Narratives drown out truths

August 19, 2010


Asking a conservative pundit for advice on race is like asking an ayatollah for advice on preparing the Christmas ham.

There are exceptions, yes, but by and large, this terrain is the dark side of the moon for conservatives. They don’t know it well, so they tend to go there rarely, reluctantly and seldom voluntarily. And when they do, they not infrequently make Patrick Buchanan-size jackasses of themselves.

So the train wreck of a radio segment that generated unwelcome headlines for talk-show host Laura Schlessinger last week was predictable the moment she took a call from an African-American woman named “Jade.” See, Jade, inexplicably, sought Dr. Laura’s advice on what to do when her white husband’s family and friends make “racist comments” in front of her.

And that’s when the train took a header into the gorge. First, there was Jade’s mention of a neighbor who can’t drop by without asking her how black people like this or black people like that. Dr. Laura said that wasn’t racist — which is arguably fair, but ignores the fact that a person gets tired of constantly being treated as an emissary from the planet Negro.

Then there was Dr. Laura’s non sequitur rant about how blacks voted for Barack Obama “without giving much thought” — the brainless, easily swayed black voter being a fiction beloved by many conservatives, and never mind that it was Queen of Soul Hillary Clinton who had the black vote sewn up and Obama who was forced to earn it.

There is much more, but we are running out of page and still haven’t gotten to the part that made headlines and forced Dr. Laura into an apology the next day. Jade asked, “How about the N-word?”

“Black guys use it all the time,” snapped Dr. Laura. “Turn on HBO, listen to a black comic and all you hear is nigger, nigger, nigger.”

When Jade challenged her casual use of that word, Schlessinger doubled down. She repeated her N-word trilogy and at one point told Jade, “I think you have too much sensitivity ...”

Oh, my stars and garters.

There is, should it need saying, a big hole in Dr. Laura’s reasoning. Comics do all sorts of obnoxious things. They call women by a synonym for female dogs. They talk about menstruation, masturbation, nose-picking, gas-passing and other subjects generally avoided in polite company.

Does Schlessinger really think “comedians” should be our standard on matters of decorum? Does she really think comedians’ — or for that matter, rappers’ and street kids’ — choice of language justifies her use of a noxious epithet loathed by the vast majority of the 38 million people against whom it is routinely hurled? Or that calling her on that is evidence of hypersensitivity?

Too bad I already used that stars and garters line. It would go nicely here.

Suffice it to say, I bet you Dr. Laura never thought about it like that. I bet you she never thought about it at all. And therein lies the problem — not simply for her, but for conservatives in general who seek to contribute to a constructive racial dialogue.

See, I’d argue the most offensive thing about Schlessinger’s gaffe wasn’t her use of the N-word, but the air of smug entitlement with which she did so. Conversing with a woman who lives a reality about which she can only theorize, Dr. Laura brushed away Jade’s every effort to dissent or explain. She was not there to engage. She already knew all she needed to.

One finds that often when conservative pundits talk race. They seem trapped within their own baseless narratives, loath to listen to, much less credit, anything that contradicts what they chose long ago to believe.

Small wonder they seldom contribute anything of value to the discussion. They don’t know what they don’t know. And they are unwilling to learn.

— Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com. lpitts@miamiherald.com


jaywalker 7 years, 9 months ago

Countdown to ..............kaboooom!..... on this hear string. Shan't be pretty.

independant1 7 years, 9 months ago

Another warm fuzzy cumbaya by Leo.

Leo, why can't we all just get along?

