So, last night Jon and I happened to catch some of Anderson Cooper on CNN and learned about the whole Dr. Laura racism-on-the-radio debacle. If you haven’t heard the scoop, here’s the basics: a woman called into Dr. Laura’s show for advice (if you ask me, anyone who would call that horrible woman for advice is less than bright, but certainly not deserving of what came next). The woman, Jade, said that she’s in an interracial marriage, she’s black and her husband is white, and that she has been hurt by her husband’s friends and family making racist comments, while her husband does nothing about it. Dr. Laura managed to call the woman hypersensitive, dismiss the idea that the comments were racist, make gross generalizations about black people as a monolithic entity, use the N-word many times, and suggest that people who can’t put up with racist comments from friends and family members shouldn’t marry outside their race. While many outlets are simply focusing on Dr. Laura’s use of the N-word, as you can see/hear, the rest of the exchange is really what drips with racism. You can hear the whole audio and read a transcript over at Media Matters.
Before I respond, here’s Jamelle Bouie:
What Dr. Laura said was RACIST.
Dr. Laura asks Jade, the caller, for an example of a racist comment she’s been hearing from her husband’s friends and family, and Jade replies:
CALLER: OK. Last night — good example — we had a neighbor come over, and this neighbor — when every time he comes over, it’s always a black comment. It’s, “Oh, well, how do you black people like doing this?” And, “Do black people really like doing that?” And for a long time, I would ignore it. But last night, I got to the point where it —
SCHLESSINGER: I don’t think that’s racist.
CALLER: Well, the stereotype —
SCHLESSINGER: I don’t think that’s racist.
Memo to Dr. Laura: that IS racist. Assuming that all people of a certain race think/act alike and expecting an individual from that race/group to be able to speak for/represent the whole group, well, that’s racist. Just like people who think all women are alike and expect any one woman to represent/speak for the entire sex are sexist. Seeing an entire group of people as if they aren’t as diverse and individual as your group of people is racist. Full stop. There’s no hypersensitivity there, and I can see where this woman would feel hurt by her husband’s friends and family constantly making generalizations and stereotypes about her race and expecting her to be the ambassador for all black people.
Then, after stating that generalizations about black people aren’t racist statements, Dr. Laura forges ahead and makes a couple of generalizations about black people, namely that they all voted for Obama simply because he’s black, and that they’re all good at basketball:
A lot of blacks voted for Obama simply ’cause he was half-black. Didn’t matter what he was gonna do in office, it was a black thing. You gotta know that. That’s not a surprise. Not everything that somebody says — we had friends over the other day; we got about 35 people here — the guys who were gonna start playing basketball. I was going to go out and play basketball. My bodyguard and my dear friend is a black man. And I said, “White men can’t jump; I want you on my team.” That was racist? That was funny.
Nope, Dr. Laura, that entire paragraph is racist. And after that, as if her words are a little racist snowball rolling down the hill, Dr. Laura decides to get something off her chest: how deeply jealous she is that “black guys on HBO” can use the N-word but she, a white person, cannot. She literally says the N-word over and over again. It’s a common racist/sexist tactic to get upset that minority groups take words previously used to oppress and hurt them and turn them into something they use for their own power. It’s not quite the same as the N-word, but it reminds me the way I and some of my favorite blogger friends have reclaimed the word “harpy.” If some man called me a harpy, I’d be downright pissed. But I jokingly call myself a harpy all the time.
After a commercial break, Jade, the caller, makes some very wise observations about race relations in this country. She points out that older white people in this country seem more frightened and emboldened about racism after Obama’s election to the presidency. This isn’t crazy stuff, folks like the Southern Poverty Law center have been pointing this out for over a year now. You only have to look to footage of Tea Party events to know that some racists in this country are flipping out and feeling comfortable expressing very racist ideas in public. But Dr. Laura tells the caller that she obviously has a “chip on your shoulder” and suggests she has “too much sensitivity.”
After a bit of arguing about the N-word, Jade hangs up and Dr. Laura concludes:
SCHLESSINGER: All right. Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Can’t have this argument. You know what? If you’re that hypersensitive about color and don’t have a sense of humor, don’t marry out of your race.
Talk about an epic fail from a professional advice giver!
If Jade had called me for advice, I’d definitely answer differently. I’d validate her feelings that her husband’s family and friends are making racist comments. I’d affirm that yes, expecting one person to represent her entire race, with the belief that the entire race thinks/acts alike, is racist. I’d tell her that whether her husband agrees with her that the comments are racist, it’s her husband’s job as her spouse and as the one with the primary relationship with these people to tell them to cut it out. If your spouse says your friends/family are hurting his/her feelings, you tell them to knock it off. You refuse to tolerate it in your house. You inform them they will not be welcome in your house so long as they continue to say things that hurt your spouse. Period. It’s not that difficult to see that that’s the right answer to that question.
Because Dr. Laura did not take this opportunity to state the obvious, that spouses should have each other’s backs when someone is hurting one of their feelings, I can only conclude that she’s had these feelings of racial resentment, the ones that came bursting through in the exchange, for a while. I’m not saying that Dr. Laura hates black people, or that, as a person, she’s a complete and total racist. But that exchange definitely revealed her racial resentment, and her words were racist.
To top it all off, Dr. Laura’s “apology” is of the “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings”variety rather than the I’m sorry I said what I said variety. She primarily focuses on the use of the N-word. Her use of the N-word wasn’t even the half of it! She needs to do more than apologize for using an abhorrent word, but for the entire hateful exchange. And she needs to examine her issues surrounding race, perhaps with a licensed therapist.