Last week, a video made the rounds of Joe Rogan repeatedly using a racial slur from past episodes of his podcast. The clip was inflammatory, and it provided no context regarding how or why Rogan used the slur. It’s worth asking, though, if the context around the video was even all that necessary. After all the man himself doesn’t seem to think so.
“I do hope that this can be a teachable moment,” Rogan said a video posted to social media, “for anybody that doesn’t realize how offensive that word can be coming out of a white person’s mouth in context or out of context.”
Rogan mentioned comedians like Lenny Bruce, Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor using the slur in his apology. But, at least one of those men later admitted deeply regretting it.
In “Pryor Convictions,” Pryor said, after a 1979 trip to Kenya that he regretted “ever having uttered the word ‘n—r’ on a stage or off it. It was a wretched word. Its connotations weren’t funny, even when people laughed.
“To this day I wish I’d never said the word. I felt its lameness. It was misunderstood by people. They didn’t get what I was talking about. Neither did I. ... So I vowed never to say it again.”
In that same post, Rogan said he thought in the past that, if he used the slur “in context” that he would be okay. But it seems like he’s understood the slur had the power to do harm all the way through.
The Joe Rogan Experience has been on the air since late 2009. In a 2010 interview with Brightest Young Things, the former Fear Factor host and noted UFC commentator gave some thoughts on censorship and using the ‘N-word’.
“Anyone who gets annoyed by certain words or gets upset and outraged” is a “douchebag,” Rogan explained (transcript from the Washington City Paper) defending his use of the word ‘f—t’. “...though the word ’n—r’ is different,” he added, “since it’s dehumanizing. There’s a lot of hate and anger behind that word...”
With all that framing in mind, his recent apology is still definitely a step in the right direction—but it’s only a step. There has to be more than to turn this all into what Rogan hopes will be “a teachable moment.”
A good way to make that happen might be if Rogan went through each of the times he used the slur on air, and explain why he felt at the time that it was necessary to do so in the context of that moment. Realistically, it’s almost assured that every one of those instances was unnecessary, but it might be a good way to drive that point home with his audience. For him to show that he’s not interested in making any excuses for his past behavior.
As for what else he can do to show his apology was as sincere as it sounded? And that this can be the time for learning that he wants? I won’t say Rogan shouldn’t have whomever he wants to have on his podcast. But, what I will say is, that if he’s truly interested in developing and having conversations with people about race, race relations and the use of racist language, there are many people he could talk to give the spotlight on his platform.
Writers, reporters, and academics like Nikole Hannah-Jones, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Jody Armour, Angela Davis, Dr. Harry Edwards, or even NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would all be excellent people to talk to Rogan about race in America. Realistically, the list of possible guests who could speak on these subjects to Rogan and his audience is absolutely massive.
Rogan made a good effort with his apology, but he has the opportunity to do a whole lot more.