Dr. Laura’s Usage of the N-Word Isn’t What’s Racist

By now you’ve heard the controversy over radio personality Dr. Laura using the n-word 11 times, read the commentary on blogs to accompany the radio clip and possibly watched Dr. Laura and the caller Nita Hanson on CNN’s Larry King Live respectively.  You may even have formed your own opinion of why Dr. Laura is or is not racist.

I’ll admit when the chatter on Twitter first started I never Googled Dr. Laura to find out who this irrelevant broad was, I didn’t rush to listen to the radio clip and I stayed out of all the discussions on the topic. Frankly, I was over the mainstream media’s sudden interest on race when well known white folks decide to say “nigger” offensively. First Mel Gibson, now it was this Dr. Laura character.

So when I heard the tape of Dr. Laura’s usage of “nigger” repeatedly, days later, I wasn’t appalled or shocked. I don’t know why black folks get all riled up when white people slip and publicly say things that are usually reserved for the privacy of their homes.  I was pissed at the tone and constant dismissal Dr. Laura displayed when talking to Mrs. Hanson.

Excerpt in no particular order from her rant:

Black guys use it all the time. Turn on HBO, listen to a black comic, and all you hear is nigger, nigger, nigger.

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.

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.

Don’t take things out of context. Don’t double N — NAACP me. Tape the –


[click here for full audio and transcription of the call]


Did she just?…yeah, she just said, “Don’t NAACP me.” How condescending! This statement is partly why I think the focus is wrongfully and heavily placed on the semantics of “nigger” instead of the real problem.

Dr. Laura is not racist because she said the word “nigger” 11 times too many; but she is racist because her white privilege allows her to exist without seeing why the several other comments she made in regards to black people are offensive.

A black woman calling in for advice about her interracial marriage was unable to have her concerns taken seriously, because like many Conservatives, bigots and racists, Dr. Laura believed Mrs. Hanson was being “hypersensitive about race.” Furthermore, Dr. Laura cut her off several times. Believing Mrs. Hanson was not worthy of the respect to address her concerns and make her point uninterrupted, now that is what is racist.

Even more insulting was Dr. Laura’s belief that there was nothing wrong with her using such an ugly racial epithet because blacks use it. I hate this argument more than I hate bikers who ride in the street instead of on the sidewalk. Black people using the word as a form of endearment does not change its history, or erase how it was used by whites to degrade and dehumanize black people.

Dr. Laura originally stood by her use of the word, later apologized and finally she announced she would be canceling her show in order to “regain my First Amendment rights.” Girl, bye.

Even the dumbest woman on the planet, also known as Sarah Palin, has tweeted her support of Dr. Laura. Palin surely has a lot of time to tweet seeing as how she’s  a politician. CNN has used the controversy as a great marketing tool to discuss race by allowing their token black commentators to weigh in on the use of the word “nigger.” But no one is discussing what was truly problematic in this whole debacle.

As I watched Mrs. Hanson on CNN I hoped she would discuss white privilege, Dr. Laura’s dismissive tone, her insensitivity to minorities, her talking about black people as a monolith, her offensive assumptions that black people only voted for Obama because he was black or the ignorance of Dr. Laura’s statements. Why wasn’t she talking about any of these things???

And that’s why something like this would never happen to me. They would have had to stop the show. Not only would I have made Dr. Laura feel like a complete imbecile in ripping her to pieces, but every other word would have been bleeped out. Because the only two words I could have mustered up when addressing her would have been- dumb bitch. Certainly if Dr. Laura can say “nigger” 11 times I can refer to her as a female dog.

In all seriousness, I wish we weren’t focusing so much on the n-word. Ignorant white people are going to continue to use the word because they don’t understand the history of it. But what the discussion needs to focus on is the way white privilege is not only damaging to us/beneficial for them, but also cripples white people in thoroughly understanding the affects of racism in this country.

