Disclaimer: This was written by a proud liberal.
Dr. Laura, the conservative talk show host, has announced that she will give up her radio show when her contract expires at the end of this year. Now this is a news headline that has actually brought a smile to my face…and gotten me thinking.
First, how wonderful for Dr. Laura that she has the luxury of slinking away (after her contract is up, mind you) from the heat and scuttlebutt over her latest appalling display as opposed to being flat-out fired. Oh, and of course she apologized. I would doubt her management left her any choice. I would also doubt that, left to her own will, Dr. Laura would have ever come close to apologizing for spewing out the “N” word 11 times to the African-American woman who called her for advice last week. (The caller is married to a white man and feels that their white friends might be behaving and speaking in a prejudicial manner.) Via Anderson Cooper 360 last week, I heard the caller courteously, articulately ask Dr. Laura for her guidance. I then heard Dr. Laura harshly accuse the woman of being oversensitive. The radio host seemed to “lose it” as she hissed out her diatribe against the caller (and other African-Americans, if we’re being honest), splattering her so-called advice with the “N” word. I wonder what that must be like. To exhibit a gross, irresponsible lack of professionalism and respect when speaking to a colleague, client, or customer, then resign, effective only upon the expiration of your contract, claiming your rights to free speech have somehow been trampled. To tell a customer, a student, a patient, a passenger what you really think in whatever language you deem fit, then apologize for it later as though that erases your ignorant, hateful choice of words. The World According to Dr. Laura? No, I hope we never come any closer to living like that than we already are.
Further, it comes down to language, words. I firmly believe we are what we speak, just as I believe you are what you eat. For me, Dr. Laura’s argument that “it’s okay for black people to use the ‘N word’ so why can’t I?” is simply weak and ignorant. No one should be using the “N word,” and plenty of African-Americans would agree with me—including Reverend Al Sharpton and other black leaders, who spoke sharply against Dr. Laura’s response to the caller. As a professional, as a human being, why would Dr. Laura even want to use the word in the first place? (Now that I think of it, she probably also thinks it’s acceptable to use the phrase, “That’s so gay.”) She spit the word out over and over again with frightening ease and volume. She did not hesitate to speak it, she did not whisper it. She spoke it with clear, heartfelt gumption. And, praise be, it backfired on her. She sounded instantly hateful, ignorant, and unprofessional. She also sounded like a shrill, angry woman unraveling at the seams. Rather than add value or meaning to her response, repeating the “N word” quickly clouded and confused any point she might have been trying to make. I have read since that even many of her regular listeners were strongly disappointed in Dr. Laura and felt an instant loss of respect for her. Sponsors such as General Motors Co. and Motel 6 have pulled out. Good for them. Enough is enough.
While Dr. Laura may have been trying to puff out her chest and show off her rights to free speech, she blew it and missed the point. Our right to free speech is a wonderful thing, but not when it blatantly disrespects human beings and defiles our language in the meantime. (We also have the right to bear arms. Does that mean we should all run out into the streets and shoot whomever we feel deserves it?) Language, words, speech should bring people together and educate—not tear us further apart and foster more ignorance. Using or not using the “N word” is not about a double standard between the language of races, as Dr. Laura might argue. Nor is it about people becoming hypersensitive or too politically correct. It is about human beings choosing to speak maturely and respectfully. It is about loudly arguing our different points of view and defending our varying opinions with intelligent, effective language. Language that provokes and stirs the pot, even riles, but language that is free of the shackles of words that perpetuate hate, stereotypes, ugliness, and ignorance.
In her apology, Dr. Laura tried to backpedal out of her use of the word, saying she had been trying to make a philosophical point. Really? I am curious, has Dr. Laura actually ever read any philosophy books or spoken with any philosophers? That might be a good place for her to start on her upcoming respite. She also said she is finished with those who would like her silenced. Well, Dr. Laura, we are finished with you as well. And I, for one, will enjoy the quiet.