Doctor, I have this problem…

Radio counselor Dr. Laura Schlessinger
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Over at The New Republic, Jesse Singal has a piece on Dr. Laura Schlessinger terrifically titled “Doctor Feel-Heinous: Good riddance to Dr. Laura, our generation’s most dangerous radio host.” If you want an incisive take on everything that was close to obscene about the self-important media scam that began with the doctor of physiology playing psychologist, you’ll find Singal’s piece a satisfying read.

One point Singal makes, a truth that has made Schlessinger’s abusive act even more repulsive, is the vulnerability of her audience – people who would conceive of seeking psychological, relationship, or any other kind of personal assistance to be offered publicly on the radio in five-minute entertainment-pack bromides. Read Singal’s account of the bad doctor’s cruel responses to a woman whose childhood sexual abuse was creating difficulties in her married sex-life.

In the recent case that made news, then, we had a woman calling for advice on racial issues when she had every reason to know Schlessinger would not be a sensitive advisor. As it was, Schlessinger may well have been right, to start, that the caller was being too sensitive about the curiosity of white in-laws and friends, though one could not possibly know as matters unfolded whether the curiosity was healthy interest in another human being’s difference or the kind that imputes strangeness. I even believe Schlesinger was not off-base in her first use of the word “nigger.” She was making a legitimate point. And this is where I think most takes on the issue of race in the encounter were off.

To think of Schlessinger as acting out in a standard way along a long continuum of racial insensitivity, if not outright racism, misses a manifestation of a particular phenomenon of the past forty years. The source of the problem was Schlessinger’s intolerance of any sensitivity about race by the caller at all, which was immediately apparent in the host’s tone. When the caller became upset about the first use of nigger, Schlessinger did not simply argue her point – she stuck it in the caller’s face by repeating the word like a taunt. The entire encounter was a demonstration of the kind of racial resentment that has developed over recent decades among some, mostly conservative, whites as they have had to witness issues of black rights, culture, and identity become so prominent in society. Seemingly oblivious, beyond slavery and Jim Crow, to the history of invisible white privilege – the kind that manifests itself at a minimal level in the negativity, simply, of not being penalized for not being white – they cannot balance in their estimations, the entire history of white predominance against these recent decades of attention elsewhere. They believe that now we pay attention to race, while before we did not, and it burns them to the point of acting like Schlesinger, or hearing about her story and thinking, as they listen to the news, well, she was right. That’s all they think about. They’re obsessed with race, and everyone has to tip toe around them.

To cope with the problems of race, we have to correctly identify them. Schlessinger manifested not the old one, but a relatively new one. And, of course, the latter can be a cover for the former.



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