3RT:21 – Cannon’s Cancel

Lots of people asked me what I though about the Letter on Justice and Open Debate in Harper’s Magazine, the signatories of which is a who’s who of famous authors, academics, and intellectuals. Well, I had a lot of thoughts. We examine the phenomenon of “cancel culture” through a historical lens, before looking into the details of two recent examples of attempted cancellations; Lin Manuel Miranda and “Hamilton”, and Nick Cannon’s controversial comments on a recent podcast.

Michael Harriot’s thoughts on Nick Cannon.

The following is an edited transcript of episode 21 of the Three Right Turns podcast. The above player is included in case you’d prefer to listen.

What does it mean to be canceled? Is canceling bad? What’s the difference between criticism and abuse? And is there possibly a bigger threat to liberal western democracy than angry people tweeting? 

This is a hot topic in the news because a few weeks ago several prominent writers and public intellectuals, many I suspect of cranial-rectal colocation, co-signed an open letter published in Harper’s Magazine that’s stated topic was “on Justice and Open Debate.”  Let’s look at a few key quotes from the letter:

“It is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought. More troubling still, institutional leaders, in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms. Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes. Whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal. We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement.”

I mean, who can argue with that? We all know people who have said things that are true but unpopular, and got canceled for it. Galileo was cancelled by the Catholic Church for saying the Earth orbited the sun. Britain tried to cancel America for saying people had a right to self-determination. Martin Luther King Jr. got the ultimate cancelation by racists for having a dream that people could work together for the benefit of all. You can’t have a free and functional society if everyone behaves like that. You can’t make progress. 

So People wrote in and tweeted and sub-reddited me and wanted to know what I thought of it all. So here’s my hot take: “It depends.” I mean, all that stuff sounds really bad in abstract. An editor being fired for running a controversial topic? Professors losing tenure for reading literature? People losing their livelihoods because of a mistake? 

But before I give my answer, I want to talk about this business of cancel culture. Because I think one of the problems we’re dealing with is confusion between canceling something and harassment and abuse. A twitter mob sucks, but it’s not the catholic inquisition, you know? It’s not a hangman’s noose. 

So, what does it mean to cancel something? If we’re talking about a television show, it means a network no longer wants to finance the production of something, which means that production either finds another network to fund it or it halts production. But to be canceled, it means you were previously on the air. You had a platform, now you don’t. If a show never even gets a pilot, then it’s not canceled.  

So when we talk of canceling in this modern context, what we’re really talking about is withdrawing funding, support, or more generally, attention. Cancelling doesn’t require mass abuse and harassment, it doesn’t even require criticism. When Netflix canceled all their Marvel series, they didn’t whip up crowds to harass the stars, showrunners, and writers, menace them at their homes and offices, try to get them blackballed from ever working on a show again. And it wasn’t the result of critics saying the show sucked. Except for Iron Fist. Iron Fist sucked. But that’s not why Netflix pulled the plug. They just… didn’t renew their contracts, and stopped paying the producers and writers, and so all those Marvel shows went away. 

On the other hand, campaigns of harassment and abuse doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get cancelled. The civil rights campaigns of the 60s didn’t get canceled, despite receiving incredible abuse and harassment. 

And not to draw a comparison to that, at all. Because… obviously. But I get a fair amount of harassment and shitty things emailed and sent to me, and I’m still doing the Three Right Turns podcast. In fact, if the volume of this harassment reached 1000x what it is now, as long as the patrons are willing to support the project, hey, I’m still on the internet air, fuck ‘em, they can’t do anything to me. I have no sponsors to spook. If some asshole on the street recognized me and said, “fuck you and fuck your right turns” and socked me right in the jaw, I probably wouldn’t stop.

On the other hand, let’s say I open the next podcast with: “everybody, I just got done reading this bell curve book, and it’s completely changed my mind on this whole racism angle”, and I veered away from my star trek republican utopian ideals and started preaching that the races needed to live separately, that immigration and race mixing is a plot to weaken and eventually destroy the white race, and you’ll never guess who’s behind hit. I’ll give you a hint… First name’s “The” and last name rhymes with “shoes”.

But I’d probably get lots of criticism. In volumes that would be fair to call abusive, or harassing. Moreover, I’d lose 100% of my patrons overnight. Jim and Cecily would stop helping me and would almost certainly publicly distance themselves from me. I’d be effectively canceled.

But would that be a bad thing? Do my patrons owe me their support no matter what I say? Do my friends and colleagues have to stand by me no matter what? Do Youtube, Megaphone, Twitter, Reddit, or the other private companies I use to distribute and finance this show owe me their platforms? I hope that seems like a silly question, because it is. Of course they don’t. 

