Wednesday, 22 March 2006

Spate Heech or Honest Mistake? On his show this morning, Dave Lenihan attempted to list Condleezza Rice's qualifications for NFL Commissioner: She's been chancellor of Stanford. She's got the patent resume of somebody that has serious skill. She loves football. She's African-American, which would kind of be a big coon. A big coon. Oh my God. I am totally, totally, totally, totally, totally sorry for that. [.wma] The link to the audio on The St. Louis Post-Dispatch warns potential listeners of the clip's "offensive language." People were certainly offended by it. KTRS station manager Tim Dorsey fired Lenihan a scant twenty minutes after his self-described "slip of the tongue." According to Dorsey, Lenihan's "slip" was a most unfortunate racial slur. There can be no excuse for what was said. Dave Lenihan has been let go. There is enough hate. We certainly are not going to fan those flames. That is not what we're about. St. Louis' NAACP chapter president, Harold Crumpton, called Dorsey seeking an explanation. Dorsey explained that Lenihan had already been fired. Crumpton sounded pleased, noting that "coon" is a word "intended to inflame passions . . . like the 'n word.'" I emphasize the word "intended" because the intention is there only in a general sense. It fails to account for the specific context of this utterance. His unfortunate "slip" immediately follows a conversation in which Lenihan agrees with a caller who said she'd make a "fantastic President." He accidentally calls her a "coon" while trying to refer to the "coup" her ascension to NFL Commissioner would be. I grant you that the word "coup" immediately following the phrase "she's African-American" reeks of tokenism. But to claim that he "intended to inflame passions" by praising her qualifications for both the office of President of the United States and the Commissioner of the National Football League irks me. This kind of unintentionally offensive comment differs from those which result from unacknowledged privilege. Lenihan's language isn't "unintended" in the "I'm unaware of the structural inequalities inherent in contemporary America" so much as the "I tripped over my tongue and out came what sounded like a racial epithet" way. (Unless you believe that in praising Rice he intended to denigrate all African-Americans. One could argue that Rice fits into the old "one of the good ones" mold and that Lenihan did intend to belittle the majority of African-Americans. None of the talking heads I've watched have forwarded that argument though.) Perhaps I sympathize with Lenihan because I also 1) relish speaking in public and 2) frequently trip over my own tongue. I often swap the initial consonant of consecutive words. Some times I catch myself doing it; others only come to my attention when I realize I'm staring at a room of students desperately trying to suppress laughter. One of my more memorable flubs occured at a prospective graduate student party a few years back. A couple of current graduate students malingered around the punch bowl discussing the Dixie Chicks' then-recent banishment from mainstream country...

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