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Dr. Laura's N-Word rant -- the one thing you can't say

Maybe we, as a society, are being too hard on people.

Somehow, we want people to be great actors, great comedians and perfectly alright syndicated advice-givers and also not go on to give sudden, epithet-filled diatribes. Could we be asking too much?

The track record, so far, is not great.

Mel Gibson became a famous actor because he was able to yell at people and pretend he had just blown large things up. That was all we asked of him. That, and not randomly going on anti-Semitic diatribes when drunk.

We all know how that turned out.

And then Michael Richards. He was so good on Seinfeld, and so unobjectionable on that other show whose name escapes me at the moment. In exchange for a Michael-Richards-like level of fame, he just had to do one simple thing: not suddenly shout racial epithets at comedy club patrons. But, apparently, that was just too much.

Even Jennifer Aniston’s stepped in it lately, in a milder form, by calling herself “a retard.” All I can say is that, if you’re paying attention to the content of Jennifer Aniston’s remarks, you’re a -- fool.

And then there’s Dr. Laura, whose sudden n-word-spewing diatribe has been dominating the airwaves for days.

What happens to these people? Is it some secret condition of fame that, once you step on the public stage and people begin looking up to you, you get the overwhelming urge to go on an epithet-filled rant?

Millions of people go to their graves without ever going on an n-word-laden rant! Why can’t people like Dr. Laura do the same?

In the charmed lives of celebrities in which all other impulses can be gratified, this is the one point on which we, as a society, have put our foot down. “Here is the line,” we say. “If you go out without underwear, we will be mildly upset. If you decide to join a strange religious sect, we will bite our tongues and meagerly attend 'Knight and Day.' If you get ten plastic surgeries in a day, we will put your photo on the cover of People magazine. Just no racial epithets.” Other offenses get you jailed. But this one gets you dismantled -- publicly, and permanently. It’s the one absolutely verboten thing.

Could that be why? In the perverse Eden of celebrity, is the one forbidden fruit just too overwhelming for some? But if so, why has this never happened to Lindsay Lohan, who at this point is basically a walking id?

Oscar Wilde said that “Formerly we used to canonize our heroes. The modern method is to vulgarize them.” We no longer canonize anybody. We scarcely expect them to stay sober or avoid extramarital affairs. We’ve abandoned all our other standards in the hopes that this one rule will stick. “Come on,” we say. “Here’s a mnemonic device. Celebrities don’t have to wear underpants / Just please, please guys, no racial rants.”

Maybe we need a better mnemonic device. Or maybe we should just go all the way. No rules, no restrictions -- but no idolization. We’ve ceased to have much to celebrate about these celebrities. Maybe it’s time to complete the vulgarizing. “Sure, these people are famous,” we'll say. “Just don’t listen to them or emulate them. Ever.”

By Alexandra Petri  | August 20, 2010; 7:42 PM ET
Categories:  Petri  | Tags:  Alexandra Petri  
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Comments

"...this is the one point on which we, as a society, have put our foot down...."

BS! The word is said and sung and rapped by blacks but is not allowed to be uttered by a white under ANY circumstance. It is a symbol of power and control. And, in this case, it is being used as a weapon to destroy Dr. Laura.

Posted by: kitchendragon50 | August 20, 2010 8:56 PM | Report abuse

Yes, some of us go through life without any urge to rant about this, that, or the next thing, using terms known to offend a particular suspect classification. Why do you suppose that is?

Perhaps it's because the attitude toward these suspect classifications, behind using such derogatory terms, does not reside in our minds. Obviously the attitude that would allow one to go off on a person using those terms does reside with Dr. Laura.

Today it's called political correctness. A long time ago, it was called common courtesy or class! Dr. Laura obviously has neither!

Posted by: risejugger | August 20, 2010 10:02 PM | Report abuse

What part of this do white people not understand? For more than 2 centuries, white people used the N-word to minimize, humiliate, denegrate, and demonize blacks. It is a remarkable testament to human resilience and to African-American people particularly that we use the term among ourselves in a more jocular sense. But how is it that a psychologist whose profession demands a deeper understanding of human vulnerabilities and defenses could fail to comprehend the significance of her words and actions in the case at hand? There are circumstances where the terms "honky" or "red-neck" might come to mind, but common decency, I would think, dictate that I would not use these terms in the presence of white people. How could they not be felt as offensive and dismissive? I don't know if white people might use these terms among themselves, but I suspect that is so. Nevertheless, that does not change the context of one race addressing or referring to another; propriety and respect clearly tell us when there is a line in the sand - linguistically speaking.

Posted by: Jazzman7 | August 20, 2010 10:09 PM | Report abuse

You used the "n-word" three times in this posting, so why shouldn't you be fired?

