Dr. Laura & Racism

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.

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14 thoughts on “Dr. Laura & Racism

  1. First off, let me say, that I do not listen to Dr. Laura. The reason is very simple: she is a person, with no sense of empathy or compassion. From every snippet of her conversations that I have read or heard, she shows a complete lack of understanding of morality and human relationships. She is a self-aggrandizing, morally-dubious talking head.

    This is just the most recent example of her complete lack of understanding of an issue, i.e. racism. She is completely oblivious to the subject, preferring to work off her distorted view of the world from the perch of white society.

    And she is not alone. Stephen Colbert pointed out, in his usual tongue-in-cheek manner, to Laura Ingraham that her tracts in her latest book read like horribly racist material, which left her at a loss for realizing it. It is now a constant problem, the “whitewashing” of racism. People like this must be condemned as strongly as we can, in every way possible, because we cannot allow other nations to think that people like this represent us.

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  2. I did not know she was still on the air after all these years. Listening always drove me bonkers because she’s a hammer who sees a world full of nails. At times she was right on with advice but one size never fits all. The other problem was that the typical caller refused to own their problem. Seemed like it would be someone living with the love of their life who wanted to get married but their live-in refused to marry them. Dr. Laura would tell them make up your mind, if you want to get married you have to make a condition of the relationship and if they say no you have to find someone else. The caller would then whine about really loving the other person and not wanting to break-up. OK. Simple, stay with them and give up the marriage fantasy since he/she has been honest all along about the conditions. The callers seemed to seek magic bullets that would allow them to have everything without cost.

    Inter-racial couples are going to face racism. Any children they have will face racism. Unless you are both prepared to fight the fight against it together, you have a fundamental relationship problem. I’ll give the Dr. a point for harshly being correct that they will face it, but that’s about all I can concede to her.

    The poor lady should have received empathy, she should have been advised to take a hard look at her spouse and where their relationship is if he isn’t standing beside her. I’m far less appalled by her language than her lack of basic understanding of human marital relations.

    If I recall correctly she has said her childhood was cold and unloving and blamed it on the fact that her parents had a mixed marriage being of different faiths.

    I wonder if we just witnessed her own personal meltdown of bottled rage over her parents that she ended up aiming at this poor woman.

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    • Good observation, Arkstfan– I bet her childhood does have something to do with it. Racism aside, someone who will let her own issues so deeply color her supposedly objective advice to callers on her advice show should maybe not be doling out advice!

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  3. I finally watched the segment. All I can say is, “WOW.” Great post, Sarah. She definitely was on a soapbox about the use of the “N” word. I also love this part of Arkstfan’s comment:

    “I’m far less appalled by her language than her lack of basic understanding of human marital relations.”

    To add to that, I was appalled by her disrespect to this caller. The woman was polite throughout the call and never raised her voice, and Dr. Laura had the audacity to yell at her to stop interrupting. Someone needs to yank her license.

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  4. Yes to all the above. It’s worth noting, however, that Dr. Laura has built her career by shocking listeners.

    I’d like to see this be her downfall (ala Michael Richards), but I’d be really surprised if that happened. I suspect that if one is a Dr. Laura listener, this indiscretion will do little to change that. Getting too lathered up about this seems to me to be as fruitless as calling out Howard Stern as a sexist.

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  5. I hate that woman. I think my parents got quite a bit of their parenting advice from her show when I was growing up – including the notion that one could pay their teenage daughter to remain a virgin (as proved by a doctor’s inspection). Luckily, Mom nixed that idea after remembering we didn’t live in Biblical times and your daughters actually AREN’T your property.

    I love her use of the black best friend excuse. Never fails.

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  6. Somehow I though that Dr. Laura had fallen off the face of the earth. Apparently I was wrong. Why would anyone call her for advice in the first place? Poor Jade. I hope this blows up in Laura’s face Mel Gibson style. Also, I hope someone sits down and has both the “What you did was racist” and the “You are a racist” conversations with her.

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  7. For the record: I moderate comments here. While I don’t have a strictly defined comment policy, I try to go with my gut and promote a civil discussion. I can handle heated disagreement, but I don’t allow demonization. As a result, I disallowed two comments today that referred to Dr. Laura using a sexist pejorative and which compared her to a Nazi. I absolutely believe that what Dr. Laura said was racist, but I will not allow comments on my site to call her sexist names or compare her to Nazis.

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  8. But, I did not say she WAS a Nazi (I have German ancestry myself and do not like that term). I said what if someone had turned the tables on her and called her that. She would use the seven second delay and the call would never be aired, thus saving her the feeling of being castigated. But for her to say what she did on air, repeat it over and over and still be considered a medical professional is ridiculous. Had this happened in an office setting and been reported, she would lose her license and with good reason.

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  9. I’m sorry I’m getting to this post so late, but I absolutely agreed with what you wrote here. I was shocked and disgusted by what she said and legitimately couldn’t understand how she couldn’t see that she was being racist? The way that she belittled the caller’s problems as “hypersensitive” was so painfully unprofessional.
    As a young gay kid growing up in Ohio and not being the only openly gay kid who went to my high school, I was subjected to all sorts of stereotypes and let me tell you, they hurt just as much as being called a f*g. My heart goes out to that poor caller and I hope that Dr. laura is reprimanded for her incredibly inappropriate behavior.

    – Calhoun

    http://selfproclaimedmegalomaniac.wordpress.com/

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  10. I also note Dr. Laura’s defense of one of her own comments”
    “That was racist? That was funny.”

    This is no defense at all. As I think about why this doesn’t make sense (besides the fact that funny and racist are not opposites) I realized it all has to do with offense. People can say racist things if they are that race because the offense is directed at themselves (i.e., black comedians making black jokes). People rarely seem to object to positive racial stereotypes – for instance, the idea that Asian students are exceptionally hard workers. The problem is whether anyone was offended. If no one was offended it is socially acceptable to say something racist. What Dr. Laura actually said was, “I complimented my bodyguard in a racist manner, but since I complimented him and he’s a friend he wasn’t offended.” Had she said that, of course, it would have highlighted that airing her comment might be offensive (she’s not friends with all her black listeners) and it would have pointed out that if her caller is offended then there’s a problem.

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  11. I totally agree with your comments about ‘Dr Laura’. And you know, her doctorate seems to be in physiology, not psychology, or even sociology. She might know how the human body works, but so far that hasn’t helped her stop her thoughts from pouring out of her mouth.
    P.S. While I agree with the deletion of ‘demonising’ comments, I also think that relating anything bad that people do back to Nazis is an ‘easy’ argument.

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