(TRANSCRIPT) (Note: I have removed the part at the top of the segment where Don Lemon played the rant by Dr. Laura. I assume everyone knows the basic gist of what she said and did. This picks up when he turns to thr three of us on the panel)
LEMON: So, let's talk. Dr. Laura, she issued an apology and the next day, acknowledging she was wrong. She said, I'm wrong, I shouldn't have used -- I think she said I articulated the N-word all the way out and I should not have done that.
So, I want to bring in our panel to discuss this now.
Jill Merritt is a cofounder of AbolishtheNWord.com. Thank you, Jill, for joining us.
There's John Ridley, the founding editor of ThatMinorityThing.com.
And, of course, Tim Wise, the author of "Colorblind."
Thanks to all of you for joining me.
And so, let's do it. And some people are saying, do we have to talk about this? Yes, I think we need to talk about it. But we should talk about it more. Obvious, it's an issue right now.
OK. Tim, starting with you, your initial reaction to Dr. Laura.
TIM WISE, AUTHOR, "COLORBLIND": Well, I mean, my initial reaction is that, unfortunately, the kind of things that she was saying to this caller, not the N-word part per se but the rest of her response in which she basically dismissed this woman's concerns about racism in her own life, were all too common. It's not just Laura Schlessinger. It is, in fact, the view of millions of white Americans who whenever people of color bring up the issue of racism in their lives, we seem to want to say, oh, you're hypersensitive. You're seeing things. You have a chip on your shoulder.
And I really think and I hope that we understand this kind of dismissiveness for the racism that it is, even without the N-word, because what that amounts to saying is that you black people are so irrational, so illogical, so unintelligent that you can't even be trusted to interpret your own life. So, let me and my whiteness interpret your reality for you.
That's fundamentally racist even if the N-word had never been used.
JILL MERRITT, CO-FOUNDER, ABOLISHTHENWORD.COM: Hi. You know, at first glance, I was upset. I was angered. There was outrage.
But I have to say, after looking deeper into the issue, for me, I've just decided that there's a bigger problem here at hand. What's going on with the N-word, we've been working over the last four years -- speaking about the N-word, abolishing the N-word but there's something else that's pushing through. We need to talk about this and that's why it keeps coming up. We need to sit at the table and discuss racism.
There is racism in America and we need to stop trying to sweep it under the rug and act like it doesn't exist.
JOHN RIDLEY, FOUNDING EDITOR, THATMINORITYTHING.COM: Well, you know, I mean, look, when I heard it, I have to be honest, I wasn't surprised. I mean, this is Dr. Laura, consider the source. She's proved herself in the past to be homophobic, to be divisive, to be anti-feminist in some ways. So, I wasn't surprised.
I do agree with Tim and Jill that I think there are bigger issues. And that word itself were something like a speed bump. I mean, she said things in her rant like "black-think" or she said things to this woman that if you can't deal with these problems in a interracial married, you shouldn't get married outside of your race. So, I think what she's talking about is much larger than the N-word itself. We tend to get caught up on that. It's a lightning rod.
But, again, I agree with your guest. There's a conversation to be had here. I really don't think, unfortunately, it's much of a conversation that can really be had in America.
LEMON: You know, I do think that it is a lightning rod sometimes and I wonder if it's sort of -- if it's a diversion, sometimes, from looking at the real issue as Jill said.
John, you say that using this word is like gay people using the word "queer" or other words. You think that those two terms are equal and have basically, the same emotional power?
RIDLEY: Well, I think it can be. I mean, the thing about the N-word is, yes, it has a very unfortunate history. But the reality is, if we try to take it off the table, the only people who are going to use it are going to be bigots and knuckleheads like Dr. Laura. I think -- the thing that we can do is try to remove the sting from that word. To try to abolish it is the laudable goal but I don't know --
LEMON: But here's the thing -- and I hate to interrupt you, because in this country, we have freedom of speech and Dr. Laura certainly has freedom of speech and she can say whatever she wants. That's just what we do here. And we don't want to go back to banning words and banning books and burning books and all that.
So, do we really want to abolish the N-word? That's what rappers really say when they use the N-word. They say -- they're take the word back to take some of the sting out of it, but there are people who are also bothered by rappers using it as well, Tim?
WISE: Right. Well, I mean, I think whether or not black folks are going to use the word, that's a debate for black folks to have. I really don't think anyone who isn't black
WISE: -- ought to be in on that.
Let me give you an analogy to make the point. I'm from the South, I don't much like the word "redneck" because I know it's often a slur against rural, working class whites. But I got to be honest, when Jeff Foxworthy, the comedian, does 20 minutes of redneck jokes, it doesn't offend me that way it would have been if it were Jerry Seinfeld doing it because Foxworthy is in that family. It sort of goes back to that wisdom we understood in the third grade, which is: I can talk about my momma, but you had better not talk about my momma. And I think that's something we need to understand it.