And don't say the "n-word" is not the same as the "n-word", because what else could it be?

Posted by: Delongl | August 20, 2010 10:18 PM | Report abuse

What happens to these people, you ask. Well, in Dr. Laura's case it's megalomania. She long ago decided that it's OK to verbally abuse her callers because she's always right about everything. The only time she doesn't interrupt a caller is when that person is telling her how wonderful she is. Hubris finally tripped her up.

Posted by: angelas1 | August 21, 2010 1:03 AM | Report abuse

We fought the bloodiest war in our history over the issue of black slavery. And the nation did not even ostensibly embrace the idea of real equality of the black race until a century later -- the late 1960s (if then). So why should it surprise anyone that racism against Blacks continues to exist in many guises. Because I am not black, I cannot fully comprehend the use of the n word by blacks amongst themselves. As a result, I have no reason and no legitimacy ever talking about that use. On the other hand, I know what it means when a white persons says it, and it is never okay except as a quote of something said by a black. The only people who challenge these basic rules are white racists who want to claim that blacks are racists. Its always comforting to pick on a helpless minority when one is down, but you have to ask yourself are you really down because of the helpless minority or is somebody else keeping you down -- someone who has actual power [which minorities do not]

Posted by: mapunapuna | August 21, 2010 6:28 AM | Report abuse

We have to put our foot down on race because of our horrible legacy of slavery and racism and its legacy of persistent racism. It should be simple for conservatives to understand this, because once the moral fabric of the American people has turned against an evil value such as racism it must be vigilantly confronted and defeated where ever it arises. That is the true genius of the American way.

Posted by: mapunapuna | August 21, 2010 6:45 AM | Report abuse

friends who get you in trouble?

does dr laura actually watch black comedians on HBO and stay tuned long enough to hear them repeat the n-word?? how did don imus come across the term nappy headed hos? i*ve always wondered about that.

maybe other people brought these ideas to their attention and they decided to work them into their schtick? these two do ongoing radio shows and they*ve got to come up with material.

so dr. laura decides to jump into the fray regarding the n-word...but how to bring it up? when 'jade' called for advice about her problematic relatives and acquaintences who use that word...bingo...the perfect opportunity.

except the folks who use that word in jade's presence aren't black comedians on hbo. dr. laura could have used a segue in there...and said something like...you know jade, i*ve been wondering why that word is used at all by anyone, given its history. that's a valid point. except then dr. laura would have been guilty of another of the issues about which jade complained: folks asking one black person what the entire group is thinking.

the woman is asking about people in her life...not comedians. focus, dr. laura, focus.

it's all about the benjamins

now remember, the trick is to generate controversy and get ratings so advertisers will spend money during your radio time slot. but while generating controversy, rule #1 is to get close to the edge without falling off and in the process pissing people off so they will complain to your sponsors.

gosh, this is such a $lippery $lope. sometimes, it's just best to hit the edit button on yourself before you give that hot button issue a test drive.

the black comedian paul mooney used to use the n-word years ago, joking that repeating it made his teeth white. mooney, who wrote for another comedian who abandoned the word -- richard pryor, doesn't use the word anymore. mooney now compares himself to a recovering addict. so this particular black comedian is suggesting that dr. laura get some treatment.

maybe dr. laura should invite paul mooney to be a guest...

Posted by: margalit1 | August 21, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

she's stupid as shi*!

Posted by: lorenzoepps | August 21, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

The disgust was not saying the "N" word as much as this lovely lady respected her enough to ask for her advice and she in return just went on a "racial rant from hell".

What she was she thinking!!!! It had to be somewhere in her heart, mind and soul or perhaps she was the one that needed counseling on diversity and how to be sensitive on such issues. She just said what she herself learned from others of hatred.

Then dumb Palin gets in on it and just screws up the First Amendment. Well, let's just say, she missed The Bill of Rights period. As usual she gets the tail end of everything.

Dr. Laura Blacks have a different mannerism when expressing the "N" word. Culturally it is used by Blacks lovingly to avoid the hurt of it all. This is how they dealt with the constant pain of it all. Of course you are confused-you have never been a slave or treated lower than life.

Perhaps NAACP can enlighten you and perhaps the next time they will have a list of qualified analyst others can call for help-not Dr. Laura who has issues herself and think we forgive her-NOT!!!
Know you want the ratings back-not from us.

Posted by: Scar1 | August 21, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

As an interracial dating expert, I thought Dr. Laura's comments were beyond insensitive, not just the N-word rant, but that is it was so misplaced. This was not a conversation about being PC or even racist, it was a woman with a real marital problem that was reaching out for advice, which is really hard for most people and instead of really listening and helping her with her problem Dr. Laura uses Jade to put forth her own agenda.

