If you don't have the time to listen to the call, or don't work in a place where repeated racial slurs are acceptable, I'll sum it up for you. Schlessinger received a call from a black woman married to a white man asking for advice on dealing with her husband's friends and family, who seemed to constantly bring up her race. Her response was to say the woman was hypersensitive, and that if we live in an America which elected a black President, clearly white people aren't racist anymore and she needs to get a sense of humor. Laura also repeatedly through the call insisted on using the n-word, asking why if comedians on HBO can use it, why can't she?
This generated a fair deal of controversy, culminating in Schlessinger announcing on Larry King Live that she will not renew the contract for her radio show. Says the doctor of physiology; "The reason is I want to regain my First Amendment rights. I want to be able to say what is on my mind and in my heart, what I think is useful and helpful 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." This is not the first time she has suffered for exercising her freedom of speech. Ten years ago, Dr. Laura came under fire for describing homosexuality as "a biological error." Protests by gay rights groups put an end to her television show after just one season.
There are many places to go with this, I'm going to attempt touching on all of them.
In regards to Dr. Laura herself; she is at best narrow-minded, and worst willfully cruel. She claims to promote doing the right thing and strengthening morals, so what could possible convince her that saying the n-word over and over again to an African-American caller was the correct course of action? She also insisted that "without giving much thought, a lot of black people 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." Then she told Larry King she was looking forward to being able to talk without "special interests" infringing on her First Amendment rights.
So, to be clear, in the world of Laura Schlessinger, black people are a special interest group.
Now, let's get to this issue about her First Amendment rights. This is America, and Schlessinger is absolutely right; she has the freedom to express herself and her opinions. Nobody has the right to infringe on that. If people don't want to hear it, they're free to change the station. But this goes both ways. Laura has the right to state her opinion, and everybody else in America has the right to say how they feel about it. If enough people say they're outraged by what she said enough to change that station, then her station and her sponsors have the right to express themselves by pulling their support. If you're going to apply the rights granted all Americans to yourself in an argument, you can't have them count less for the rest of the country.
Simply put, everyone has the right to free speech, but you're expected to exercise it with at least a touch of common sense. Dr. Laura spouted out a racial slur repeatedly and then complained that it was infringing on her First Amendment rights to prevent her from doing so. This isn't really the case. She can make as many derogatory remarks towards black people as she wants - but if they get angry, that's their right, too. That's everybody's right - you can say whatever you want to, but you have to be prepared to deal with the repercussions. The First Amendment is not a shield to keep you safe from criticism. It is an inalienable right granted to all Americans - not just the ones whose opinions agree with yours.
My father once told me he'd love to see a day where people can use whatever words they want to without offending anybody. He is of the school of thought that if white people want to use the n-word, they should be able to. It's just a word, and words only have power if we allow them to, after all. I spoke to someone else who said they want to see a time when the word is rendered inert; still part of the social conscious, but no longer offensive. There might have been a time when calling someone a silly ninny was cause enough to earn a slap with a white glove, but such times have passed in all but the roughest of British neighborhoods.
But this is different.
This is not a word used to address a general audience. This was a word that was used for centuries to oppress and denigrate human beings for no other reason than the color of their skin. It is the vessel for hundreds of years of hatred and bigotry shoveled upon one race by another. Why can't white people casually use this word? Because we did, endlessly, for 400 years. We used it through slavery. We used it through Jim Crow. We used it through the Civil Rights era. We still use it today, with anonymity the internet provides allowing a whole new generation to use that word with abandon.
People like to act like the n-word just casually came into the vernacular one day amongst black people, and now whites are all confused as to why it's so offensive when they use it. Of course, there are also people who know exactly where it came from and what it encapsulates and insist on using it anyway. Dr. Laura seems like an educated woman. I wonder which camp she falls into.
Words will always have power. That power is why people consider their words before breaking bad news to a friend. It's what gives a politician the ability to sway the masses. That power is what makes us go see a movie or a play, at least the ones largely devoid of explosions. Words will always move us, always change us, always challenge us, and to say you hope for a time when anyone can say anything without consequence just goes to show me that I've already learned more than my Dad has on this subject. I'd say more than Laura Schlessinger too, but I think it's a safe bet that she knew exactly what she was doing when she used the n-word so many times on a national broadcast. She just didn't think the repercussions would be quite so bad as they were.
Or maybe she just is a bigoted idiot. I'm not here to judge. The West Wing on the other hand -
That draws the era of the Dr. Laura show to a close. Someone else will just fill her shoes, just like has happened to other people over other scandals (or "rows," as the BBC calls them). It probably will not be the end of Schlessinger herself, however. For people who want to feign ignorance over the power of words, she'll be there to talk. For people who want to espouse the evils of homosexuality, she'll be there to talk. For as long as America enjoys listening to someone hypocritically degrading others for their perceived mistakes, she'll be there to talk. She said on Larry King that she still has views to express, and wants a medium where she is free to do so. She'll probably find it, and people will probably keep on listening.
After all, it's her right to talk. It's their right to listen.
And it's the right of anyone who disagrees to talk back.