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Opening Arguments

And the N-word is No

No tears here for the departure of "Dr. Laura," though the controversy over the "N-word" seems to contain more than a little theatrical outrage. Actually, that only hints at the real problem:

In announcing her decision "not to do radio anymore" after being in the business for more than 30 years, Schlessinger said, "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 or some special-interest group deciding this is a time to silence a voice of dissent."

National furor erupted when Schlessinger used the N-word 11 times in five minutes during a call August 10 with an African-American caller who was seeking advice on how to deal with racist comments from her white husband's friends and relatives. The conversation evolved into a discussion on whether it's appropriate to ever use the word, with Schlessinger arguing it's used on HBO and by black comedians.

Schlessinger apologized the following day, saying "I was attempting to make a philosophical point, and I articulated the N-word all the way out -- more than one time. And that was wrong. I'll say it again -- that was wrong."

This is one of those "I'm sorry you think I was wrong" apologies. It seems especially clueless of her to equate blacks saying the N-word to each other and its use by whites about blacks. That's Sensitivity 101, but her continued self-absorption ("My freedom of speech rights have been usurped by angry, hateful groups who don't want to debate") indicate she may have slept through that class.

But that's Dr. Laura for you -- she's never less than 100 percent absolutely positively certain about anything. Such a trait is forgivable in a politician and probably mostly harmless in editorial writers and bloggers, but unrelenting judgmentalism is downright dangerous in a therapist and especially so when the "patient" is someone the therapist has never met whose problems are being heard for the first time. Therapy as entertainment is despicable, and all it's practitioners should be put in stockades in the public square for a year or two, including "Dr. Phil" and, yes, even "Dr. Joy Browne," who can probably be called the nice Dr. Laura.  

I use to get annoyed with Ann Landers and Dear Abby for their shoot-from-the-hip advice to people with deep-seated, complicated problems. How could they possibly know enough about the people and the situations to offer such unequivocal solutions? But the radio and TV therapists are far worse. At least Ann and Abby had a letter they could read a few times before composing an answer. But they still heard only one part of one side of the story, so any advice they gave was just as likely to make things worse as it was to make them better.

The electronic gurus just throw their advice out seconds after hearing the complaint. The call that resulted in the current controversy is a good example. The person with the problem was a black woman in an interracial marriage who was upset over racist remarks by her husband's friends and relatives. Dr. Laura's advice, basically, was for the woman to chill out and not be so sensitive.  Really? Her husband's inner circle is a bunch of racist jerks, and it's her problem? He doesn't have someresponsibility for keeping the relationship free of poisonous influences? It might not make the woman's situation worse to lecture her based on one's own unshakable convictions instead of offering thoughtful, caring advice?

The N-word discussion probably does need to advance, but it should start at a somewhat higher level than we're at now. As a start, it needs to be acknowledged that some words are in a class all by themselves, so ugly that they tend to stop conversations rather than start them. All labels are a way to group people together and deny them their individuality, and most of them can be employed in the debates over stereotyping. The N-word is one that can't be, or at least shouldn't be. The C-word for women is another one. They just have too much baggage, which is why a lot of black comedians have stopped throwing that particular epithet around so casually.


Bob G.
Wed, 08/18/2010 - 10:19am

One would NEVER take for granted that the *N* word was ugly in ANY way when seeing a group of young black meet in the middle of your street "just to chat a spell"...

The DUALITY of words such as this needs to be addressed before any advancement of debate follows.
It's all about symptoms OF a societal disease, and not necessarily the disease in and of itself.
But, what do WHITES know about it anyway, right?


Lewis Allen
Wed, 08/18/2010 - 8:24pm

"Therapy as entertainment is despicable". Couldn't have said it better myself.