Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Speaking of vile monsters...

When I heard that Dr. Laura Schlessinger had said the "N" word on air, I wanted to write about it. I figured I should listen to the clip first. I expected to get all morally outraged and stuff, but instead, I cried. 
I kind of understand people with peach skin who don't understand why that's not an OK word for peach people to say. I understand the motives of people with peach skin who will say the word in some contexts because they want to divest the word of its power (although I don't generally agree with their decision to do so). But her rant (for which she's really, really sorry, by the way) is almost heartbreaking. Heartbreaking that someone can be so callous and cruel, and heartbreaking that the cable news is abuzz with people defending her verbal sadism.
I'm going to site a billion reasons why Dr. Laura and anyone who defends her are idiots in a minute. But before I get there, I just want to point out that regardless of whether these black comedians all over HBO that Schlessinger refers to (I don't get HBO, so I'll have to assume it's an all-"N" word all the time station or something) should or shouldn't say the word, people who turn on the radio - brown people and people who aren't brown - don't deserve to hear themselves or their ideals attacked so viciously when they haven't done anything to deserve it. It's one thing to make the argument "white people should be allowed to say the 'N' word." It's another thing to just start lashing out, regardless of who might be listening and might be hurt, to prove this point.
Here's why individuals with peach-colored skin need to keep their freaking mouths shut when it comes to that one word:
  1. Are you four freaking years old? "The kid down the street gets to stay out past ten. Why can't I?? Black comedians on HBO get to say horrible, cruel, vile words, why can't I??" Boo freaking hoo. Grow up.
  2. What is it about this word that makes you so eager to say it? I mean, do you sit at home thinking "Oh, god why, oh why? My life would be so much better if I could just say N..."? There's no reason you need to use the word, dude. Not being able to say it isn't hurting you, it's not oppressing you, it's not even inconveniencing you (unless, maybe, you're narrating a Huck Finn audio book, in which case, you could probably get dispensation). So don't say it.
  3. The fact that some people on TV do it doesn't mean everyone else should do it. You know that scene in Reservoir Dogs where Michael Madsen cuts off the cop's ear? You shouldn't do that either.
  4. Dr. Laura demanded of the caller "Oh, you mean you don't watch BET?" Uh... ignoring the idiotically racist assumption that all people with brown skin watch BET for a minute... how often, exactly does BET use the "N" word? I've been watching BET the whole time I've been writing this post. Haven't heard the "N" word once. I did see an awesome Kung Fu action scene though. Maybe, since BET shows people doing Kung Fu, it should be okay to spend all day roundhouse-kicking black people too.
  5. Just because some people with brown skin are okay with saying it don't mean that all people with brown skin are okay with hearing it. Saying "Black people say it, so white people should be allowed to say it," is like saying "Some black people have sex consensually, so that means it's okay to rape black people."
  6. Context. Seriously. Schlessinger said it, and meant it, in a cruel, attacking way. She didn't say it in a "let's take away the word's power" way. She meant to hurt people with brown skin. She meant to deeply wound the caller. 
  7. Don't say words that hurt. Kindergarteners know that.
  8. When you kick your sister, it's roughhousing. If I kicked your sister, it would be assault. If you can't see the line between playful and hurtful, don't go near it.
But, you know, Dr. Laura's really sorry. So upset with herself that she took the afternoon off, even!


Cap'n Ergo "XL+II" Jinglebollocks said...

it's moments like these that I think of tossing away my edict to ignore pop culture...

And it's intersting, cuz I just FINISHED listening to Huck Finn about a week or so ago and the N word figgers highly in it, but from what I understand it was already on the outs even back then, and Twain was trying to make a point by using it.

And you're right: Black, White Ginger or Plaid, there is NO NEED to use the N word unless you're out to hurt someone somehow. Same with the word "faggot" and the word "retarded." NO reason.

Anonymous said...

I love #8. Best argument killer ever!

It's all about context, we used to have HBO and the only time I ever remember seeing something when that word was used was Dogma and it was coming out of Chris Rock who's got a reputation for dropping the big N.

I have similar feelings about the big C that rhymes with punt. Men should never use it but women shouldn't use it either. Just because you can scream it as part of The Vagina Monologues does not make it socially acceptable.

Brigid Daull Brockway said...

Yeah, I got rid of the "c" word. Jeremy is usually the person who tells me I can't put things like the "c" word on my blog, but I think he's madder about the whole thing than I am :)

Kevin E said...

What are "individuals with peach-colored skin?" I assume you refer to white people, as I assume when you say "people with brown skin" you mean black people. If I saw somebody whose skin was the color of a peach I'd offer to take him to the hospital. If I gave you a peach that was the color of my skin, you'd probably throw it away.

Since nobody's skin is actually white nor black, using white or black is just as accurate as anything else, if we still feel the need to divide black from white in some way. A clever euphemism doesn't change the fact that you're still drawing a line down the middle.

Brigid Daull Brockway said...

Kevin, there's a skin color post in the near future. I'll point out, however, that I meant peach the color, as in the Crayola crayon. It is, however, the case that my skin is much closer to white than peach.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen this clip, and I probably won't. I do think Dr. Laura's has a valid point, although she is an idiot to come out and say it. Michael Richards made a similar racist tirade and now he can barely get a job busing tables. I do watch BET sometimes and "black" humor has a lot of cuss words along with the N-word and the B-word. Not all comedians do it, and in fact quite a few prominent black comedians explicitly refuse to use the N-word, but it is quite wide-spread.

Overall, for better or worse, it's a cultural idiom. Frankly, for someone outside the culture, it doesn't translate and it's difficult to understand. It's like trying to get Americans to understand European Soccer, or non-Americans to understand why Americans are so obsessed with guns and the right the carry them.

Brigid Daull Brockway said...

Her point lost its validity when she repeated the word a dozen times. And not over the course of the conversation - at one point she just starts chanting the word over and over like a school child. Say the word once, you've made a point. Repeatedly assault a caller with the word, you're being a bigot.
Furthermore, I know that sometimes the "N" word gets used on BET. Sometimes. BET also shows several hours of religious programming every day with no "N" word, many hours of family sitcoms with no "N" word, and talk shows with no "N" word. For Schlessinger to indicate that because the caller is black, she must watch BET, and because she watches BET, she must be OK with hearing the "N" word all the time is offensively ignorant.

Anonymous said...

Well, yes. What Dr. Laura refuses to (or pretends not to) understand is that it's all about cultural context, and those often defy logic. Yes a black person has probably heard the N-word used hundreds of times, but it's within the context of one black person talking to another. As a non-black person (and I mean this culturally, not racially), she just doesn't get it, and because she doesn't get it, it comes across as insulting and crazy.