On the other hand, there are periods of time in this country where I would absolutely have been canceled in terms of financial support, blacklisted, and harassed by the federal government for the star trek republican utopian views I’ve already espoused on this podcast. There are many periods of time where critiquing capitalism, being anti-war, criticizing a certain religion or nation or group would have made things very uncomfortable, and even dangerous.  I like concrete examples so let’s talk concrete examples. 

How many actors and writers were canceled when they lost their jobs and reputation during the red scare period of McCarthyism? Today we have several democratic socialists serving at all levels of state and federal government, and a social democrat came within a few breaks and a few tight races of winning the democratic nomination this presidential cycle. 

The US Government canceled Muhammad Ali in the prime of his boxing career for refusing to fight the vietnam war. Ali is the greatest boxer of all time, and that’s WITH uncle Sam stealing every birthday from 25 to 30 away from him. And yet, thinking the vietnam war was bad and we should never have been involved is a very mainstream view now. 

In 1992, Sinead O’Connor ripped up a picture of the pope on SNL to protest the Church’s involvement in covering up the sexual abuse of children by their priests. This was 10 years before public knowledge of the church’s involvement in the scandal became knowledge. Her career was destroyed, overnight. She was booed off stages. Her tours were canceled. People ran a steam roller over thousands of her records and cassette tapes and other merchandise right in front of rockefeller plaza. 

People questioning corporations and capitalism were not a threat to our country, although you’ll still find a ready supply of people who would take exception to that statement. Ali was absolutely right, though you’ll still today find people like Laura Ingraham on news networks telling black sportsmen to shut up and be silent about their political beliefs. Sinead O’Connor was right, but you know, it’s still tough to be a woman with a controversial opinion today. Some of these people faced pressure and persecution by the state, some by the general public and corporate sponsors. This isn’t exactly a new phenomenon.

Now, maybe you can fairly ask if Sinead could have made a better statement. Instead of tearing the pope’s face in half and saying “fight the real enemy”, what if she had just said, “we need to ask the pope what he’s doing to protect the children?” But another fair question to ask is, was there a way to raise the question of whether the Pope, who the public thought of as a representative of god, a figure synonymous with holiness and christianity, was covering up a pedophile scandal among his brother priests in a way that wouldn’t have people shocked and outraged that someone would even suggest such a thing? Why is it Sinead’s responsibility to frame fair criticism of something utterly abhorrent in a respectful, sensitive way?

Was there a way for a black man, even a popular, wealthy, famous black man, to question the US government’s policy in Vietnam and refuse to go half-way around the world killing in their name without being jailed and publicly ostracized? Seemed like a lot of them tried, and it didn’t go really well for them.

Was there a way to win civil rights without black people being beaten and jailed? It’s interesting to contrast the tone of this harper’s letter, written by some of the most famous, influential, and wealthy authors and intellectuals, and that of co-founder of the Black Panthers, Huey Newton. Newton said, “The first lesson a revolutionary must learn is that he is a doomed man.”  Why did he say this? Because if you traffic in ideas that question the status quo, that question a system that society is founded on, and those ideas are rooted in truth and righteousness, you are a danger, and you will be treated by that system accordingly. You may win the war in the long run, but your personal safety and comfort are not guaranteed. 

The founding fathers of America understood that. If they had lost the revolution, all of them would have either been hung as traitors or left to rot on a prison hulk. John Lewis, the famous civil rights leader whose death we all recently mourned, said he was convinced he was going to die on the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma Alabama from a police beating. A beating he received for the crime of peacefully marching in his sunday best to protest for civil rights. 

The bridge, if you didn’t know, was named after civil war general and founder of the Alabama Klu Klux Klan Edmund Pettus, for extra historical irony. Still named for, I should say. John Lewis is dead after a lifetime of service to his community and his country, and Pettus’ name is still proudly worn by that damned bridge. If the folks in Selma today are moved by Mr. Lewis’ death to rename the bridge, perhaps for John Lewis himself… has Pettus been canceled? And if so, would that be bad? If people turn out by the thousands to protest to effect this change, are they destroying history? Would they be harassing the civil leaders of Selma? 

J.K. Rowling was one of the signatories of this Harper Letter, and her inclusion among others caused quite a stir. It raised my eyebrows because I was highly critical of her letter on the Three Right Turns podcast, “Terf Wars” that was the context for our discussion of the subject just a few episodes ago. Why? Was I upset that a woman was just asking questions about the nature of human sex and gender? No, I was upset because it was an incredibly dishonest letter.  Let me give a brief example.

