Dr. Laura, Racism and Homophobia
Laurie K. Schenden
Dr. Laura will kiss her talk radio show goodbye at the end of the year when her contract is up because of comments to an African American caller. The woman was looking for help regarding what she believed was racist treatment by her white husband’s family and neighbors.
It’s reciting the N-word that got Dr. Laura in trouble. But what stood out for me was the way she insinuated that an African American in the White House signals the end of racism in our country. She quickly turned a woman’s personal plea into an opportunity to voice her own opinion about race in America.
When Dr. Laura said to her caller: “We've got a black man as president, and we have more complaining about racism than ever. I mean, I think that's hilarious.”
More complaining than ever? I believe that most American citizens at least appear to accept that Blacks and Whites will live, work, shop and eat together, and sometimes Whites and Blacks will marry.
However, anyone who says that the election of an African American president means that we are no longer a racist society is deluding herself. The election of an African American leader has merely taken racism to a new level. The evidence is in the news, on television and especially on talk radio, where wealthy white guys heatedly stir up hostilities and insist that the current president does not deserve respect, should be regarded with suspicion and, in some circles, is a foreigner and a terrorist plant.
Society has reached a certain level of tolerance with regards to race but in some minds, a black man as president has gone too far. There are a lot of similarities here with homosexuality.
A lot of people are accepting of a gay relative or seeing Ellen on TV or movie stars such as Sean Penn and Annette Bening playing gay characters or Adam Sandler as a guy pretending to be gay. But now society is being forced to deal with gay people on a new level because of the gay marriage issue and it is only willing to go so far.
The issue of gay marriage takes people out of their comfort zone and introduces them to a whole new level of tolerance and acceptance that some are not ready to ascend.
Listening to the recording of Dr. Laura’s show, it sounds as if she eagerly leapt at the chance to share her own opinions about Barack Obama, which had nothing to do with the woman’s call. She also had little patience for the woman’s plight and suggested that she had no right to feel marginalized.
I’m not perfect, I’ve said things that I’ve wondered later if they were racist, insensitive, insulting or just stupid. But Dr. Laura showed a hefty amount of bluster and very little empathy for her caller simply because it appeared that she was sick of hearing about racism.
I imagine that the caller was just as sick of hearing the stupid comments that lead her to make the call in the first place.
Here's a link to Dr. Laura’s radio broadcast through The Young Turks:
Media Matters: Dr. Laura audio and transcript
On August 10, Dr. Laura Schlessinger launched into a racially charged rant, during which Schlessinger—in her own words—"articulated the 'n' word all the way out—more than one time." Among other things, Schlessinger also told an African-American caller that she had a "chip on [her] shoulder." Schlessinger has since apologized for her remarks, but audio from the discussion appears to have been excised from the recording of that day's show that appears on Schlessinger's website. Media Matters has obtained full audio of Schlessinger's comments:
SCHLESSINGER: Jade, welcome to the program.
CALLER: Hi, Dr. Laura.
CALLER: I'm having an issue with my husband where I'm starting to grow very resentful of him. I'm black, and he's white. We've been around some of his friends and family members who start making racist comments as if I'm not there or if I'm not black. And my husband ignores those comments, and it hurts my feelings. And he acts like—
SCHLESSINGER: Well, can you give me an example of a racist comment? 'Cause sometimes people are hypersensitive. So tell me what's—give me two good examples of racist comments.
CALLER: OK. Last night—good example—we had a neighbor come over, and this neighbor—when every time he comes over, it's always a black comment. It's, "Oh, well, how do you black people like doing this?" And, "Do black people really like doing that?" And for a long time, I would ignore it. But last night, I got to the point where it—
SCHLESSINGER: I don't think that's racist.
CALLER: Well, the stereotype—
SCHLESSINGER: I don't think that's racist. No, I think that—
SCHLESSINGER: No, no, no. I think that's—well, listen, without giving much thought, a lot of blacks 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. That's not a surprise. Not everything that somebody says—we had friends over the other day; we got about 35 people here—the guys who were gonna start playing basketball. I was going to go out and play basketball. My bodyguard and my dear friend is a black man. And I said, "White men can't jump; I want you on my team." That was racist? That was funny.
CALLER: How about the N-word? So, the N-word's been thrown around—
SCHLESSINGER: Black guys use it all the time. Turn on HBO, listen to a black comic, and all you hear is n-----, n-----, n------.
