Dr. Laura’s Schlessinger’s diatribe on the word n***** is symbolic of much larger problems in our society, that of the prevalence of institutionalized racism as an over-riding factor in race relations and the dispelling of the myth of a “post-racial” society. In short, the real issues that emerged from this diatribe, are that Schlessinger, a widely followed talk show host, failed to respond to and trivialized the question that the caller Jade raised, revealed her own biased and stereotyped assumptions about Blacks in our society and demonstrated her resistance to and lack of understanding of institutionalized racism and of the parameters for this use of the “n-word.” “The Dr.” instead used this as a forum in which to air her views on interracial marriages, the influence of race on the election of Barack Obama and the role that comedians play in using the “n-word.” Her response epitomizes why conversations on race are so explosive and demonstrates why the concept of a “post-racial” society is at best delusional. After listening to this exchange, like many, I was deeply troubled by Schlessinger’s blatant disregard and silencing of a woman who attempted to understand and raise questions about the apparent insensitive comments by the friends of her Caucasian husband, comments which were evidence of stereotypical responses and an implicit attitude of racism towards her and other Black people in our society. This incident is an indictment on Dr. Schlessinger and exposes to all, a woman whose value system renders her incapable of deep analysis of complex questions and issues in our society. One would think that her background and post-doctoral certification in Marriage, Family, and Child Counseling would have enabled her to respond to such a disturbing and potentially volatile issue with a degree of sensitivity and tolerance for the concerns expressed by Jade. Rather than attempting to turn Jade’s questions into an examination and exploration of why the Caucasian friends of her Caucasian husband have continued to view her as the spokesperson for “all things and people bBlack,” Schlessinger exacerbated the problem by indicting the NAACP and by continually disrespecting and interrupting Jade and revealing her own internalized racism (which is clearly a result of assumptions and generalizations about the general Black public, Black comedians and Black hip hop artists in our society). Like many community spokespersons and leaders, I do not advocate the use of the word “n-word” under any circumstances. Its historical negative connotation is enough to justify its non use and critique. Schlessinger is expected to use her public forum as a platform for discussing this issue in a meaningful way. However, her diatribe, contributed to the comments of conservative talk show hosts on the right and is a major reason for why problems of race relations still persist. Rather than address a systemic problem in our society, Schlessinger took this as an opportunity to voice her personal view that Jade should not have married outside of her race. She then made a leap that critiqued the NAACP and those social activists who have challenged white supremacy. Therefore, her “apology”
misses the point and underscores her failure to adhere to her responsibility to “LISTEN AND PROVIDE A FORUM FOR AN EXCHANGE OF VIEWS.” This incident is a reminder that we must be vigilant in raising the public’s consciousness that we still live in a society constructed by race. Dr. Brenda M. Greene is Professor of English, Executive Director of the Center for Black Literature and Director of the National Black Writers Conference at Medgar Evers College, CUNY.