With Sarah Palin tweeting her support for Dr. Laura Schlessinger and countless others arguing that if it’s okay for Black people to use the N-word, it should be okay for Dr. Laura, I have to weigh in.
Sarah Palin and the other Schlessinger supporters will get no counter argument from me — not on that issue. I think they’re right. As far as I know, there are no laws banning the use of the N-word – a word that most understand to be a vile expression of contempt – a label used to describe the second-rate, the no account, the loathsome, the disgusting, and the vile — a word that historically has been used to demean and ostracize an entire sector of the American population. They can, and dare I say, should, use it – if using it adequately helps them to express how they feel. This would be a benefit to me. I, for one, am longing to know who-is-who in this land of post-racial political correctness.
I was born and raised in the Northeast– in the Bronx and Queens, New York. Although the N-word was used throughout the history of this country to demean Blacks particularly in the South, by the time my generation came of age, the United States had had a major social shift. Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights movement, Black Pride – all of this set the stage for my generation. Today, those born after Brown or the Civil Rights movement live and work in a world where political correctness trumps equal opportunity in employment and fair housing. The use of racial epithets or ethnic slurs is rarely heard in polite company. As far back as I can remember, using the n-word was taboo. With the exception of the adolescent boys in my junior high school – one of which was the hip-hop mogul who founded Def Comedy Jam the show Schlessinger was referring to as she went on her N-word rampage, I hardly ever heard the n-word.
Then came hip hop. Many argue that they (members of the hip hop community) reclaimed the N-word. Michael Eric Dyson has written extensively on this topic. I have neither the time nor the talent to go down the path of Michael Eric Dyson so I’ll simply provide you with a link to his writings. I will say that I was around some of the early pioneers of hip hop. Russell Simmons, often referred to as the “father of hip hop”, lived in my neighborhood and went to my school. We were in the same grade, had the same friends, and knew each other – although not well. But I was close to a few of his running buddies. This notion that there was an effort to consciously reclaim the N-word is something that wasn’t evident to me. What I witnessed was a bunch of adolescent boys doing what adolescent boys do – stretching boundaries, trying to be acknowledged, often using foul language, spitting, smoking, cursing, and so forth, to get attention.
And attention is what they got. Unfortunately, for nearly all of them, it wasn’t the kind of attention Russell Simmons got. Let’s just say that those who continued to use that language and accompanying thuggery were not embraced by the dominant culture. No, they found themselves chronically unemployed — or underemployed, if they were lucky enough to find a job at all. Until they conformed to the social standards or norms of today, they found themselves trapped on the outside only accepted by members of their own social circle.
Dr. Laura, like the Black boys in my old neighborhood, has a right to say almost anything, including the N-word. And like the Black boys in my old neighborhood, Dr. Laura will likely suffer consequences. The day she went on her N-word extravaganza, she seemed to imply that the N-word is used by “Blaaacks” with impunity and therefore the same should be true for her and others. The problem with that claim is that it simply isn’t true. The small percentage of Blacks who use the N-word know that it can’t be used with impunity and so are selective about when, where, and with whom they use it.
While there are comedians, usually Blacks, who use that word in their comedy acts, you’d be hard pressed to find them using it in their everyday language – at Home Depot, at a PTA meeting, at a job interview, at church, in the supermarket. Conversely, the late George Carlin and a host of other comedians also use offensive language in their acts. Does Schlessinger feel that people are oversensitive (the term she used to describe the black caller who was offended by the use of the n-word) when they’re offended by the use of the word c*nt or b*tch? Does she assume that George Carlin’s language is acceptable to white people because she’s heard other white people use that language with each other and because Carlin uses it on HBO? Of course not. So why does she or Palin or any of their supporters think that Black people accept the use of the N-word.
I am Black. Most of the people in my family are Black. I have known thousands of Black people. Again, with the exception of the pre-pubescent boys in my old neighborhood, the Black people in my world didn’t and don’t use that word. We find it offensive as did the black woman caller on Schlessinger’s show. But somehow Laura Schlessinger, Sarah Palin and their supporters think they know what should or shouldn’t offend.
I have already acknowledged that there is a contingent of Black folk who say they have reclaimed the word. Michael Eric Dyson is one such person. But this “reclaiming” is not representative of the black masses. Even Russell Simmons, who benefited financially by producing rap artists who used it heavily, now avoids using it in public. It is just not a socially acceptable expression.
But more important than it being socially unacceptable is that it is a painful reminder of America’s unhealed wound – which makes it all the more troubling that Schlessinger seemed to relish repeating the n-word on-air eleven times in 5 minutes with Sarah Palin, a national figure, leaping to her defense.
Sarah Palin offered these words of encouragement to Dr. Laura via Twitter, “Dr.Laura:don’t retreat…reload! (Steps aside bc her 1st Amend.rights ceased 2exist thx 2activists trying 2silence”isn’t American,not fair”).” And later she wrote, “Dr.Laura=even more powerful & effective w/out the shackles, so watch out Constitutional obstructionists. And b thankful 4 her voice,America!”
The notion that Laura Schlessinger’s 1st amendment rights ceased to exist thanks to activists trying to silence her is preposterous. The only thing that will cease to exist for Dr. Laura as a result of this episode is her job.
Sharon Kyle is the Co-Founder and Publisher of the LA Progressive. With her husband Dick, she publishes several other print and online newsletters on political and social justice issues. In addition to her work with the LA Progressive, Ms. Kyle holds a Juris Doctorate and is an adjunct professor at Peoples College of Law in Los Angeles. Sharon is the proud mother and step-mother of four children, Wade, Deva, Raheem and Linnea and has three children-in-law, Dan, Kelli and Yoko.