"It's a delicate business to declare a racial slur taboo," says John McWhorter at The Root. That's especially true when it comes to the "N-word," because of the way our society has decided that "black people can sling the N-word all over the place while white people are burned in effigy for saying it." It was that supposed double standard that Dr. Laura Schlessinger was complaining about recently in her infamous radio show "eruption." But Dr. Laura's specific complaint — that she was referring to the word, rather than using it — may hold water. No one's saying that white people should be able to use the word with impunity, but we shouldn't willfully deafen ourselves to context. Here, an excerpt:
We need to strike a deal. If blacks are going to go about slinging the N-word around at one another — and they are — then we will also stop pretending that there is no difference between quoting the word and saying it. That is not only fair but also a matter of exhibiting basic intelligence...
One needs no linguistics training to understand the difference between statement and quotation. Black people are no more deaf to context than anyone else... The pretense that referring to the n-word is equivalent to calling someone the n-word is a kind of incivility in itself — abusive, visceral and dishonest.
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