about perception and race, not always seeing eye to eye, I might add. However, we both respect that our different life experiences may lead us to different conclusions, both pertinent, both valid.
But never in our relationship has the N-word been hurled as the caller claimed happened to her. Dr. Laura bizarrely defended a white person's usage of that word by saying, "Black guys use it all the time. Turn on HBO, listen to a black comic, and all you hear is nig*ger, nig*er, nig*er."
And she was off. The caller's problem was small potatoes compared to the newer, more shiny problem Dr. Laura brought to the table. In one broad stroke she went from racism to racial sensitivity. Evidently, one of the good doctor's pet peeves had been poked and she made damn sure it was her voice that was heard...
DR. LAURA: I think you have too much sensitivity...
CALLER: So it's okay to say "nig*er"?
DR. LAURA: ...and not enough sense of humor.
CALLER: It's okay to say that word?
DR. LAURA: It depends on how it's said.
CALLER: Is it okay to say that word? Is it ever okay to say that word?
DR. LAURA: It's... It depends how it's said. Black guys talking to each other seem to think it's okay.
CALLER: But you're not black. They're not black. My husband is white.
DR. LAURA: Oh, I see. So, a word is restricted to race. Got it. Can't do much about that.
CALLER: I can't believe someone like you is on the radio spewing out the "nig*er" word, and I hope everybody heard it.
DR. LAURA: I didn't spew out the "nig*er" word.
CALLER: You said, "nig*er, nig*er, nig*er."
DR. LAURA: Right, I said that's what you hear.
CALLER: Everybody heard it.
DR. LAURA: Yes, they did.
CALLER: I hope everybody heard it.
DR. LAURA: They did, and I'll say it again...
CALLER: So, what makes it okay for you to say the word?
DR. LAURA: ...nig*er, nig*er, nig*er.
I found this transcript on line exactly as written and I have to ask, what's with the asterisks? We all know what the word is. We're all saying it in our heads as we read the transcript. It's that incredibly divisive double-G, unlike jiggle or nugget which are jaunty words that are delightful to say, this double-G eviscerates, forcing us to face the grottiest of our country's history, and dare I say it, of ourselves. But an asterisk doesn't really give the pretension of softening the blow, does it? "The N-word" or "the N-bomb" do not take away the sting. do they? As misguidedly delivered as it was, could that have been Dr. Laura's philosophical point? After all, she didn't call anyone a racial epithet, she used the word as an example. Might it be better to face it in it's basest form rather than pretend it doesn't exist or bury it in in effigy as did the NAACP?
From time to time, Michael lets the N-word slide from his lips, never in front of the children, and always in an inclusive "my people" way, as the ladies from The View have co-opted "bitch" as a form of female empowerment, as I have used another insidious double-G, "faggot" within this very blog to call attention to or poke fun at my tribe.
Michael and I invited group of friends over for drinks. We were sitting around talking about the recent death of Lorene Yarnell, half of the the well known mime duo Shields and Yarnell, of a brain aneurysm. Trying to top the rest of us, one friend in a faggoty TV anchor voice announced, "Lorene Yarnell went quietly into the night." This was met with an uncomfortable silence, until another friend chastised with the equally faggy, "Too soon."
I don't feel the least bit uncomfortable using faggot, or any of its derivations. However, if someone calls me faggot, or cocksucker, or if I may steal from Dr. Laura, "biological error" you'd better believe it would hurt. Of course, I'd get over it, but in that initial moment before the armor went up there would be, dare I say, a disquieting prick. And I'm pretty sure if I bumped into Joy Behar coming out of Carnegie Deli and espoused, "Hey bitch" I'd end up with a stiletto in the eye socket.
But maybe we're all too hypersensitive. Is that what you were trying to say, Dr. Laura? Do we all need to lighten up? At eleven years old, when my dad taught me to make his scotch and soda, I remember feeling oddly uncomfortable when he told me to pour a jigger of scotch. In 1999, David Howard, a white aide to Anthony A. Williams, the black mayor of Washington, D.C., had to tender his resignation when in reference to the budget he used the word niggardly. But perhaps, Dr. Laura, you're saying that's part of our past, that slavery was centuries ago, that we have a black president now, that race relations are strong and all of us are ready for an open discourse. Perhaps you think the asterisks are silly, that calling it "the N-word" is provincial. And maybe, just maybe that's why you spoke the word, Dr. Laura, why you spoke it out loud eleven times, perhaps that's why you said...
If I could put in my two cents, Dr. Laura... Too soon.