“Doctor Laura” at the Michael Richards/Mel Gibson school of etiquette

The really frustrating thing about blogging is that sometimes a week will go by where a million bloggable things happen, and I’m left with the choice of either commenting on them 2 weeks late, or flooding you with Facebook/Twitter updates every 5 minutes. As a result, I am writing about this story right after it happens, but you’re not going to read this until today:

Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the talk show host who recently apologized for saying the N-word 11 times to a caller on the air, said Tuesday she plans to give up her radio show when her contract is up the end of this year.

For those of you who don’t follow talk radio (and Science bless you for that), Laura Schlessinger is a PhD in physiology who hosts a radio show in which she verbally abuses people who call in for help. Why anyone would care what a physiologist has to say about religion (she is, big surprise, a fundamentalist Christian) or relationships, or anything besides physiology, is beyond my understanding. But they do, for whatever reason, and she hands out bad advice.

On the show in question, a woman called in to ask Dr. Laura what she should do about her husband’s friends. It seems that the husband and his friends think that they have license, by virtue of the woman’s race, to make racist comments. It’s the whole “I married a black woman, and therefore I am not racist, and therefore I can say racist things and you’re not allowed to be offended” argument. The caller was looking for the proper way to broach the subject with her spouse.

In a fit of… I really don’t know what, Dr. Laura decided instead to accuse the woman of being “too sensitive”.

“Black guys use it all the time. Turn on HBO and listen to a black comic, and all you hear is nigger, nigger, nigger. I don’t get it. If anybody without enough melanin says it, it’s a horrible thing. But when black people say it, it’s affectionate. It’s very confusing.”

I’d laugh, but I’ve heard this same stupid argument from my own friends. It’s either that, or saying that it’s okay to say it because it’s in a song lyric, or that somehow “nigg-a” is different from “nigg-er“. These are all profoundly stupid arguments, and all I hear when someone says them is “I want the license to say things that I know to be racist and hurtful, and it’s your fault if you’re offended.” Congratulations, you are making the same argument as those brave freedom-fighters from Courtenay, and also rapists.

I’ve talked about the meaning and history of this word before. In essence, the word has no proper context that makes it not unbelievably offensive. It is rooted in the idea that Africans are not human, and that the sub-human treatment they received at the hands of their slave owners was justifiable. In my opinion, nobody should get to say it outside a discussion of its historical and/or sociological significance. Dr. Laura pretends as though there’s never been a good reason offered for why it’s ‘okay’ for black people to use the word, and that it’s a mystery why white people (and especially white people) aren’t allowed to say it.

I read a bunch of coverage about this issue, which I’m not going to link to because they mostly said the same thing. There was one commentary that I thought was interesting and worth sharing. A blogger mentioned the similarity between black people and the dynamic of a family. I have issues with my family, as we all do, particularly with my father. Because I was raised in a single-parent household, my dad and I frequently quarreled over pretty much everything. This, I gather, is normal parent/child stuff (incidentally, for those curious, things between my father and I are now better than they’ve been since I was a small child – growing up will do that). I used to fantasize about telling him off in front of a large crowd of his friends, perhaps at his funeral. Let’s stop this here, and simply conclude that I am not a daddy’s boy. That being said, I will not tolerate anyone speaking ill of him, even my other family members.

There are things we can say to and about our family members that sound (and may be) incredibly hurtful. But let someone from outside the family come in and try saying the same things, and sparks fly. Someone who is not in full possession of all of the facts, and who is not part of the dynamic, has no license to say things they may have heard just because someone else says them. In the same way, it’s highly inappropriate for any non-black person to use the word nigger, even if many black people think it’s appropriate to use with each other. Those who pretend that they don’t understand why this is so, and belligerently go out of their way to say it anyway, have suspect motives for doing so.

So am I saying Dr. Laura is racist? Let me answer that in this way…


I hope that clears up any ambiguity you may have at what I think of Dr. Laura.

Interestingly, she stumbled into another wheelhouse of mine when she said that she was quitting to restore her First Amendment rights:

“I want to be able to say what’s on my mind and in my heart, and what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry — some special interest group deciding this is a time to silence a voice of dissent, and attack affiliates and sponsors,” she said.

Here’s the text of the First Amendent:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Also, you can spread racist speech, and private citizens are not allowed to be upset, or protest against your stupidity in legal ways.”

Can you figure out what part I added?


  1. says

    An exchange between a Sri Lankan friend of mine a few years ago. Note: The first syllable of my surname is a homophone for ‘Che’, so ‘Che’ became my nickname.

    Friend: “Che! What’s up my nigga?!”
    Both: *manly hand shake with mutual shoulder slap*
    Me: “Not much my cracker!”
    Friend: *looks embarrassed for me”
    Friend: … “Dude, you know that ‘cracker’ is an insult for white people, right?”
    Me: “You did call me ‘nigga’.”
    Friend (thoughtfully): “Good point.”
    Me: “You remember our talk about ‘irony’, right?”
    Friend: “Smug prick – give you a hiding, bro!” *playful punch on shoulder*

  2. Beauzeaux says

    “Dr” Laura is an evil person. Every cell in her body is evil.

    Pretending not to understand in-group language is the ultimate in fatuity. We all know how it works. It starts in your family. I can say my brother is an ass, but woe betide anyone outside the family who agrees.
    Close female friends can call each other “slut” — I don’t think you have to be told it’s not OK for others to say that. Of all the in-group words, nigger is the MOST incendiary when used by an outsider.
    And the faux naivete of jerks like Laura S just compounds the offence.

  3. Montana says

    I am so happy that the ugly (inside and out) crazy old gym teacher reaped what she had sowed. She could have gotten her argument across by saying “N word” and not using the word and by not saying “don’t NAACP me” and “Don’t marry out of your race ” but like Michael Richards AKA “Cosmo Kramer”, she ends up the trash heap of history, a history of her own making. I am so happy that the free market AKA sponsors started to pull their ads (I guess they were exercising their free speech) and she finally realized that she was just another “run of the mill gabby” and her days were numbered. She realized that she was not as smart as she thought she was, finally! We are all adults here and we all know that we cannot control how others will respond to our comments, but it nothing to do about First Amendment rights (how exactly did the government stop her? They didn’t) and street talk and more about being held responsible for our actions and words. The first three times she used the word might not have been in anger but the last eight she was filled with hate, so good riddance.

    Palin was the one who got bent over the use of the word “Retard” (she wanted someone fired for using it once), Palin also said that the people have the right to build the Mosque in NY, but out of respect for the 9/11 families they shouldn’t, but I guess this same standard is not applicable to Laura Schlessinger. Do you see the hypocrisy? The problem with Palin is the same when she mistakenly referred to Ronald Reagan Eureka College, being in California and we all know its in Illinois, same thing, she does not fact check anything she is going to say. She is soooo Palin!

    Keith Olbermann mocks Sarah Palin’s imbecility

    The Daily Show: The Hurt Talker [Note: this clip won’t work for anyone outside the USA]

    President Bartlet puts Jenna Jacobs in her place

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