Dr. Laura’s Racism Goes Way Past the N-Word

Another conservative gabber gets attention by getting offensive. The real problem's deeper than the words.

By Julianne Hing Aug 13, 2010

Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the talk radio host whose conservative family values call-in hour has built her a large media empire, is in trouble for dropping the n-word on-air. The call happened a few days ago. A black woman named Jade wanted advice for how to handle racist remarks her white husband’s family was making in front of her. But instead of empathy–Dr. Laura’s no Delilah–Jade got dismissiveness and brusque words of "advice." And a string of racial epithets from the talk doctor.

Dr. Laura didn’t seem to understand why it was in such poor taste. Her defense? "Black guys say it all the time." 

She apologized, both on-air and on her blog. But the damage had already been done.

Over at The American Prospect, where you can listen to the call, Jamelle Bouie says in any case there is far more to be angry about in that phone call than the n-word:

That said, of everything in that exchange, Dr. Laura’s use of the N-word was the least offensive — and least racist — element; quoting racial slurs isn’t cool — they’re still racial slurs, with all the historical baggage that includes — but you can imagine scenarios where quoting a racial slur is appropriate to the conversation.

In actuality, it’s the rest of her rant that drips with racial animus. To recap: Dr. Laura immediately dismisses her caller’s problems, uses a racist joke to prove her non-racism, insists that black people voted for Obama over nothing but racial solidarity (as if pre-Obama, African Americans never voted for Democrats), strongly resents the fact that "black guys" can use the N-word but she can’t, and declares that "if you’re that hypersensitive about color and don’t have a sense of humor, don’t marry outside of your race." Dr. Laura isn’t known for her sensitivity, but this is an impressive display of raw racial resentment.

The Root‘s Cord Jefferson adds:

If you choose to believe that a word can be so intensely influential that it will ruin your day if you hear it, regardless of how it’s used, Schlessinger and her ilk are going to continue bleating it whenever possible, because above all, they adore having the ability to manipulate your emotions. But if you’re willing to think critically about the word itself, the way it’s used and who’s using it, you’ll probably be able to move past the nonsensical "n-word" circus and find the real things to be angry about.

I know Dr. Laura’s shtick well. My mom was a great fan of her show, even owned a book or two by the woman, and would pick me and my sister up from American school with the radio tuned to Dr. Laura’s afternoon show for the ride to Chinese school. It is Dr. Laura and her affection for the phrase "shacking up" that introduced 7-year-old me to the no-no’s of premarital sex and cohabitation. (In hindsight, Dr. Laura was likely a stand-in for all the sex talk my mom didn’t feel comfortable having with me directly.) 

My mom has since found other radio personalities to follow–thank you, Rachel Maddow–but Dr. Laura’s brash moralizing has always stayed with me. She’s not big on feelings, let alone introspection. She’s about doing what’s right, which means doing what’s morally virtuous. Except, like every hypocrite, she alone sets the standards of acceptability.

The uproar will die down, and Dr. Laura, temporarily cowed, will be more mindful of her language in the future. It was comforting to know even she acknowledged she’d crossed a line. But will she stop talking long enough to think about the rest of the segment, the myriad other offensive comments she made in the course of the call? It’s doubtful.