The ‘N-Word,’ the P.C. Police, and Honest Dialogue About Race

May 19, 2005

Earlier this month, University of Oklahoma baseball coach Larry Cochell resigned because of his use of the word “nigger” in comments he made regarding a black student athlete that were picked up by the media. An article, “Let’s Talk About Race,” by Lovell Estell III posted on AlterNet today provides a critical analysis of the case and how the enforcement of superficial political correctness often trumps transformative dialogue. Estell writes: 

The hypocrisy in America is monumental between what is allowed by our rules of civic discourse and what some white people say when they think the microphones are turned off — the harsh language of boardrooms, barrooms, even dinner conversations. The same palaver is bruited about quite freely, without fear of exposure by the P.C. police. Let’s not get self-righteous. Let’s talk about race — openly, and without getting down on someone with a loose mouth like Cochell’s. …Cochell is not a card-carrying member of the Ku Klux Klan; I don’t believe that he has ever mistreated any of his black ballplayers. Just because he uttered this moth-eaten slur doesn’t make him a bigot. At most, he is guilty of bad judgment, and grandiose stupidity. Wouldn’t Cochell and the black folks he offended be better served if the coach had called a team meeting with the aggrieved parties and explained himself, offered a needed apology and been allowed to resume his career? Some meaningful dialogue might have taken place. Honest dialogue is where it starts. It’s become standard practice by the praetorians of P.C. to pillory anyone who says something offensive or off-color. But that doesn’t do a damn thing to change the feelings or attitudes of the offending party. Nada. White people who refer to blacks as niggers in polite company are legion. And then there are white folks who are generally turned off by it. Instead of raking some white person over the coals because of his bad choice of words, I propose simply ignoring him. I’m calling on my black brothers and sisters to rise above the “vile epithet” and realize that the problem rests not in us but those who feel it necessary to try to demean us. I’m also calling on the guardians of P.C. to do likewise. Don’t destroy the reputation of people because of their idiotic faux pas. A person who says “nigger” doesn’t tell you anything about the person who said it, and it’s not the time to come to blows or feel terminally offended. Even the redneck cops in law enforcement agencies, who try to bait you into a confrontation by calling you nigger (I’ve had this happen to me too, and played it as cool as a master poker player) are dumbfounded when you let it run off your back. But these same coppers wouldn’t hesitate to go into a burning building to rescue some black children. Things are infinitely more complex than the P.C. police would have us believe.

Schools:  University of Oklahoma