But I don't think making a big deal about the N-wrod is the solution either. If you tell people not to say something that is when they want to more.

We recently launched a blog, Racy JC that focuses on dating within different races and cultures (Asian, Black, Indian, Jewish, Latino, among others) and approaches these issues in a new, honest, real, and non-PC way. Please check it out! Racy JC

http://jcdaviesauthor.com/
social media: jcdaviesauthor

As an interracial dating expert, I thought Dr. Laura's comments were beyond insensitive, not just the N-word rant, but that is it was so misplaced. This was not a conversation about being PC or even racist, it was a woman with a real marital problem that was reaching out for advice, which is really hard for most people and instead of really listening and helping her with her problem Dr. Laura uses Jade to put forth her own agenda. Dr. Laura when it becomes more about ratings than helping people I think its time to hang up your microphone and do something else. People call relationship experts to be heard and for understanding, Dr. Laura offered this woman neither.

We recently launched a blog, Racy JC that focuses on dating within different races and cultures (Asian, Black, Indian, Jewish, Latino, among others) and approaches these issues in a new, honest, real, and non-PC way. Please check it out! Racy JC

http://jcdaviesauthor.com/
social media: jcdaviesauthor

Posted by: RacyJC | August 21, 2010 8:04 PM | Report abuse

Why are blacks the only group who have a word they can use but no one else can?

Posted by: Jmacaco4 | August 22, 2010 8:24 AM | Report abuse

Dr. Laura is a bitter old scold. She married good after a troubled beginning she then launched into a carrier scolding people dumb enough to listen and call her show.

Posted by: knjincvc | August 23, 2010 2:14 AM | Report abuse

"Can't say."

What do you mean "Can't say?"

Of course I can say it.

I can say all sorts of stuff.

YOU have to hear me and intervene to stop me. Even then it may be difficult.

As with Dr. Laura.

We are supposed to have "freedom of speech."

I suppose.

But the mantra of the Post is "Yes, but..."

Thank you for sharing.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | August 23, 2010 6:31 AM | Report abuse

Typical dust-up of our PC era. What Schlessinger said was obviously true and frank, but bad manners. In the media-political echo chamber, you can have the morals of a clam, as long as you have the manners of an equerry. And from the clips I heard, it sounded like the caller was a set-up. The caller also used the 'N' word.

Posted by: markrichardc | August 23, 2010 8:25 AM | Report abuse

First, I don't know why anyone would call DLS for advice unless it was for a joke. I know someone who did a number of years ago and it was hysterical -- she called about a real issue, but she knew better than to think that she'd get a helpful response.

Second, I know many African Americans who will not use the n-word; they find it offensive, whether uttered by someone white, black or canary-colored. They don't look for standards of behavior on HBO, as obviously some of the posters do.

And third, had the woman said "Dr. Laura, my husband's male friends and family refer to all women as cows, and ask me what the herd has to say about this or that, and my husband doesn't say a word against that," I can't help but think Dr. Laura's response would have been very different, particularly since I know the response she had for my friend in point one.

Posted by: tansymoth | August 23, 2010 9:59 AM | Report abuse

I wonder if Dr. Laura would have taken an "it's no big deal" approach if the word in question had been "k!ke."

Posted by: RoJaKa | August 23, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

There are, of course, abusers out there who should be shunned, but, context, in the individual event, must still be everything.
How, for instance, does one explain to his grandchildren it is generally offensive to use the, "n-word," without being able to tell them what the, "n-word," is, where it came from and why it is, in fact, considered offensive in most utterances?
How, too, is it not offensive when, in responding to one of my black (that's what they still call themselves after all these years)friends calling himself a, "dumb 'n-word'," I say, "You got that right," to smiles all around? In the latter instance, although the historical negative inferences are put in play by the politically correct user, no offense is intended on either side, nor implied or inferred by either
party.
Instead of helpful discussions, we are using rhetoric rather than dialogue - to everyone's detriment.

Posted by: djtscoop | August 23, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Dr. L was not wrong to raise the issue of the word, but it was wrong in the context. Here we have a woman asking for help on a real issue, and she is interrupted by this agent provocateur disguised as counselor.

Dr. L., if she is Board Certified somewhere, should be reported for misuse of the title. I challenge her or any of her supporters to provide an independent medical review that says she provided counseling of any kind.

Why does anyone listen to this woman, except to reinforce their own political views?

