Dear Dr. Laura,
I hear you’ve had a tough time at work, and are now feeling misunderstood, threatened, even repressed. I’m afraid I don’t know anything about you, but maybe that will allow me to provide some relatively unbiased comments. I hope they are helpful.
I did see video clips of your conversation with the caller on your radio show. Frankly, I was shocked. Didn’t you know that sensibilities regarding the n-word have changed dramatically in the last 60 years? I’m no more black than you are, but I was aware that the n-word is regarded as quite offensive. The issue is not whether you or I have a “right” to say what we want; the issue is respect for others. Where offense is likely to be received, let’s take extra care not to go there, even when (really, especially when) offense is not intended.
But as you ask, why is the n-word off-limits for non-blacks, but okay for black men? And I have heard other white people wonder this same question. Let me try to explain using my own background and personal experience:
My father is a white boy from Indiana. My mother is Japanese. What does that make me? Well, it depends where I am. Growing up in Japan, I was an outsider. Kids on the street would point and stare, and say (quite clearly, as if they didn’t expect me to understand), “Look, it’s a gaijin!” Gaijin is the Japanese word for foreigner — literally, an outside person. In the land of my birth (Japan), I grew up an outsider.
Japanese people are generally some of the nicest people you will ever meet. But it didn’t really matter if the word was said by a kindly old lady, or young punks on the street. Even when meant kindly, it continually reinforced my awareness that I was the Other and did not belong.
But here’s a funny thing: the word doesn’t have the sting when said by another non-Japanese person. In fact, among my friends, we would occasionally call each other “henna gaijin” — weird foreigner. That was the worst taunt we heard, but saying it to each other made us laugh. It was like an inside joke. A bravado guy thing. It helped us belong.
But oh, the wound that would come to my heart if I heard a Japanese person say those words.
(…And this is without a history of slavery, repression, and ongoing injustice.)
I hope this helps.
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