If white folks don't like it, oh, it's a double standard. Why can't I use the word, too (ph)? History is a double standard, deal with that first and we can talk about the rest.
LEMON: And you remember "All in the Family," the Jeffersons, they would say, you know, "honky." and the other words. I don't even like to say the other word, which is, you know, something that you eat. But George Jefferson would say it all the time and Archie Bunker would say it all the time and no one would flinch. I'm sure, probably, you got some criticism back then.
I'm sorry, Jill, I cut you off.
MERRITT: Yes. You know, I just want to say that the N-word is not a word that black people own. It's not a word that we should own and it's not a word that we should try to own.
I believe deeply that the N-word is a racist word. It belongs in the same category as every other racial epithet. And to try to own it, to try to make it a term of endearment, to take the sting out of it, to just play with it in the way that some of us have, it really is -- it's dangerous. You know, it's a word that's racist and it belongs to the racist. If they want to say it, that's fine.
LEMON: All right. Listen, we have to go to break and we're going to come back and talk about this. I wonder, though, even if by sitting here, doing this, and having this conversation if we're giving too much power to that word, even more power than we should be giving it in the year 2010 -- and I wonder, as I said, if it's become a distraction?
So, I want to move on past the N-word unless you have another comment. On the other side of the break, we're going to talk more about what's really going on here? What's at the bottom of this? And we're going to also take some of your comments.
We'll back in a moment. We'll handle this, really, really tough topic. Our conversation, again, after the break.
LEMON: OK. Back with our conversation now.
We're going John Ridley, Tim Wise and, also, Jill Merritt, joining me to talk about Dr. Laura Schlessinger's use of the N-word.
OK. So, here's my thing -- you know, in my personal life, I do this, I talk to you guys about this as a journalist because it's part of the national conversation. I really don't care what someone calls me. If someone calls me that, then it's really more of a reflection on them if they call me the N-word. And some of the people on Twitter are agreeing. Someone says Dr. Laura was completely correct. Someone says, "I'm a black person and I really don't care what a white person calls me. It is recrimination and violence that matters."
Tim, what do you think about that? Is -- have I gone too far and people like the folks on Twitter have gone too far by saying, "I really don't care what you call me, you can call me that all day long, I really don't care"?
WISE: Well, the fact that people don't let it bother them or say they don't is one thing. That doesn't mean that we ought to have license to use it as an act of verbal violence. I think the biggest thing that Dr. Laura that was the problem, though -- and I think this is what the research says -- you know, the most problematic thing she said there was a part where the caller said, you know, a lot of times, my husband and his friend say things like, you know, what do black people this think? Is this what black people think?
And that may not sound racist, but what we know from the research is that when black and brown folks in this country feel like they're constantly having to represent for the whole group, constantly on display, constantly under a microscope, that that actually has a physical, physiological, emotional effect on people that's even greater than the use of the word. Because the thing about the word, it's so blatant. Everyone can process that. You can see what it is right away.
The subtle stuff is actually for destructive according to health research and I wish we would deal with that because I think that's the worse thing that Dr. Laura Schlessinger actually did.
LEMON: That was I was going to say here, John Ridley. Where do -- where do we go from here? I know what he's talking about when I used to call it the African-American authority when people would ask me, why, you know, about African-American or about black issues, you feel like you're the African-American authority.
So, where do we go from here, John?
RIDLEY: We'll take it to the meeting, Don. We'll go to the meeting and then we'll find out when we answer the questions.
LEMON: Where do we go from here?
RIDLEY: You know, it's difficult because, as you say, we all want to have these discussions about race and we want to try to get beyond it. But the problem is, the people who really need to have the discussion, whether they are white or black or Hispanic or Asian, they tend to self-segregate and they're not going to have this discussions.
People like you and the rest of the panel, we can have an intellectual discussion, but I think, more importantly, is that we go back to integrated groups and we have a discussion about our kids, we have discussions about lawn care or cars or schools, and we talk as people and we find out that we're really not that different and we generally have the same concerns. Maybe we don't approach them the same way, but we're folks.
And so, yes, it'd be great to have a conversation about race, but as I said earlier, the people who need it can't have it and won't have it. The people who should have it have different conversations that, quite frankly, are better conversations.
LEMON: Hey, Jill, I hate to give you (INAUDIBLE) -- unfortunately, we're out of time. We have a short broadcast tonight because we have a special on at 7:30. Thank you guys. I really appreciate you coming on.
RIDLEY: Thank you.
MERRITT: Thank you.
WISE: Thank you, Don. Appreciate it.
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