Friday, August 13, 2010

Free Speech Doesn't Equal Consequence Free Speech: Dr. Laura Shouts the N-Word Six Times on the Radio

So, Dr. Laura decided that it was her god-given right to repeat the n-word six times over the radio yesterday to a black woman who called into her show to discuss relationship advice (she's married to a white man, for context). So, Dr. Laura thought, "hey, black person! I can complain about how unfair it is that I don't get to call black folks the n-word anymore--that's reverse racism and I'm pouty about it!" You can check out the audio clips and transcripts here.

Okay, this is a conservative white person tactic to reduce the conversation about racism, race relations and inter-racial relationships to a matter of semantics. Its a common trope and notice that its always conservative or liberatarian white people (caveat, I am a white person, so don't call me a reverse racist) who like to bring this topic of the n-word up. The common argument is that it is not fair that they don't get to use the n-word without being called out for being a racist. Let me make this clear: yes, you have freedom of speech in this country and you can literally say the n-word, but guess what? There are consequences for engaging in racist behavior and hate speech, namely that you are called out for being a racist and for your hate speech.

When a black person on HBO or hanging out with exclusively other black folks uses the word affectionately, it is contextually different than a white woman on the radio saying it to a black woman who has married a white man. White people used the n-word to "other" and to humiliate black people for centuries, thus if a white person uses that word it is in order to "other" and humiliate and to remind said black person of the slave and Jim Crow eras in which black people were not regarded as fully human. This is what a white person using the n-word invokes, period.

Now, within the black community, reappropriating the n-word is controversial. Many believe that reappropriation is inadvisable and believe that there is no rehabilitating such a disgusting word whereas others fully engage in reappropriation, much like some feminists are trying to take back the words "cunt" or "bitch." Regardless of that debate, white people cannot use the n-word without also invoking hate-speech and if you are so angry about that, about feeling like you have been denied something, you need to examine how your privilege is acting as a barrier to understanding the deeper realities of racial history in America. Yes, there is something wrong with you morally, ethically and spiritually, Dr. Laura.

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