CALLER: That isn't—
SCHLESSINGER: 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. Don't hang up, I want to talk to you some more. Don't go away.
I'm Dr. Laura Schlessinger. I'll be right back.
SCHLESSINGER: I'm Dr. Laura Schlessinger, talking to Jade. What did you think about during the break, by the way?
CALLER: I was a little caught back by the N-word that you spewed out, I have to be honest with you. But my point is, race relations—
SCHLESSINGER: Oh, then I guess you don't watch HBO or listen to any black comedians.
CALLER: But that doesn't make it right. I mean, race is a [unintelligible]
SCHLESSINGER: My dear, my dear—
CALLER:—since Obama's been in office—
SCHLESSINGER: —the point I'm trying to make—
CALLER: —racism has come to another level that's unacceptable.
SCHLESSINGER: Yeah. We've got a black man as president, and we have more complaining about racism than ever. I mean, I think that's hilarious.
CALLER: But I think, honestly, because there's more white people afraid of a black man taking over the nation.
SCHLESSINGER: They're afraid.
CALLER: If you want to be honest about it [unintelligible]
SCHLESSINGER: Dear, they voted him in. Only 12 percent of the population's black. Whites voted him in.
CALLER: It was the younger generation that did it. It wasn't the older white people who did it.
SCHLESSINGER: Oh, OK.
CALLER: It was the younger generation—
SCHLESSINGER: All right. All right.
CALLER:—that did it.
SCHLESSINGER: Chip on your shoulder. I can't do much about that.
CALLER: It's not like that.
SCHLESSINGER: Yeah. I think you have too much sensitivity—
CALLER: So it's OK to say "n-----"?
SCHLESSINGER: —and not enough sense of humor.
CALLER: It's OK to say that word?
SCHLESSINGER: It depends how it's said.
CALLER: Is it OK to say that word? Is it ever OK to say that word?
SCHLESSINGER: It's—it depends how it's said. Black guys talking to each other seem to think it's OK.
CALLER: But you're not black. They're not black. My husband is white.
SCHLESSINGER: Oh, I see. So, a word is restricted to race. Got it. Can't do much about that.
CALLER: I can't believe someone like you is on the radio spewing out the "n-----" word, and I hope everybody heard it.
SCHLESSINGER: I didn't spew out the "n-----" word.
CALLER: You said, "N-----, n-----, n-----."
SCHLESSINGER: Right, I said that's what you hear.
CALLER: Everybody heard it.
SCHLESSINGER: Yes, they did.
CALLER: I hope everybody heard it.
SCHLESSINGER: They did, and I'll say it again—
CALLER: So what makes it OK for you to say the word?
SCHLESSINGER: —n-----, n-----, n----- is what you hear on HB—
CALLER: So what makes it—
SCHLESSINGER: Why don't you let me finish a sentence?
SCHLESSINGER: Don't take things out of context. Don't double N—NAACP me. Tape the—
CALLER: I know what the NAACP—
SCHLESSINGER: Leave them in context.
CALLER: I know what the N-word means and I know it came from a white person. And I know the white person made it bad.
SCHLESSINGER: All right. Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Can't have this argument. You know what? If you're that hypersensitive about color and don't have a sense of humor, don't marry out of your race. If you're going to marry out of your race, people are going to say, "OK, what do blacks think? What do whites think? What do Jews think? What do Catholics think?" Of course there isn't a one-think per se. But in general there's "think."
And what I just heard from Jade is a lot of what I hear from black-think—and it's really distressting [sic] and disturbing. And to put it in its context, she said the N-word, and I said, on HBO, listening to black comics, you hear "n-----, n-----, n-----." I didn't call anybody a n-----. Nice try, Jade. Actually, sucky try.
Need a sense of humor, sense of humor—and answer the question. When somebody says, "What do blacks think?" say, "This is what I think. This is what I read that if you take a poll the majority of blacks think this." Answer the question and discuss the issue. It's like we can't discuss anything without saying there's -isms?
We have to be able to discuss these things. We're people—goodness gracious me. Ah—hypersensitivity, OK, which is being bred by black activists. I really thought that once we had a black president, the attempt to demonize whites hating blacks would stop, but it seems to have grown, and I don't get it. Yes, I do. It's all about power. I do get it. It's all about power and that's sad because what should be in power is not power or righteousness to do good—that should be the greatest power.