Grundoon Luna 7 years, 9 months ago

And now Dr. Laura doesn't have a show. Ooooooh, goody!! She's a nitwit and I'm glad she's toast. She and fellow nitwit Sarah should go a mani/pedi, hopefully inverted.

jaywalker 7 years, 9 months ago

Little doubt Dr. Laura's spiel was ill-advised to say the least. Heard about it yesterday without the entire context Pitts provides and all I could do was roll my eyes. But the dumbest thing I heard about yesterday was the GOP operative from Minnesota who decided it was a wise move to compare women from the right to women from the left in regards to looks, coupled with music, particularly 'Who let the dogs out' while showing pictures of Reno, Pelosi, Clinton, and Obama. I'm not a fan of generalizatons or characterizations when it comes to things political, but I believe the right wears the crown for irretrievably stupid stunts and quips. From "you lie!" to the Texan that thought it wise to back BP to Ron Paul's quotes to this video montage......for a group that has a chance to recover some of the power they've lost they sure seem eager to shoot themselves in the foot...errrr.....head. Dumber than a box of hair, I tell ya.

anonyname 7 years, 9 months ago

Gee, it's a good thing Pitts is the only one anywhere talking about this...other than the nearly 2,000 other articles Google News references about Dr. Laura at the moment. Even (gasp!) white people are writing and talking about it!!

Mike Ford 7 years, 9 months ago

gee more evidence that the bugs are annoyed by the light in the back yard.... eeeeewww.... never underestimate the stupidity of those who call others what they really are..... uh oh we're on to you........

jimmyjms 7 years, 9 months ago

So a white radio host says the N word 11 times on air, a black columnist comments on said verbal happening, and it's the black columnist who is obsessed with race?

Up is down, black is white.

verity 7 years, 9 months ago

I'll bring the popcorn---Autie, you bring the moonshine---it's gona be a long, hot day.

jimmyjms 7 years, 9 months ago

Tom Shewmon again shows a breathtaking ignorance of history, the black "community" and reality in general.

Pretty obvious from your post that the only "blacks" you interact with are on TV, Tom.

Grundoon Luna 7 years, 9 months ago

The woman called Laura for help and got met with her typical, "your fault, your fault, your fault . . . " Instead of genuinely helping, Laura used the opportunity to get on her hate box and further her own agenda. Typical Laura. Now her supporters assert, like Bailin' Palin, that sponsors dropping Laura like the rotten potato she is (and she quit anyway) seeing that her ability to win them business seriously damaged by, yet again, her idiotic diatribe, is somehow repressing Laura's civil rights. How brain dead can someone be!?! Free speech also means I can say I don't like what you say and I don't have to buy the products of those that advertise on your show. Again, cherry picking but only now with the Constitution.

Having said that, with respect to the use of the "N-Word," it will be difficult for African Americans to gain the respect of the dominant culture on this issue until the entire African American community drives the term out of their vernacular or accepts its use in certain contexts - though not at all the context in which Laura projected! It is duplicitous for enormous numbers in their community to make use of the word and then cry foul when white people use it in some contexts. Tupac spun it saying it means, Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished which brought in the term "nigga," I have asked AfroAm friends why it is different and they try to explain how it is. In a discussion with one friend I asked, "Can I come up to you, smile and hug you and say, 'My nigga!' as I have seen you and so-and-so?" I was met with a weird look and, "Uh, I don't know . . ." so is it really any different? But a lot of white folks, especially young men, use it in friendly terms just as blacks do. Teenage white boys all over refer to their friends as "My niggaz." My nieces' step-dad is black and he refers to them, white/Native Americans, as "niggaz" though usually he reserves that for when he's b*tching about their messy room.

Growing up we weren't allowed to say the "N-Word" or Jew in my family because they were considered derogatory terms toward specific groups of people. My parents were PC before there was PC but my mother was raised with Mennonite beliefs to respect all people and expected we do the same. When I was 7 years old I got in trouble for calling a neighbor girl the "N-Word." I lived in the Chicago suburbs and never saw a black person and didn't even know what it meant. I heard some boys at school say it and I knew from how they used it was not good. But I was angry at her and I wanted to insult her and hurt her feelings. And that's just it: Shouldn't it be about the emotion and intent behind the word and not the word itself?

BTW . . . Laura wasn't concerned about anyone's feelings.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.