By John W. Lillpop
Because life in the great state of Virginia is as close to Heaven as God will permit, politicians running for office there are at a loss to raise important issues with which to dazzle voters.
As a result, the race for the U.S. Senate involving Republican incumbent George Allen and Democrat challenger Jim Webb has deteriorated into a petty word game of charges and countercharges over the use of racial epithets.
The latest “Breaking News Headline” involves charges from well-known political-science professor Larry Sabato that Senator Allen did in fact use the N word in the 1970s. Go here:
Meanwhile, Jim Webb is making his own headlines by denying that he ever used the N word. Go here:
Heaven knows, I do not advocate the use of racial slurs on any occasion or for any purpose. But before we turn an important political debate into a PC urinating contest, a bit of reflection seems warranted.
To begin with, who among us can truthfully state that the “N” word, or its equivalent, has never found its way into a casual conversation?
From personal experience, I shall always remember mentioning to an uncle from the Deep South how excited I was at the prospect of seeing baseball star Willie Mays play in San Francisco. My uncle took the wind out of my sails when he bluntly asked “He’s a N*****, ain’t he?”
My face turned a deep, deep purple at this racist denigration of a baseball hero, and my speechless embarrassment spurned great hilarity among my cousins who were obviously accustomed to their father’s indelicate language.
Later in life, while reading a biography of President Harry S. Truman titled Plain Speaking, I was astonished to learn that the thirty-third President of the United States used the N word regularly. But Truman was also credited with integrating the U.S. armed forces at a time when doing so was not the PC thing to do.
Lyndon Johnson, the thirty-seventh President of the United States, was also allegedly one to drop an N bomb now and again. Of course, President Johnson was instrumental in getting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 signed into law.
However, black “rap” artists are by far the most prolific users of the N word. Without it, rap music as we know it would not exist.
A different N word—“Nip”—was used during World War II as a slur against the Japanese. Nip was used prominently in television comedy shows like McHale’s Navy, which is still rerun--with Nip intact--from time to time.
The point is that it is neither reasonable nor responsible to dwell solely on racial slurs that one may have used 30 years ago.
Without knowing the exact context and environment in which such words were uttered, it is impossible to make an intelligent evaluation as to whether or the individual involved is worthy of trust in 2006.