A teachable moment was lost in this controversy because the focus was misdirected. The conversations on national news networks are pointless if non-blacks still walk away not understanding what was problematic in the first place. In this case the use of “nigger” wasn’t what makes Dr. Laura a racist. It’s her entire ideology in general that does.

Editor’s Note: A good read on white privilege is White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh. She serves as the Associate Director of the Wellesley Collage Center for Research on Women.

  • This was awesome. I remember when the outrage happened about this incident via Twitter and the internet. I didn't bother to figure out who she was either. I still haven't heard the clip and probably will never bother to hear it. You made a wonderful, great, and very true point. It's not even about the word. The use of the word brings the many other issues to surface. That's what need to be discussed. Right on!

  • Sarah C.

    Bene, you hit the nail right on the head!! Girl, I love you for this particular blog here. Keep it up!! Dr. Laura is beyond ignorant. I am glad to say I had no clue as to who this stupidhead was until this whole thing and still don't know who she is. Again, it wasn't the problem that she kept using the word–nigger. But her dismissive attitude towards the caller was unbelievable.

    I'm also still trying to figure out why this black woman called this ignorant white woman to discuss her interracial marriage. Dr. Laura said exactly what she thought and I can't fault her for that. Everything about that segment was dumb from the moment "Jade" decided to call Dr. Laura until the end of that conversation. SMH…

  • DtownMAVgrl

    Wow, this is powerful and very well-said. I’m glad someone finally touched on this. I agree 100%. We want to focus so much on the use of the word but not the cruel demeanor that’s often used with it/behind it. And you’re right. A good chance to prove a lesson on race and where we as the American people are was missed because the attention was in the wrong direction.

    What will it take to for black people to look at the bigger picture? As I point out our flaws as black people, I shun myself because this isn’t a black issue… I agree with this woman’s point about black men using the terms so losely etc, but there is so much more going on with this topic than just that.

    Kudos on this article/post.

  • joysrantlist

    (Reposting a comment I got on FB about this blog from my friend Eva:) "I agree. My issue with her was never the n word. It was the other racist comments she made. Don't NAACP me. The assumptions that people who make condescending, hurtful, insensitive remarks are not racist, we just don't have a sense of humor. Whatever Dr. Laura. Like I told you when we talked Joy, she got the right one. Because I would have whooped her ass. Go run tell that. LOL"

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  • Keith Olbermann pointed this out a few days ago on his show…

  • I agree w/ you that the worst part of Dr. Laura's rant was not her using the N-word. It was everything that you mentioned above. Her entire tone was dismissive &that's so frustrating for any Black person.

    I am consistently more shocked when Black people get upset about someone using that word. There are greater injustices towards us to deal w/. I'm am starting to believe that the only reason for our outrage is b/c we feel that rallying against someone's use of that word is the only area that we achieve some sort of victory. Let's celebrate we got Don Imus off the air… briefly. Let pop bottles Michael Richards was blacklisted… now we've forgotten about it. yes there is a small victory (miniscule) when the nation sees that but it doesn't change a thing. We can make it ILLEGAL to say NIGGER, but it would still not change what's in a person's heart.

    Instead let's ignore and not support and give attention to the idiots and rally around issues that affect us more deeply like why our children aren't getting a decent education, why we are exploited in the media, etc, etc.

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  • I listened to the first minute and I had to cut it off… how dare she dismiss what this lady is going through? How can she deem what is racist or not? She being privileged and white has no idea what true racism is. All she knows is her definition. This is the true problem with our society, people are so closed-minded and are unwilling to acknowledge the struggles of others. Rich people (of any race) will always say it's the fault of us poor that we are poor, the intelligent will refuse to teach the unintelligent and so on and so forth. Just from that first minute of the phone call (I cut it off soon as Obama was mentioned) I wonder how did this foolish broad even get a show. Then again look at Don Imus, and Rush (his fat ass only rushes to the dinner table) Limbaugh. It's all very discerning. I could go on and on but I have to go to class… smh.