The internet recently went into an all-out furor over a segment of Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s radio program, in which she used the N word repeatedly, while telling a Black woman who had called for advice about her interracial relationship that she was “hyper-sensitive.” I could probably spend 10,000 words talking about why what Dr. Laura said is wrong, but since the media has spent so much time dissecting her use of the N word, I believe that perhaps someone should address the purpose of the call. The caller originally reached out to Dr. Laura because she felt that her White husband ignored the racist comments their so-called friends made.
Anyone who has ever been in an interracial relationship will tell you that they are very difficult to negotiate — whether it is two people of colour, or a person of a colour and someone who is White. Though segregation is no longer the law of the land, many people still lead very segregated lives and this means interactions are often fraught with difficulties. Though we are supposedly post-racial, each day people of colour are assaulted by racism — even from those who we may call friends, because they have not learned to challenge their undeserved privilege.
For an interracial relationship to work, both parties must be committed to confronting race in all of its positive and negative aspects. It means a constant conversation with both parties really listening to each other, because without communication, race will become the barrier that breaks the relationship. The divorce rates already indicate that the likelihood of two people being lifetime partners is not high and therefore, if the added extra burden of negotiating race is included, then the relationship has even less of chance of being successful [PDF]. Not only will the couple have to deal with misunderstandings between themselves, the outside pressure of family or friends often leads to the dissolution of the love that seemed so full of hope at the beginning.
When Dr. Laura advised that “if you are hyper-sensitive, you shouldn’t be in an interracial relationship,” she chose to assert White supremacy. A relationship cannot work if one party must always be submissive to the other, because this eliminates the possibility of a truly equal coupling. It may seem from the outside at first that the White person is being submissive to the person of colour, because they must radically change not only their thought process but their behavioural patterns as well. In truth, this is just bringing a level of equality to the relationship that is not in existence in society when people of colour interact with White people. How can you love and deeply commit to someone, if you believe whether unconsciously or not, that they are less than you? This is absolutely not possible and is a recipe for disaster.
Both parties involved must prepare themselves for a series of misunderstandings based solidly in the fact that they have extremely different frames of reference. This does not invalidate one’s lived experience, but emboldens it, because no matter how loving a White partner is, there must be a distinct understanding that even as they challenge issues in their relationship, their physical body is still a manifestation of White supremacy and the racial issues faced by their partner. Both parties must embrace this truism as they negotiate the world together.
How can anyone reasonably claim a true understanding of racial dynamics, when one has never been oppressed based on race? Just as men cannot truly comprehend the evils of sexism, White people can never understand the difficulties of negotiating a White supremacist world. This is not a radical idea; however, for many who are afraid to be accountable for the ways in which they perpetuate racism and White supremacy, the very idea can be terrifying. Imagining a world without privilege, to them, means being subject to the very same oppression that they have benefited from–regardless of whether a society without racial hierarchy would actually function like that. Whiteness fears retribution because it cannot be denied that for hundreds of years it has terrorized, raped, slaughtered, under-educated and impoverished people of colour.
When this caller asserted that her husband was not attentive to the racial assaults that she was receiving, that should have stood as evidence enough for Dr. Laura, without her having to give specific examples. Whiteness does not have the skill or unbiased position to question what is and what is not racist. Instead of berating this woman, Dr. Laura could have used this opportunity to discuss the many difficulties that appear in cultural exogamy, but instead she chose to support White supremacy. Interracial relationships, whether they are romantic or platonic, are the absolute best chance of reaching some form of understanding and tolerance regarding difference — and this is specifically why so many are invested in ensuring their failure.
Dr. Laura’s advice should have been very simple. She should have told this woman to speak candidly to her husband about how these comments made her feel. She should have supported this woman, firm in the knowledge that her husband’s silence made him complicit in the many difficulties that his wife faced. What person who truly loves another desires to hurt them so deeply? Perhaps what this woman really needed was the courage to be forthright and to question the nature of commitment between the two of them. White Americans are already the least likely to participate in interracial relationships, and to pretend that the issue is the hyper-sensitivity of people of colour is to completely ignore the White hegemony in any and all interactions.
The media has fixated on the N word, because quite frankly, it is easy to say that a racial slur is wrong. Even those that are extremely uncommitted to challenging their racial privilege will think twice about publicly uttering a slur because that is what racism has come to mean. Society is far more willing to ignore and even encourage covert forms of racism. Not saying the N word is enough for many to consider themselves above race, however, unfortunately this is far from the truth. Speaking about Black/White relationships is far more difficult and this is specifically why no one is addressing the issues of the covert racism that people of colour often face.
To acknowledge that even situations that Whiteness thinks are benign are loaded with at a very minimum racial insensitivity means a challenge to White supremacy. There cannot be interracial love without accountability and this is something that Whiteness has been avoiding for generations.