We All Share Blame for Racial Slurs

By Jason Whitlock
Updated: November 7, 2005

Oklahoma baseball coach Larry Cochell

KANSAS CITY, MO—The people complaining the loudest about Larry Cochell’s coaching demise at Oklahoma are the very same people who say nothing when an acquaintance or stranger makes an inappropriate, racially insensitive comment.

The people cheering the loudest about Larry Cochell’s coaching demise at Oklahoma are the very same people who foolishly believe there’s nothing wrong with black people using the n-word.

Cochell resigned as head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners baseball team the Sunday after ESPN reported that on two separate occasions, Cochell, who is white, praised an African-American player by saying he has “no (n-word) in him.”

Cochell was off camera and presumably off the record when he made the comments to two ESPN broadcasters. In his apology and resignation, Cochell said that he never used that type of language before and that he’s a Christian.

Oklahoma’s two African-American baseball players told local reporters that they wanted Cochell to keep his job.

I disagree with the players, but not because I believe Cochell is any more bigoted than the rest of us. Cochell should lose his job because he’s an idiot, and his actions reveal a lack of common sense that can’t be tolerated from a man who has been a college head coach for 38 years.

Cochell dropped the n-word on two strangers, two strangers who work in the media. Beyond embarrassing himself, he embarrassed his university, a university that has provided minority athletes and coaches a lot of opportunity. Keep in mind that at one time Oklahoma employed a black head football coach (John Blake) and a multiracial basketball coach (Kelvin Sampson) at the same time.

No, Cochell’s demise was necessary. But it is not all Larry Cochell’s fault.

We helped. All of us.

Despite Cochell’s explanation, it’s difficult for me to believe that last week was the first time he n-bombed a complete stranger. You don’t wait for ESPN cameras to show up to practice that kind of racial stupidity. Cochell had to be in the habit of making these sorts of comments around non-blacks.

Or are we to believe that on the first day of Cochell’s use of the n-word he just happened to drop it first on Kyle Peterson and then later Gary Thorne, the ESPN announcers?

No. It’s obvious Cochell had grown accustomed to making racial slurs without anyone objecting. Had someone taken the time to properly embarrass Cochell when he first got in the habit of using the n-word among strangers, he might have learned a lesson and avoided this sort of national embarrassment.

Instead, we too often do nothing when someone we don’t know all that well does something inappropriate or makes us uncomfortable. So, all the people who have stood silent while someone spews bigoted views are Cochell’s co-conspirators.

And so are the black people who have embraced the n-word like the last drop of water on a 96-degree day.

If black people hated the n-word as much as we want white people to hate it, Larry Cochell would have never used it last week. Unfortunately, when it comes to the n-word, we, black people, sound like the chain-smoking parent who preaches smoking abstinence to a child.

We’re hypocrites who surrendered the moral high ground.

It’s nearly impossible to leave your home without hearing black people using the n-word in popular music or in casual conversation in almost any environment. You think Cochell hadn’t listened to black athletes use the n-word for years?

Should Cochell know better than to use the n-word? Absolutely.

But so should we. But we don’t have the discipline or the true understanding of just how dehumanizing the word is. So we’ve ignorantly embraced the word and convinced ourselves that it’s a term of endearment when we use it. How foolish.

There is no pejorative equivalent in America. Trying to turn the n-word into a positive is the equivalent of suggesting that it’s a positive to be stupid and unable to read and write. You follow? When the n-word was invented, American enslavers also forbid black slaves from learning to read and write. By today’s logic of turning a negative into a positive, the proper course of action should have been for black people to embrace illiteracy and the n-word.

I digress. My point is we shouldn’t celebrate or protest Cochell’s demise too strongly. We should instead examine the role we played in it and make an attempt to change our enabling behavior.