This is what the Huffington Post had to say about the incident:
Lincoln Mitchell: Radio personality Dr. Laura Schlessinger's recent racially tinged comments are in some respects, just another offensive reactionary rant at a time when radio talk shows seem more filled with hate and vitriol than ever before. However, these remarks, which were in response to an African American caller who was upset about racist remarks made by her white husband and his family, also offer some insight into how race and racism is understood today when for the first time in history the president is African American.
While Dr. Laura's comments are initially most shocking because of the frequency with which she used the N-Word as well as apparent pleasure she seemed to be experiencing by saying it, some of her comments were more disturbing. Moreover, these comments should not be dismissed too quickly as the rantings of just one radio host because they reflect a great deal about contemporary understandings of race.
Before Dr. Laura ever pronounced the N-Word on her show she asked the caller to "give an example of a racist comment". She asked for this not to understand the story better or to empathize with the caller but because, according to Dr. Laura "some people are hypersensitive". This is important because it reflects an approach to racism that burdens the victim even more. Dr. Laura's approach, which unfortunately is not hers alone, suggests that if an African American person is experiencing racism, the appropriate response is not concern, but suspicion.
A few seconds later Schlessinger made a comment that is both baffling and disturbing, as well as something of a non-sequiter: "Without giving much thought, a lot of blacks voted for Obama simply because he was half black...It was a black thing." This was Dr. Laura's response to the caller being upset that white guests in her home seem obsessed with talking about what African Americans do and like. Leaving aside Schlessinger's use of the phrase "half black", a strange phrase to use in a country where apartheid was always enforced based on the one drop rule, the comment bears closer scrutiny.
Many casual listeners would agree with the good doctor's assertions as Obama did very well with African American voters who, according to a racist way of thinking, couldn't possibly have voted for Obama based on his positions on the issues. The data, however, suggests that Obama's African American support was based on more than racial affinity. African American voters cast 95 percent of their votes for Obama, but this was consistent with the support African Americans generally give to Democratic candidates, regardless of race. It was only a slight uptick from the 88 percent they cast for John Kerry in 2004 or the 90 percent they cast for Al Gore in 2000. The reason why African American support for Obama is relevant to a question about enduring racism in your own home is not clear, but the association between the two in the mind of Dr. Laura suggests her resentment runs pretty deep.
After these comments, Schlessinger noted that African Americans use the N-Word but that it is not all right for white people to use that same word. This may seem, in Schlessinger's words "very confusing", but to genuinely be confused by this one would have to have absolutely no understanding of context, intent, narrative or any of the other concepts that undergird human communication. Even without an understanding of any of that, a simpler notion that you shouldn't call people names they have made clear they don't like seemed to elude Schlessinger as well.
For many people, noting that the election of Barack Obama does not mean that racism is a thing of the past is so obvious that it borders on being pedantic. Dr. Laura's comment after her burst of using the N-Word, "we've got a black man as president and we've got more complaining about racism than ever. I think that's hilarious", indicates that this may not be so obvious for everybody. It cannot escape notice that the caller, seeking help for a difficult personal situation focused on specific incidents that have occurred in her home and the homes of her friends and family. The caller is obviously not the first person to have encountered racism of this kind. Dr. Laura, however, on two separate occasions in a brief conversation brings the discussion back to our African American president. The question the caller raised was personal, not political, but Schlessinger seemed to have a hard time keeping her distaste and resentment for the president under wraps. Given that her comments about President Obama are bracketed by liberal use of the N-Word, it is difficult to conclude that there is not a racial component to this.
Dr. Laura's later half apologized for her use of the N-Word, expressing regret for "losing the point I was trying to make." However, Schlessinger made her point all too clearly, touching on all the major talking points of the new racism: the real problem is that African Americans are over-sensitive; knowing whether or not it is okay to use the N-Word is "very confusing"; and African Americans should stop complaining because the President, for whom they mindlessly voted is African American.
Follow Lincoln Mitchell on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LincolnMitchell
Blogger Bio: For more than a decade Laurie Schenden has covered the entertainment industry for Curve, the Los Angeles Times and Germany's Spotlight magazine. Her cover stories for Curve magazine have included Sharon Stone, Melissa Etheridge, and the cast of The L Word. She’s also an award winning documentary filmmaker and one of the co-creators of the Laughing Matters film series, seen on Logo.