The whole point of free speech is not to make ideas exempt from criticism but to expose them to it.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Sanborn talks about word-power

Nigger, Cracker, Towelhead, Queer, Redskin, Kike, Dago, Mick, Frog, Limey, Bohunk, Nip, Chink, Kraut, Polack, Haggistani, Beaner ­– American.

A quote from The Racial Slur Database, ( which has operated online since 1999: “This database was created entirely from data gleaned off the 'net and via submissions from people like you and your parents. It's supposed to be funny and/or informational. Calm down.” It’s not funny.

Before you lose your temper, know that some of the slurs in the first paragraph apply to me. Lenny Bruce did a bit on the subject in the 1960s. (It inspired the lead paragraph of this column.) Find it onYouTube. Or see Dustin Hoffman’s version

There has been a lot of talk about racism, prejudice and homophobia lately. From Paula Deen, to same sex marriage, to the renaming South Dakota places to Ward 1 City Councilman Bill Clayton to a book by a Ward 1 Councilwoman Charity Doyle and her husband.

How does one measure prejudice? Should we punish people for beliefs they no longer hold? Some famous people seem to get away with racism more easily than everyday people – John Wayne, Mel Gibson, Charlie Sheen and John Mayer come to mind. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum, once a member of the Ku Klux Klan, moved on and carved Mount Rushmore, as well as “The seated Lincoln” the definitive sculpture of our 16th president.

Locally, it’s complicated. Alderman Clayton claims comments to a reporter that others saw as racist weren’t because he didn’t know she was black when he made them. A recall effort failed because of non-resident petition workers – not because he’s not prejudiced. How that recall effort ended should give Mr. Clayton no comfort. Voters will take care of him.

Then, there’s the book. Rapid City Police Officer Timothy Doyle and his wife, Charity, in 2008 wrote a book titled Political Prostitution. It has been available on and until recently, on Mrs. Doyle’s blog.

Context is everything. Much of the Doyles’ book is about political correctness, and its damage to society. They were not writing from a racist’s perspective.

Slurs are nothing more than words. Only fear and political correctness give them power. Throughout history, those who have true hate in their hearts have without fail revealed themselves to us. And, we deal with them.

The words themselves cannot harm us if we don’t let them. So let the racists be racist. The world is gradually coming closer to Martin Luther King’s dream of people of all sorts being judged by the content of their character. That makes the prejudiced among us uncomfortable.

In today’s America, racism harms the racist most. Political correctness has done more harm than good, because it gives a shrill, often overkill response to actions and words that dignity and civility would suggest deserve no response at all.

When people are truly equal, in society and in the law, there will be no “need” for affirmative action or hiring quotas, just as there is no longer a “need” for “whites only” toilets. When that happens, the slurs in my first paragraph will be obsolete and meaningless antiques – as useless as the people who utter them.

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