Sunday, August 15, 2010

On Dr. Laura, societal oversensitivity and political correctness

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“Go to jail”
“Go to jail”

I hesitated for a while before starting this post, and I’m still reticent about publishing it as I’m almost certain it will be misunderstood on some level. But I just feel like sharing my thoughts about this subject and I’m curious to hear what people have to say about it, so there.

As you may have heard, there’s been a little controversy over the past few days when Dr. Laura Schlessinger went on her radio show last Tuesday, August 10, and made some racially charged comments in response to a caller complaining that her husband’s friends were racially insensitive. I won’t get into the specifics; you can find the whole unedited audio (which I haven’t listened to) and the full transcript (which I’ve read) at Media Matters. Suffice it to say that she openly and repeatedly threw the “N-word” in (very clumsily, insensitively, and perhaps, stupidly) trying to make her point that just because certain comments or remarks are about Black people in general, does not make them racist remarks. You can imagine the reaction such rhetoric garnered her.

Now, I’ll start by saying that I know next-to-nothing about “Dr. Laura”, other than what about 10 seconds’ worth of skimming her Wikipedia page has told me – basically, that she’s socially conservative and is apparently famous enough to be on Wikipedia. I know nothing about her politics and other social views, though I have heard that she seems to follow the olden, patriarchal lines of “husband is always right” or some such. But again, I won’t comment on that as it’s not the point of my post.

Now, personally, I don’t buy into “political correctness”. At all. I think it is silly and detrimental to honesty in public discourse. Say what you have to say, say it openly and honestly, and receive the feedback your rhetoric deserves. If the point behind political correctness is to shield various minorities from offensive language, I think that not only does this routinely fail (go and ask Blacks, Jews and Muslims if they’ve stopped encountering slurs and other forms of hate speech), but that it’s simply disingenuous at best, as it’s intended results would have us believe that racism is over with and everyone’s fine and tolerant. The reality simply isn’t so, and we need to hear from bigots being bigoted so that we can identify them and, in turn, deride them into ignominy. (Or, as we conversely tend to do, propel them onto the national scene. We’re a weird, fickle society.)

All that is basically a long way of saying that I believe political correctness is wrong and that I don’t adhere to it. The reason that good people don’t use racial slurs and other bigoted rhetoric isn’t because they aren’t allowed to; it’s because they don’t want to. Because they know better than that.

I think the reason why we have such high standards and enforcement of political correctness in our modern society is a result of nothing more or less than mere oversensitivity. We’ve become so keen on trying to appease everyone and create an integrative, all-inclusive, multicultural society that we’ve set in place a system of unspoken principles based entirely on our fears of offending others (and especially, receiving flak in return). And it’s for this reason that merely saying certain words, almost regardless of context, will get you labeled as a racist/sexist/homophobe/etc. And I think this is total bullshit.

Words are just … words. They are a collection of letters, little squiggly things, that are strung together and imparted some arbitrary pronunciation over time. Words by themselves are worthless. What matters is how you use them; ie. what context you use certain words in. And I don’t believe that just saying/writing the word “nigger” (oh, he spelled it out!) is racist in itself. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s a bloody retarded way to think. Words by themselves cannot be bigoted. Same thing with, say, “faggot”, “bitch”, “kike”, “redskin”, and so on.

If someone uses such a term in this modern society, you can bet your sweet mother’s heirloom pearls that they’re gonna be run out of town (metaphorically speaking) with campaigns for them to be fired, give public apologies, and so forth. Now, granted, the majority of the time, such reactions are perfectly warranted, as a byproduct of political correctness is that these days, most folks who do use such terms in public do so with in bigoted and otherwise derogatory context with little or no regard towards the reaction they’ll receive. In such cases, yes, these bigots and cranks do certainly deserve to be yelled at. But I’ve seen and heard of a few cases – not many, but some nonetheless – where someone said such a term (usually that most tabooed term of ’em all, the one that’s earned it’s own “<X>-word” designation) in a context that was blatantly not bigoted in any tangible way, and yet who was similarly castigated, simply for the mere act of saying such a word.

(And the less is said about the sacrilegious desecration committed upon works such as Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None or Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the better.)

People shouldn’t be criticized for merely saying such intolerance-charged terms, but for how they use them. A White person who retells an old joke that incorporates terms such as “nigger” cannot reasonably be labeled a racist simply for telling the joke, unless he/she actually believes that Black people should be referred to as such. And a Black person should not be called a “reverse racist” (as stupid as such a term may be) for saying something akin to “Crackers can’t dance”. (I trust you can ignore the lameness of my examples and understand what I’m getting at.)

Another point of contention is with the “Blacks can say it but Whites can’t” notion. For an all-too-perfect example, take this snippet from the transcript from the Dr. Laura controversy I mentioned above [my emphasis]:

CALLER: I know what the N-word means and I know it came from a white person [Dr. Laura]. And I know the white person made it bad.

This statement stands on its own (go read the transcript if you feel I may have taken it out of context). The mere fact that a White person said that accursed term makes it the wrong thing to say and the White person a racist. Spoken as plainly as Black on White. (Pun half-intended.)

This is actually something I come across fairly routinely, and it’s really quite a blatant double standard if I ever saw one. It’s also something that’s rather pervasively evident in certain (lower) forms of music, where the “singer” can’t go five words without inserting a “nigga” (or “bitch”, or <insert slur here>) – but that’s okay, because he’s a Black rapper?

Forgive me if I come across a little dense or naive, here, but I’m not really seeing how this “good for me, not for thee” sort of attitude is acceptable. Either saying “nigger” is okay or it isn’t (again, depending on context). Who it is that says it is of no relevance.

(Also, see this example – the “Chad response” – for another representation of how stunningly stupid the issue has gotten. Because, of course, cheating with someone’s sexual partner is the exact same thing as using a freaking word. For fuck’s sake, people.)

Okay, this is turning into little more than a meandering pseudo-rant at this point so I’ll just cut it short: Saying words like “nigger” is not an automatic indictment of racism, and shame to anyone who thinks in such a stupidly simplistic and oversensitive manner. Racial slurs, as with anything else in the universe, need to be seen and treated with nuances and relativism, regardless of how charged they may be. Heck, I’d probably be called a racist by some just for referring to Black people as “Blacks” rather than “African-Americans”, but that’s only because I categorically refuse to use such a moronic combination, seeing as most Black Americans are probably about as socially and culturally African as I am. They’re Westerners with Black skin. End of story. It’s not racism to refuse to use illogical terms to describe an ethnic group; it’s linguistic righteousness.

Any thoughts? Questions? Gratuitous insults labeling me a bigot (something that would certainly make my day with irony)? I welcome any feedback you may have. I’d like to know people’s points-of-view on this issue.