Dr. Laura, she of over fifteen years of talk show stardom, she who coined the self-descriptor “America’s #1 Female Talk Radio Host,” is going off air at the end of the year. Last week the talk show host got into trouble for a segment with a black female caller, and spewed the n-word 11 times over the course of 5 minutes.
The talk show host went on Larry King to explain her decision not to re-up her contract:
“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.
“I’m sort of done with that. I’m not retiring. I’m not quitting. I feel energized actually, stronger and freer to say the things that I believe need to be said for people in this country.”
Last week, Dr. Laura was remorseful, but clearly she’s decided to go out guns blazing, unrepentant to the end. She also said:
“Black guys use it all the time. Turn on HBO and listen to a black comic, and all you hear is (n-word), (n-word), (n-word). I don’t get it. If anybody without enough melanin says it, it’s a horrible thing. But when black people say it, it’s affectionate. It’s very confusing.”
No, Dr. Laura, it’s not that confusing. And over the course of the rest of the phone call she said plenty more that revealed just how deep her biases go.
However, every time foot-in-mouth disease creeps up on public figures, the larger point gets lost in the furor. For that it’s time to sift through the ColorLines archives, because you know one of us has gone through this before. Kai Wright did, in fact, back when a similar controversy with talk radio host Don Imus leveled his offensive comments at Rutgers University womens basketball team:
Starting in the mid 1970s, conservative thinkers began championing a new “colorblind” society, in which Jim Crow’s bald, institutional barriers to equality had been removed and the vexing race problem had been solved. Our political and cultural understanding of bigotry quickly devolved from the collective to the individual - racism, Ramos argues, was reduced to “individual acts of meanness” carried out by a few ignorant jerks.
The distinction is a substantive one. If racism is personal rather than structural, then racial inequalities are as well. If oppression takes place at the individual level, then liberation must, too.
Society-wide remedies like affirmative action are thus poorly conceived, it is argued, because they drag perfectly well behaved white individuals into the ugly process of dealing with inequality. If you’ve never called someone a “nappy headed ho,” why should you have to be involved in righting the racial imbalance at your local university? Because ending bigotry means doing more than clucking our tongues at a few dirty words.
So Dr. Laura, you can rest knowing that racism is much bigger than your repugnant remarks alone. And yet, good riddance. You won’t disappear for very long, but the airwaves won’t miss you while you’re gone.