In the very opening of her letter, she writes: “For people who don’t know: last December I tweeted my support for Maya Forstater, a tax specialist who’d lost her job for what were deemed ‘transphobic’ tweets. She took her case to an employment tribunal, asking the judge to rule on whether a philosophical belief that sex is determined by biology is protected in law. Judge Tayler ruled that it wasn’t.”

My god, a woman who lost her job for simply stating a scientific truth; that human sex is determined by biology! What kind of illiberal dystopia is the UK living in, anyway? But was that the truth?

Maya Forstater was upset that, among other things, a transwoman was named on the Financial Times & HERoes Champions of Women in Business list, an annual ranking of 100 “company leaders who support women in business.”

Here was her commentary on Twitter: “weird he felt entitled to accept the award, instead of saying ‘sorry there has been a mistake I am a man who challenges gender norms’. when men wear make-up, heels, dresses they don’t become women. But the norm seems to be that we should pretend they do to avoid hurt feelings. He is a part-time cross dresser. He is a white man who likes to dress in women’s clothes”

Now, is that different than just saying biological sex is real, which even the vast majority of transpeople would agree with? Trans people aren’t delusional. They are aware of their biology and circumstances of their birth. And if they weren’t, they can count on people like Maya to remind them. But mostly, transpeople try to draw a distinction between sex, which has certain biological realities when it comes to healthcare, reproduction, and perhaps athletic performance, and gender, which is largely defined solely by culture and changes from place to place, generation to generation, and time to time, and even by the whims of style and fashion.

Saying “biological sex is real” is different from saying “this person trying to pass themselves as a woman is just an ugly man in drag”. Getting fired from an organization that is embarrassed by your multiple public harassing tweets of the latter is different from a researcher being fired for stating that there are chromosomes and genitals and those are real things. So why does Rowling conflate the two?  

You tell me. The full context certainly changes the average person’s reading of the situation. Because the truth is Maya Forstater could have easily phrased all those tweets to reflect any genuine concern she has for a genderfluid person winning a woman’s award and left out the cruel name calling, but that’s not what she is wont to do. Yet here is Rowling signing a letter talking about how careful we should be that we don’t let so called cancel culture choke out true and factual view points in large response to criticism she’s received over doubling down on public statements that make me question whether she can handle truth or facts or nuanced discussions of same.

Let’s consider another recent example of cancelling. 

Hamilton, the Broadway smash hit celebrating the life of America’s Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, was just released on the Disney+ service over the fourth of july weekend. It got an enormous buzz, everyone was watching it and talking about it. I’d heard the music before, and I even watched a really shitty bootleg recording a couple of years back, but I’d never seen the whole thing or heard all of the music. I found it a really compelling, emotional experience. I’ve always considered myself a patriot, and I know a lot of people probably roll their eyes at that, but hey, that’s the star trek republican in me, I guess. But sue me, I love this country. I love the land, I love the story, I love the people, I love it’s promise. But I admit, sometimes it gets hard when it feels like we’re one of the only developed countries struggling to make headway against the coronavirus and we’d prefer cracking protester skulls to giving people justice and have an honest conversation about who we think should be celebrated for all time with monuments and statues. Watching Hamilton was a shot in my patriotic arm. 

Yeah, America’s fucked up, but when you see a black man portraying George Washington singing about his retirement, quoting from Washington’s actual retirement address. “I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat in which I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow-citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government…

I just think it’s remarkable how it kind of gives away the game. Washington was of course retiring to Mount Vernon, where he owned 100s of slaves. Thomas Jefferson, the villain of the second half of Hamilton, and who wrote the declaration of independence, that said all men are created equal and have inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, owned slaves. He also wrote that the slave trade was a hideous blot on our nation’s founding. But, he couldn’t free his slaves, you see, because he was strapped for cash nearly his entire life, and if he started paying the people to grow his crops and care for his land… Well, Gosh! Could he even afford to keep Monticello? Were you even a person with rights and liberty in Jefforson’s America if you weren’t a wealthy landowner? 

These contradictions baked into America guaranteed that we’d have to fight a bloody civil war, and be locked in a struggle for civil rights for as long as we denied them to anyone… anything less and we would be, by the lights of our own founding document, a failed state. And by recasting the founding fathers and everyone else in the musical as black and latino people, immigrants, it made a point about the crucial roles these people played in our nation’s history. I loved it. It made me feel good about being an American, not in a lazy or complacent way, but resolved to keep perfecting this union. Because hot damn, wouldn’t it be something if a country could say that all of its citizens could enjoy the benign influence of good laws under a free government? Even today, that would be revolutionary. 

But I kept seeing this comment keep creeping up on my timeline, Hamilton’s being canceled. Lin Maneul is apologizing, and I couldn’t for the life of me, figure out why.

