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Dr. Laura blew chance to talk about race

By Roland S. Martin, CNN Contributor
  • Laura Schlesinger repeatedly using the N-word in a radio show conversation
  • She could have pivoted from the caller's question to explore racial issues, Roland Martin writes
  • Martin: Many of us, when confronted with racism, won't challenge those closest to us
  • Bigots need reforming, not the offended, Martin writes

Editor's note: Roland S. Martin, a CNN political analyst, is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith," and the new book, "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for TV One Cable Network and host of a Sunday morning news show.

(CNN) -- The beauty of having your own radio or TV show or column is that you have a wonderful opportunity to address many of the significant issues of the day by using the enormous platform that has been bestowed upon you.

That's why when I read, and then heard, the stunning, childish, and venomous discussion Dr. Laura Schlesinger had with one of her callers Tuesday, it was clear to me that the firebrand radio talk show host blew a perfect shot. She could have used the exchange around race to help a lot of people.

Dr. Laura is getting ripped, rightfully so, for her repeated use of the N-word during the discussion with a black female caller. Instead of paying attention and listening to the woman's genuine concerns about the racist comments made by the friends and family members of her white husband, Dr. Laura made her out to be the villain.

It was clear that Dr. Laura had a beef of her own when it comes to black folks being too sensitive about matters of race, and that's why she tried to use the example of black comedians using the N-word to buttress her position that the woman should really pipe down and not be so sensitive about such issues.

She could have easily pivoted from the caller's question to explore this issue, but she didn't, choosing to dig herself deeper and deeper into the racial abyss.

First, Dr. Laura needs to step back and realize that yes, black comedians use the N-word onstage, and it is something that I have protested and called for all African-Americans to stop using.

But let's be honest, comedians of all ethnic groups do all kinds of crazy stuff on stage, dissing African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, whites, men, women, gays, Jews, the mentally challenged, you name it. So when the B-word, C-word, or F-word is used onstage, are we to say that is perfectly acceptable language offstage?

Dr. Laura also would fail at political analysis in her assertion that a lot of black folks voted for President Obama because he's half-black. Should someone remind her that Obama got 95 percent of the black vote. Pretty pale Democrats like Al Gore and Bill Clinton got between 90 percent and 92 percent of the black vote. Dr. Laura, that's largely a Democratic thing; it's not necessarily a black thing.

As I listened to the caller, and as Dr. Laura continued haranguing her, it was clear that the woman who has made millions dispensing advice on the radio for years needs to have someone sit her down and explain how she not only screwed up by tossing out the N-word repeatedly, she also squandered a chance to be a part of what many considered to be essential: a national discussion on race.

The caller was disturbed about those in the inner circle of her husband driving their racial stereotypes and as making racial comments in front of her. When I keep hearing folks talk about the need for a national conversation about race, it's not all about Obama leading it. If we are to conquer our racial demons, it's necessary for the caller's white husband to be as willing to look his friends and family members in the eye and say, "your comments are insulting to my wife and I want you to stop. Now!"

Video: Dr. Laura breaks down racial rant
Video: Dr. Laura critic praises N-word rant
Video: Is the N-word ever OK?

The real problem many of us have when confronting race matters is that we are too unwilling to challenge those closest to us. No child wants to enter into a verbal battle with his or her mother or father who may hold racist views, or willingly accept racial stereotypes. But none of us can be silent when that happens. It was the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. who said, "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

Do you recall the restaurant scene in the movie, "The Blind Side," where the "friends" of Sandra Bullock were making offhanded racial comments? When she had enough of their mess, she checked them and made clear she would be dining with others. She refused to allow their racial hang-ups to stain her. Bullock's character could have easily kept the friendship intact by saying nothing and moving on. But she chose a different path.

Dr. Laura had the same opportunity. She could have heard the woman out and dispensed some genuine advice that could have helped the caller and her listening audience. Instead, she grabbed that chip on her should that revealed to us that she is clearly annoyed when some blacks complain about racism.

She compounded that by telling the woman she should have never married outside of her race if she couldn't stand racial humor. Folks, that's not how to do it.

Dr. Laura has apologized, but that hasn't stopped people like Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League, from calling on The Talk Network to drop her syndicated show.

If we truly want folks to "get over it" (which is what Dr. Laura essentially told this black woman to do when it came to racism), it is going to take us reforming the bigots, and not admonishing the offended.

I fundamentally believe we can get people to see their racial bigotry or insensitive views and offer them a pathway towards healing, but that can only happen when we're willing to challenge one another -- friend or foe -- and look into the mirror and confront our own deeply embedded views on race.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland Martin.