About “The N Word”

Everyone’s been buzzing this week about Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s decision to bail out of broadcast radio following that over-publicized “N-word” boo-boo on her nationally syndicated program. It’s really unfortunate that Dr. Laura feel the need to do jump ship—although there are four months between now and the end of the year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she surfaces in January on some other radio network.  Stuff like that happens in this business all the time.

Even more unfortunate is that Dr. Laura’s point—a very valid point—has been lost in all the name-calling and rock-throwing that followed her unfortunate foot-chomping moment. If only she’d had the good sense to say, “N-word, N-word, N-word” instead of actually using the N-word, perhaps the conversation could have turned more productive.

Dr. Laura’s point was, quite simply, that there is a double-standard in our society when it comes to the N-word. When I searched for a suitable picture to accompany this post, I found zillions of pictures of African-Americans wearing T-shirts with the offensive word emblazoned upon them, album covers, artwork, and other such examples of the same word being used daily, and I’ve yet to hear of the African-American community boycotting musicians or protesting in front of stores selling the offensive apparel.

Let’s be honest here: If Michael Baisden or Tom Joyner had made the same point in the same way using the same words, would it have even caused a blip in the national press? I’ve heard both of those national radio talents say things that, in the mouth of any Caucasian radio talent, would cause an immediate one-way trip to unemploymentland.

It’s a double-standard. It’s wrong. Period.

Personally, I find the “N-word” offensive. It’s offensive on African-American lips, it’s offensive on Caucasian lips, it’s offensive on any lips.

As a boy, I used that word once in my father’s presence—and I do mean exactly once. When I picked myself up from the floor, he explained to me in his salty and straightforward manner that if he ever heard that word on my lips again, I’d be taking a break from further conversation while having my teeth removed from my throat. He went on to say that he served side-by-side with black men in World War II who bled the same shade of red he did. He learned to judge a man by the content of his character rather than the color of his skin. He taught me to use the same method of measure.

Looking back, I can still recall the passion that drove his anger that day. It still speaks to me as it did then, of heartache-laden memories he seldom allowed to surface, respect for those who served our country regardless of their race,  and anger he could usually control when sober but that overtook him when he drank. I always felt there was more to Dad’s interracial war experience than he shared with me that day.  I regret that I never pursued that with him.

I do not, however, regret that I never again said the “N-word” in his presence.

3 thoughts on “About “The N Word”

  1. Hey Dan,

    Good points. I happened to be driving and heard the first part of that phone call on Dr. Laura’s program. I actually turned it off a couple minutes into it because I thought Dr. Laura was being horribly insensitive and offensive and I couldn’t bear to listen anymore.

    My problem was NOT with her using the N-word, but with her refusal to validate and acknowledge the caller’s very real hurt feelings about her white husband tolerating racially offensive talk in their home. She was in an interracial marriage, which was hard enough, but she didn’t want to have to deal with racially offensive comments in her own home – which was happening when certain of their friends would visit.

    I’ve listened to Dr. Laura on and off for 15 years, and have bought many of her books. But I’ve watched her become less compassionate, less kind, and more surly and intolerant. She hurts people’s feelings more and more – far more than she used to ten years ago. I think that call was the straw that broke the camel’s back, showing people that her days as a radio advice-giver should probably be over. She was intolerably cruel to that caller, refusing to acknowledge for even one second that the caller might actually be hurting. I was hurting inside for that poor woman, who called for help and instead got stomped on.

    It was definitely the breaking point for me. I doubt I’ll ever listen to Dr. Laura again or buy another of her books. That’s just my opinion, but there’s something to be said for grace and kindness, and Dr. Laura seems to have lost hers.

  2. Good thoughts, Dan. I was raised in a military family and taught respect for others.

    However, I do regret the fact that I had to remove the three instances in which a character used the n-word in my first novel. Life contains highly-offensive, nasty persons who say things like that, especially slave owners in the nineteenth century. If we can’t show life in its real brutality, it’s harder to show real healing and redemption.

    I don’t agree with the argument that it’s not necessary to use the word in order to show the behavior. Part of the ugliness of the behavior *is* the word.

    But I accept the fact that the marketplace controls some of our decisions, and apparently, customers return books and complain if they contain the n-word, no matter how high the purpose of the book. Just look at the reaction to Huck Finn. If even Twain can’t get away with portraying characters who use it, who am I to think I can?

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