By Marc H. Morial
President and CEO
National Urban League
Here we go again. One more time, a clueless commentator with a microphone and an audience of millions, has brazenly insulted Black America and reacted as if we were the perpetrators. The latest incident involves Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the host of the Dr. Laura radio show. On August 10th, Dr. Laura made racially insensitive statements and repeatedly used the “n-word” in responding to Jade, a black woman caller, who complained that her white husband’s friends and relatives use racial slurs and make racially demeaning comments in front of her.
Instead of offering helpful advice, Dr. Laura scoffed, “some people are hypersensitive.” She noted that “black guys” use the n-word “all the time,” and repeated the word 11 times during the call for emphasis. But her most revealing comment was, “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.” As she admitted, Dr. Schlessinger most emphatically doesn’t get it and she is very confused about what constitutes racism. It is beyond comprehension that she would consider Jade “hypersensitive” for being offended by the n-word.
Dr. Schlessinger’s comments, which can be heard in their entirety at http://mediamatters.org/blog/201008120045, created a national uproar. Millions of people of all races were offended by her insensitive and highly offensive on-air rant. Her resignation on August 18th came just five days after the National Urban League urged the Talk Radio Network to drop the Dr. Laura Show from syndication; and it demonstrates the impact people of good conscience can have when they speak out against intolerance. Several days after the incident, Dr. Schlessinger did issue a written apology which said in part, “I was attempting to make a philosophical point, and I articulated the “n” word all the way out – more than one time. And that was wrong. I’ll say it again – that was wrong.” That is an understatement. We cannot help but wonder, as did Nita Hanson (Jade’s real name), how Dr. Schlessinger, who grew up during the height of the civil rights movement, and who once was a practicing marriage and family counselor, could not understand how hurtful the n-word is to most Americans. It is also disturbing that former vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin would publicly say to Dr. Schlessinger, “Don’t retreat…reload.” That kind of pandering to the basest element of the American electorate is highly offensive, inflammatory and counterproductive.
Dr. Schlessinger claims she resigned to “regain her Constitutional right to free speech.” That is ludicrous on its face. Nobody has prevented her or her supporters from speaking their minds. But nobody is also preventing the public from reacting. It should be noted that following her remarks, several of her affiliates and major sponsors dropped her show. That was their Constitutional right.
As the nation works toward racial reconciliation and a celebration of diversity, we find it necessary to make it clear once again that this kind of divisiveness and casual use of racial slurs have no place among the public discourse.