Can we talk about race?

Radio show host's entanglement with 'N' word shows difficulty of honest debate
Radio talk show host Laura Schlessinger plans to give up her radio show at the end of the year.



Bigfoot. The Loch Ness Monster. The Honest Dialogue About Race.

Don't waste your time looking for any of them anytime soon.

This country periodically scours the land for that mythical beast no one has yet described, the Honest Dialogue About Race. It's usually lip service, though, normally coming after someone has lost a job or committed professional suicide.

Enter Dr. Laura, who appears to have done the latter.

Now, if we ever do bag that legendary Honest Dialogue About Race, we certainly don't want the likes of Laura Schlessinger leading it. She tends to cross the line from harsh to abusive. Her knee jerks so quickly you can hear the rush of wind against the microphone. Not what you need, leading a discussion on such a delicate topic.

But her odd and abrupt announcement Tuesday night that she's quitting her nationally syndicated advice show on radio -- over the reaction to her using the "N" word with a caller -- was another one of those "Gee, if only we could have an honest dialogue about race" moments.

Schlessinger -- who earned the title "Dr." with a degree in physiology, not mental health -- used the "N" word to illustrate how often it's used in the black media. The problem is twofold: One, she said it over and over and over, which even she acknowledges was a mistake; two, she's white -- and the conventional wisdom today is that white people should never use the word.

The irony, of course, is that she's absolutely right: The word is ubiquitous in black culture, including music and comedy and, in many instances, everyday conversation. So yes, there is a double standard.

On some level, that double standard is actually quite understandable: The word was used as a contemptible, dispiriting cudgel for so long; the feeling among some is that those who created and wielded the word as a weapon have lost the right to use it. In truth, most of us believe no one should use the word.

But the effect of that perceived double standard is an uneven playing field upon which it's difficult to see eye to eye.

It's imperative we don't give up. Here's hoping we get that honest dialogue someday. A good start would be to listen to each other more than we speak.

Schlessinger claims she's quitting her radio show at the end of the year to "regain my First Amendment rights.

"I want to be able to say what's on my mind and in my heart and what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry or some special-interest group deciding this is a time to silence a voice of dissent," she said on CNN's Larry King Live .

Schlessinger has a nationally syndicated show. She's hardly the poster child for regaining free-speech rights. But her awkward situation does accentuate the fact that it's awfully difficult to have an honest dialogue when you can get your head bitten off for saying the wrong thing -- without even trying.