Jack

Posted by: whitehed | August 23, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

"Dr." Laura doesn't have a doctorate in the field she has been professionally counseling people for so many years. Her training is elsewhere. She has made many extreme comments in the past. The difference is now she has offended enough people. There is nothing new about her stupid comments except she's gotten more attention. Let's not pretend to be surprised by her.

Posted by: michbar2468 | August 23, 2010 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Dr. Laura in your gut, you know she's nuts.

Posted by: fare777 | August 23, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

A word which truly offends me is the b-word. My husband calls me a b-word almost daily. Just the other day our girl called me a b-word. I hear the b-word everywhere! Recently a father friend of ours, while swimming in our pool, yelled at his daughter, "You b-word! You splashed water on me!"

This is so disturbing. Each time one of us use the b-word we hurt the feelings of Bozo the Clown. How dispiriting for Bozo the Clown to walk though life knowing all are using his name as a disparaging remark. Poor Bozo, he probably feels like a b-word.

Oh gosh, politically correct left liberals will rant and rave about me for a month of Sundays, I inadvertently spelled out the b-word!

Worse, though, is our using the other b-word. Today, our girl stuck her tongue out at me, I yell at her, "You are such a b-word!" She grins, "I'm not a bozo!" Of course I must tell her, "I did not call you a bozo, I called you a b-word."

She is mortified, suddenly sad, crocodile tears pop out, "Momma, you called me a booger."

I am certain those boogers in her nose and in my nose, cringed with horror; we used their name in an unkind way.

Oh no! There I go again! I spelled out the other b-word. Darn if politically correct left liberals will not be after me with a hanging noose for my crime of the century.

There is a third b-word which is never be uttered much less ever thought. I broke a nail helping my husband pull weeds, made me cry, "My beautiful French cut fake nail is broken! Boo hoo!" My boy looks over, "Taha, shut up, you are such a big b-word."

I am so offended by his remark, "I am not a big b-word. Do you see me wearing dirty diapers? I am a grown woman not a big baby!"

Oh Hades, politically correct left liberals will lock me away in a federal maximum security prison for my spelling out the third b-word, the worst of all b-words.

I do not care, lock me up. I will still think in my mind all those hyphenated words we not allowed to say, "Bozo! Booger! Baby!"

Oh my, I being down right vulgar.

Okpulot Taha
Choctaw Nation

Posted by: PurlGurl | August 23, 2010 4:49 PM | Report abuse

English is not my native tongue. I am one of only about fifteen-thousand native tongue Choctaw speakers. This works well, I can cuss in my native tongue and none know, save for our girl and her father.

Although English is not my native tongue, I am an English professor and English teacher of over twenty years. I can write circles around your heads. I can speak circles around your minds. I can use words and have you hand over all your money to me. I am good.

Reason I am highly talented with English is I am not afraid of words, and I fiercely defend our right to free speech, a right recently robbed from Dr. Laura by anal retentive politically correct left liberals who insist we have no right to free speech.

My personal opinion is Americans are about as smart as a bucket of rocks and about as brave as a opossum, which is enunciated "possum" rather than "o-possum".

Had a British boy jump all over me, "an opossum not a opossum! an! an! an!" Bucket of rocks, he has a bucket of rocks resting where his head should be. I do not like language cops.

"A word is only offensive when wrapped within hatred" - Taha

n-word, c-word, b-word, r-word. Why do Americans talk like little children?

Why is this when Americans say "n-word" you assume none of us hear the real word in our minds? I would write out this real word but I would go the way of Dr. Laura; anal retentive politically correct baby words talking left liberals would run me out of town on a rail.

A person says, "n-word" I hear the full and real word in my mind. This speaker thinks, "She doesn't know what I said although she knows what I said.

I think "i-word" which is your hyphenated version of "idiot".

What is wrong with you Americans we cannot use certain select words during intelligent and meaningful dialog? There is no offense unless intended and obvious.

During a lecture to university students I am discussing etymology of racially tinged words, I advise my students, "Several centuries back our word 'negro' was common and acceptable and this word, over a century or so, morphed into '(insert the real n-word here which I am not allowed to write)' which was common but not acceptable." Some students cover their mouths, they are shocked. I continue, "Nonetheless, some of the best writers of literary history, such as Charles Dickens and Mark Twain, use this word freely, and this is acceptable. Context is what counts, not a specific word."

What offense have I committed? What offense did Dr. Laura commit?

I am sure with you now knowing Dickens and Twain used the n-word freely and generously, you politically correct left liberals will start up a worldwide Dickens and Twain book burning campaign.

This red skinned girl thinks each of you folks have a bucket of rocks for brains.

"A word is only offensive when wrapped within hatred" - Taha

Okpulot Taha
Choctaw Nation

Posted by: PurlGurl | August 23, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

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