What's all this fuss about Dr. Laura Schlessinger and, gasp!, the N-word? I confess that I have not followed it closely. It struck me as even less consequential than the Don Imus dust up. So she said "nigger" on the air. That doesn't exactly make her a white supremacist now, does it?
I was sitting at a stop light the other day, windows rolled up, air conditioning on, waiting for a light to change. A car ahead of me and to the right had its windows open. Music was pounding; the beat felt like it echoed right through me. But I couldn't make out all the words. I rarely can with music. It's worse than tone deafness in my case.
But what I could hear neither shocked nor offended me. "Boom, boom, boom.... Yeah, niggah. ... this bitch ... Fuck dat, Niggah.... Yo, Niggah, niggah, niggah." All at once I reached the assumption that Dr. Laura was probably not driving that car. As I eased by I saw the driver: Young, black, proud, and oh-so pleased to share his music with us. Why wasn't he slapping the dashboard silly and calling in a complaint to the NAACP?
Attorney General Eric Holder was right when he said the nation lacks the courage to have a meaningful discussion about race. Instead we posture. We sell music about niggahs, bitches and hos. When young black men listen to it, it is somehow cool, acceptable, a badge of racial pride. When white people listen to it they are wannabes; that's still all right, but it is somehow less authentic than being a gangsta rapper. No race owns the language.
But if some stuffy old white women utters the word, the heavens part. She's a racist. She must apologize. She should be driven from the airwaves for spewing hate, even if it was not hate she was spewing at all.
What amazes is that Dr. Laura isn't letting this controversy role off her expensively clad back. She said something nasty. Folks listened. They were free to tune in or tune out as the case may be. If she regrets using the word, say so and move on. But submitting to an electronic lynching cheapens the discourse, and avoids a chance to engage meaningfully about race. It emboldens bullies.
This evokes memories of Imus on the run. His remarks about the girls' basketball team at Rutgers were far more offensive that Dr. Laura's comments. But even there, what did folks really expect from Imus? He's a high brow shock jock after all.
Dr. Laura says she is leaving the radio to vindicate her First Amendment rights. Huh? You don't win a fight by running, Dr. L. And besides, no state or government is forcing you from the radio. You are running from angry listeners. You are refusing a chance to take a long and hard look at double standards, race and the language of hate. Hang in there, niggah.
So a new nursery rhyme springs to mind:
Don and Laura running like chumps,
Both too scared to take their lumps.
First comes words and then comes hate,
Why are they quick to make an escape?
Grow up, Dr. Laura. Seize the chance to explore a dark side of American life. Race is too often a wound in America. Explore this pain rather than run from it. We're all living in the midst of plenty that is unspoken but felt. Lead a discussion rather than pouting like some privileged cracker.