Back in 1982, a book was published about racial stereotypes, slurs and myths called "The Things They Say Behind Your Back." It was, as the title suggested, about those nasty little remarks that blacks, for example, knew many white folks were saying about them but wouldn't dare say in front of them.
"The blacks think they got everything coming to them," begins one such line of behind-the-back slurs mentioned in book. "They can't think ahead more than one day. They never come on time when you make an appointment with them. All they wanna do is drink, shoot up and play the numbers."
This modus operandi has rapidly become outdated, however. But as WWDC disc jockey Doug "The Greaseman" Tracht demonstrates time and time again, it's now okay to put this kind of garbage in your face.
If the assassination of a black leader was the cause of a day off, Tracht told his audience recently, then killing four more would get the rest of the week off.
If Virginia highway officials want to blacktop state roads, he reportedly said on another occasion, then steamroll some Negroes and throw in some Koreans to make the yellow lines.
Tracht slurs many groups of people, gays probably more than blacks. But because his "jokes" about blacks always seem to be about exterminating them, my first reaction was to start a campaign to kill the Greaseman (figuratively, of course), you know, turn him into an unemployable piece of bacon fat, perhaps through organized protests.
If that didn't work, then firebomb WWDC. (Ooops. Just kidding, Greaseman. Hardeehar).
I know that wouldn't do any good. Before there was the Greaseman, Washington airwaves were burning with the racism of Howard Stern and there was Gary Dee before him.
The fact is, Greaseman is not the problem. Out there in the suburbs, more than 63,000 folk -- mostly whites -- rise every morning and tune in at 8 a.m., their chance to come out of the closet for a few minutes before heading into the Greaseman's "Nigra City" or trekking off to their rapidly resegregated schools.
It's not too surprising, then, that the Washingtonian -- the magazine of the suburbs -- has named him "Best Radio Deejay" for the past three years. Only in America could this kind of racist programming earn someone a five-year, $1 million contract.
And only in the nation's capital, which is 75 percent black, have there been protests of any consequence. Students at Howard University are to be praised for their dignified demonstrations against the Greaseman. The same is true of Peoples Drug Stores Inc., a community chain, for pulling its ads on the Greaseman's morning show.
Since I don't like the station, it would easy enough to ignore Tracht. But this is not like a loose copy of Hustler magazine. These are the airwaves, public space, and people are being assaulted with racial obscenity.
Imagine a scene: a young black man I know catches a bus and rides through the snow to a sunrise job at a construction site. He's going on about his business, doing his work, trying to get along with the white men over and around him, and somebody's tuned their radio in to this fool.
In response to a written complaint from one listener, the Federal Communications Commission responded weakly: "Unless the content of the program can be clearly shown to be obscene or indecent, there is no recourse at the federal level . . . . It has been our experience that most material complained of, as offensive as it may be, is not actionable."
Meanwhile, the white folks laugh. The black man grits his teeth. And this goes on every day -- more racism, more sexism and the sanctioned use of the public airwaves to spread prejudice.