Jesse Jackson (on an off-air mic before "Fox & Friends") and Whoopi Goldberg (and another host on "The View") have raised the cultural language debate to a new level: Who has the right to say the N-word? Their answer: Blacks can, but whites can't. Unfortunately, this derogatory debate has degraded into Don Imus on steroids.
I agree with a lot that Whoopi had to say about the imbalances between the races. But I disagree with her for going off on an intentional N-word marathon, which was bleeped out repeatedly in order to demonstrate her point. There's a reason her diatribe was bleeped and our society still veils our full expression of the N-word: because it still is regarded by most as derogatory and demeaning. (Even among blacks, the N-word obviously can be defamatory, as Jesse Jackson proved when he used it in the same breath he used to describe how he would like to cut off Barack Obama's genitalia.)
This is more than a race issue and far more than a debate over freedom of speech. When will we learn that just because we can say something doesn't mean that we should? Once again, we're confusing liberty for licentiousness. It is a classic example of what happens when a society leaves its moral absolutes: Everything becomes culturally relative, with each deciding what's right in his own eyes. Language is one more infected arena in America's societal degradation.
Think about it. What word is nasty or unwholesome anymore? There are no "bad words." Words once considered evil are now terms of endearment. There's the B-word, the D-word, the A-word, the F-word, etc. Even bleeps are mere blips on America's moral radar screens. When ministers use G-- d--- in their sermons and moral activists threaten to cut off a presidential candidate's genitals and call him the N-word, can't we see the signs that we're heading in the wrong direction? We have become desensitized to everything, from profanity to pornography.
Today's America is certainly not the one in which I grew up during the '40s and '50s. Profanity of any sort was wrong back then and frowned upon by most in private or public use. Today profanity has become a positive form of expression, with studies even showing that it releases stress and boosts morale at the workplace!
I genuinely believe we can do better. I believe we must do better. We need to leave a better legacy of decency, civility and respect for future generations. I believe we need to give them our best, and our best must be more than justifying the use of derogatory language based upon cultural or racial relativity or even freedom of speech. If we're going to reverse negative trends among our youth, it's going to begin with us establishing a better model for them of how we treat and speak about others.
Whoopi proposed that we must find a "new way to move forward." I propose that that new way is not new at all, but an old way that has been discarded and forgotten. It is a way that simultaneously addresses equality, respect and decency. It is a way that was promoted by America's Founders and eventually resulted in increased unity and civility across the land. And it is also a way that I devote an entire chapter to in my upcoming book, "Black Belt Patriotism." The chapter's titled "Reclaim the value of human life." Here's a little of what I say in it:
"The Founders believed equality would give legs to freedom. As John Adams said, 'We should begin by setting conscience free. When all men of all religions … shall enjoy equal liberty, property, and an equal chance for honors and power … we may expect that improvements will be made in the human character and the state of society.'
"The Founders knew that America was not perfect. Slavery, in particular, troubled the consciences of many of them. … Nevertheless, our Founders believed there was something inherent in humanity that called it to a higher purpose. For all the shortcomings of early American society, the remedy was always there -- expressed in the founding documents of our nation. The Declaration of Independence set America's course. Though we have sometimes drifted from its highest principles, all Americans have ever had to do was steer by its compass to acknowledge or rediscover the inherent equality of slaves, women, the poor, Indians, and the unborn. All were -- and are -- children of God, endowed by their creator with 'certain unalienable rights.' …
"The Founders could not immediately abolish slavery. It was too entrenched in the economy of the South, but the Declaration eroded its foundations in a way that made its end inevitable. That 'all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights' is one of the most powerful principles ever enunciated in the history of politics."
And that power can be unleashed again to help us in our day. The sooner we get back to our Founders' words, our country's original calling, the sooner we will start treating one another (red, yellow, black and white) as our Founders' prescribed and the sooner we will get beyond these slanderous debates about language and humanity. It's time to grow up, America -- to move beyond the arguments of yesteryear. You're older than 200 now. It's time to act your age.
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