A word or two on the Dr. Laura controversy, including my thoughts on the n-word and my musings on Laura Schlessinger’s misunderstanding of the First Amendment:
First off, I don’t approve of the commonplace use of the n-word by comedians, rap stars or most others. (There are exceptions, such as its use by excellent novelists, playwrights and movie script writers, but they are too few to influence the general case.) The word is crude, vulgar and a sign of a poor vocabulary.
Do I think Schlessinger’s use of the word was “racist”? No, just stupid.
As I wrote in a column a few years ago:
Only one thing is certain about use of the n-word, a lasting truth that was uttered by the courageous Atticus Finch, hero of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
“Do you defend niggers, Atticus?” his daughter Scout asks him. Finch answers with a pearl of wisdom:
“Of course I do. Don’t say ‘nigger, ‘ Scout. That’s common.”
Finch’s words — actually, the words are those of my hometown heroine, Harper Lee, who wrote the book in the late 1950s — retain a simple profundity. All you can know for certain about those who use that epithet is that they are a little too comfortable with crudeness. How could it be otherwise, when the term is used by racists to demean and by black rappers and comedians to entertain? . .
As for the n-word, Harvard law school professor Randall Kennedy explored its awful power in a scholarly book called “Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word.”
“There is much to be gained by allowing people of all backgrounds to yank (the word) away from white supremacists, to subvert its ugliest denotation.” Kennedy writes.
I respectfully disagree. I still like the better advice Atticus gave Scout: Don’t use the word.
My second point centers on Schlessinger’s misunderstanding of the “freedoms” she and other conservatives are so fond of touting.
She should go back and read a high school civics text. As she told Larry King:
Well, I’m here to say that my contract is up for my radio show at the end of the year and I have made the decision not to do radio anymore. The reason is: I want to regain my First Amendment rights. I want to be able to say what’s on my mind, and in my heart, what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry, some special interest group deciding this is a time to silence a voice of dissent, and attack affiliates and attack sponsors.
What tripe! What a perfect example of the sort of trumped-up victimhood she is fond of denouncing on the radio!
Nobody took her First Amendment rights. She is free to use the n-word as often as she likes. But other people have First Amendment rights to be outraged about it and to say so.
The First Amendment does not protect you from other people’s anger. Is she kidding?