In recent days there has been much hysteria concerning the proposed mosque in New York City near ground zero. At the same time, there was a big disturbance over Dr. Laura’s use of the N-word on the radio. I believe both incidents shed much needed light on legal rights versus cultural sensitivity arguments surrounding these topics. I think what we can learn is the difference between having the right to do something; yet, at the same time, being mature and sensitive enough to know that exercising that right may cause more harm than good. In other words, because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Point in case, the use of the N-word by Dr. Laura: a white female radio personality who gave advise to a black female caller who felt her white husband’s friends used racially insensitive language. Dr. Laura became the perpetrator of insensitivity and pain by repeatedly saying the N-word over and over again (As if her saying it could some how erase the racism, bigotry and hatred that has been associated with that word for hundreds of years). Whites don’t understand that their use of the N-word takes on the persona of the Klu Klux Klan, the Neo Nazis, and the Skinheads all in one. Instantly, it makes our skin crawl—causing the adrenalin to rush throughout our bodies. For us, we hear the slave master’s whip on the backs of our ancestors, with flashbacks to the “white only signs” of the past; and the memories of horrific lynching of the not so distant past. We recall “Kunta Kinte” in chains remembering a proud and majestic people carried away to a distant land and traded as mere chattel—to be treated as less than human. It forces us to re-live all those times we’ve been personally called that name, or felt the sting of distain or superiority from the glares of a white person. These horrors and nightmares run starkly through our minds—tying knots in our stomachs, leaving some to feel physically ill; while others are ready for a fight.
The overwhelming frustration felt, with incidences like that of Dr. Laura or Sarah Palin’s response, is that they don’t get it—and don’t really seem to care. It’s really perplexing for me knowing that Dr. Laura is Jewish. You would think with all that the Jews have experienced throughout history she’d be a lot more understanding and sympathetic. The scars the N-word opens are all too deep, the horrors too vivid, and the pain too excruciating. For many Blacks, including myself, trying to explain (let alone deal with this issue) time and time again from whites across the ideological spectrum is like an old horror movie where Freddy Krueger or Michael Myers just won’t stay dead. We are haunted by it in our dreams; and stalked by it during the day.
Now, about rights vs. restraint or individual liberty vs. personal responsibility. One can clearly make a case that legally anyone has a right to say the N-word. But more often than not, our individual liberty needs to be checked by the personal responsibility we have to “do unto others, as we would have them do unto us”. There comes a time, when exercising our individual rights tramples over the feelings of others. And so I must choose not to—for the sake of someone else. It’s this kind of attitude that makes America great. It’s what allows peoples of all ethnicities and backgrounds to live together in harmony—without the constant threat of going to war. For Christians, it is not only a biblical mandate, but also the prescribed way of life: teaching us that we not even offer prayer to God if we have offended a fellow believer. The Apostle Paul admonishes us as followers of Christ, not to cause another to stumble (I Corinthians 8:9-13).
Now, apply this to the Mosque in New York and it gets moved to another location. For the proponents of the mosque to insist on their right to build their mosque is like Dr. Laura, and others, insisting that they have a right to use the N-word. Maybe they do—but they shouldn’t. Goodwill is not engendered by insisting on your own way, but through recognizing what’s best for others by exercising restrain and personal responsibility. An act of goodwill would be to move the mosque site. An even greater act of goodwill would be to help rebuild the Greek Orthodox Church destroyed on 9/11 (But please, don’t hold your breath). Just as nothing positive will ever come out of using the N-word—nothing positive will come out of building a mosque near ground zero. For far too many, it would only stand as a constant reminder of the callousness and insensitivity of those whose faith seeks to dominate the world. It is clear that Islam has little or no tolerance for Christianity or any other faith (see article by Ken Blackwell). It would tell those naive enough to believe that Islam was interested in goodwill that it was nothing more than a ruse.
If people really want to show goodwill, then strike the word N-word from your vocabulary and move the mosque away from ground Zero. Stop jabbing your fingers into our open wounds.