By Marcia Alesan Dawkins
By now it’s common knowledge that Dr. Laura Schlessinger left her long-running radio show recently after an N-bomb-dropping tirade. Basing her choice of words on unnamed “black guys” and “bul-lack comics” on HBO who “say it all the time,” the host instructed caller Jade to toughen up when it comes to issues of race and racism—even when they’re happening at home.
Jade, a black woman married to a white man, called the show to discuss her discomfort with comments made by her husband’s family. Schlessinger responded by saying, “If you’re that hypersensitive about color and don’t have a sense of humor, don’t marry out of your race.” Translation: Jade, you are bringing it on yourself by marrying interracially. You’ve done something wrong and deserve whatever you get. More to the point, something is probably wrong with you in the first place because you married a white man. You don’t get to call anyone a racist, so don’t “NAACP me.”
Though Dr. Laura’s comments are definitely offensive, what’s more offensive is that she really isn’t saying anything new. Throughout our nation’s long history of racial mixing, which began with European colonial contact with Native Americans and Africans, mainstream culture has regarded such relationships as abnormal. Many interracial couples and families have been ridiculed, separated and even killed because of this view. Until the Supreme Court’s 1967 ruling in Loving v. Virginia, 40 out of 50 states outlawed interracial marriage at one time or another.
Opponents of interracial marriage have promoted many myths to support their cause over the years. According to professors Teresa Nance and Anita Kathy Foeman, these are: Blacks and whites who seek out interracial relationships have something wrong with them, like sexual or psychological problems; blacks marry whites for status; whites marry blacks in order to punish their parents or make a statement; blacks and whites aren’t genetically compatible and that interracial children will, as a result, be genetically or psychologically flawed. Though these myths have been exploded by scientific and cultural research, their traces can still be found in mainstream culture. As we’ve seen and heard, this kind of thinking is the basis for racist comments from the in-laws or racial epithets from the good doctor.
This became especially obvious after Schlessinger promptly issued a more politically correct apology, which did not address her clear disdain for interracial relationships. And it became downright sinister when Sarah Palin came to the doctor’s rescue. In a Tweeted message, Palin encouraged Schlessinger not to “retreat” but instead to “reload!” Though Palin’s support is not surprising, it is pretty weird, considering her recent Facebook post called “The Charge of Racism: It’s Time to Bury the Divisive Politics of the Past.” In defense of herself and the tea party against the NAACP’s recent charges of racism, Palin explains how her own interracial/interethnic marriage and multiracial family have influenced her thinking and helped her get over race and racism: “In the decades that our families have blended, I have never heard one proud, patriotic member judge another member based on skin color … it is foreign to us to consider condemning or condoning anyone’s actions based on race. ... Being with our diverse family in a melting pot that is a Native village just days ago reminded me of that. …”
However, it would seem that if Palin’s thinking had really been influenced by her interracial experiences, she would be coming to Jade’s defense rather than Schlessinger’s. This point leads to a bigger question: Why didn’t Palin defend Jade? I think this has to do with a popular-but-flawed interpretation of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech that suggests that affirmative action and Barack Obama’s election to the presidency have created racial justice. Since everyone and everything appears equal, any discussion of race must be racist and needs to be dismissed. This means that when a woman of color like Jade brings up a real grievance, she can be diagnosed as “hypersensitive.” But perhaps the real “hypersensitive” ones are people like Schlessinger, Palin and other conservatives who have taken the single event of Obama’s election or the growing number of interracial marriages as proof that we no longer judge people by the color of their skin but instead on the basis of their character.
If only it were that easy. That must be why King called it a “dream” in the first place.
Mixed message: The outcry following Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s racially charged response to a caller on her radio show prompted her to announce her retirement from radio on “Larry King Live.”