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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Dr. Laura: Racist or Just Tacky?

I have to admit that my gut instinct was to assume Dr. Laura was innocent. She's no racist. I've listened to her show for years. Therefore, when I'd heard there was a flap over her use of the N-word, I thought, "Geez, so much ado about nothing."

I listened to the segment, and discovered two things:

1. Dr. Laura wasn't trying to be racist; she was trying to tell a woman to stop assuming curious white people are demeaning her somehow by asking about what it's like being black in America. It's true, too, we really want to know what black people think and feel. Sure, maybe it's a bit of an over-generalization to assume that blacks, as a group, think any certain way about anything. But we've always been told that we just can't understand what it's like to be African American, so we want to find out why.

2. Boy, I was really uncomfortable just listening to that word being said over and over. I grew up in the Oakland, California area, and that was a word white people just didn't say. It made me uncomfortable hearing my old Southern relatives use that word, even though they were trying to compliment someone. My grandfather was once watching The Dating Game when he commented: "That gal sure is pretty for a (sic) N-word woman." It made me really upset. Yet, my grandfather also had good friends in South Africa who were black and would travel all the way to Modesto, California to visit him. He had a large collection of African art objects on display in his home, beautiful Benin heads made of polished wood. The whole thing really confused me, but, aside from referring to black people that way, he was very liberal on racial issues. When my brothers and I tried to explain that one shouldn't speak that way, he went into a long explanation that the N-word was just how he'd learned to refer to black people and it didn't mean he had anything against them. Weird, I know, but he was fairly typical of people in that generation.

I don't believe that Dr. Laura has any hatred of African Americans in her heart. Still, it's only been forty-five years since the Civil Rights Act. The memory of racism is very fresh in people's minds, and the word stings. It stings me, and I'm white-- ghostly, almost phosphorescently white. She was wrong to use the word, especially to repeat it the way she did, but she's no racist. She was just very, very tacky.

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