So last week I did a live stream where I attempted to dig into two recent cancelation topics that I didn’t really know anything about. One was the attempted cancellation of Hamilton, and one was the backlash Nick Cannon was receiving about possibly racist and anti-semetic statements he made on a podcast.

Before I started reading, I tried to think of things that people might potentially cancel Hamilton for. When it debuted, there was a lot of hew and cry over using black and brown faces to represent white historical figures, but it felt like all that had been hashed out and settled, and that was more of a, shall we say, conservative objection.  All the places I was seeing the cancelling calls or decrying of same were more liberal or even leftist. So that probably wasn’t it.

Was it the rugged individualism, lifting yourself up by your bootstraps, kind of story Hamilton embodied? A poor boy that grew up in the caribbean surrounded by the worst aspects of the slave trade, death, and personal tragedy comes to NYC, makes his home in Harlem, and then sets out to distinguish himself in military, legal, and civil service, working his way into the the ranks of the elite and powerful, with nothing to rely on but his sharp wits and indomitable will to succeed? 

That’s the typical American Dream, right? But a lot of folks are increasingly turned off by it, seeing the hundreds of people that toil fruitlessly for every 1 that makes it to stable middle class success, much less the kind of power, prestige, and importance Hamilton achieved. 

Yeah, I can see that, I can even get behind it as a critique. Hamilton really did overcome extreme odds to get where he did. Would the country have been better off if he died in squalor in the West Indies? What do we sacrifice as a country throwing away so many lives and so much potential in favor of holding up the rugged individualist ideal? Turns out, that’s not the problem. 

Then there are the women in Hamilton. There are only 3, and 2 of them are fairly thinly-sketched and the third is an antagonist. Hamilton’s wife Eliza adores him until he admits to cheating on her publicly then she cancels him. But after his death she changes her tune and commits to a tireless campaign of historical research and public advocacy for his legacy. She spent the rest of her long life championing his causes and legacy on his behalf. That’s not exactly the kind of thing we like to hold up and idealize in today’s climate. I can see why people would be upset about that. But that wasn’t it either. 

Reading up on it, there were two main critiques. One personally aimed at Lin Manuel, and one at the story he was telling. For the latter, a lot of folks were upset that the play didn’t touch on the issues of slavery or feature the contributions of black folks much at all. At first I was skeptical. It seemed to me slavery was mentioned a lot, and broadly put abolisionists like Hamilton against Jefferson who hypocritically critized the slave institution that he supported in practice and profited from. But you know, for all the talk of the boston massacre, you can’t even name check Crispus Attucks? Widely considered the first American casualty in the revolutionary war, historians still aren’t settled on if Attucks was a free man or escaped slave. And on balance, you’d come away thinking the federal reserve system was more important to Hamilton than freeing slaves, and you’d probably be right. 

Also, by focusing on the special, almost father and son relationship Hamilton had with George Washington, (who again, owned 100s of slaves) the musical glorifies and softens the image of Washington. Washington was a great man who held the country together in its infancy, often just by sheer force of his will and personality, but you could watch Hamilton and never even know the man supported and profiteered off of owning human beings. To many, this feels like the same kind of whitewashing of the founding fathers that generations of school children have been subjected to by people who are so afraid that children can’t love and want to help build up a country with a tragic backstory that they’d rather tell them half truths and lies, and demand they recite oaths of loyalty at the start of each school day than trust them with real history. I mean, you can disagree or not, we can argue the point of how much a broadway play has an obligation to unvarnished historical truth… but there is a point here, yeah? And the other points I raised, you can see them, right? 

The other issue is that Miranda had used the N-word publicly. The context was in reading for an audio book on Hamilton where the source material contained the slur. The other was quoting the work of another author. 

All of this came to a head over the resurgence of popularity Hamilton was receiving in the lead up to Disney’s release. People were advancing legitimate criticism of his work, debating what right a latino man had to use the n-word, regardless of context, and thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people flooded his social media accounts to make sure he was aware of the criticism.

If one of your neighbors comes to you and tells you he thinks the new paint job on your house is an eyesore, that’s criticism. If ten thousand do it, it’s a scary mob, even if it’s just about paint, and not about how you treated America’s history of racism through the lens of hip hop and broadway fusion. Regardless of the intent of each person criticizing you, at some point just the scale of the criticism can be construed as, and actually is, harassment. 

Lin Maneul disappeared his twitter account for a few days. Uh oh. He’s stonewalling. There was blood in the water. A lot of people sitting back wondering, “Ooh, who is this kid, what’s he gonna do? Is he going to double down? Get defensive over this criticism of him as a man and his most recognizable work?“

After the July 4th weekend was over, he came back on line, and after quote tweeting the criticisms of how Hamilton handles slavery and the stories of the founding fathers, he said: “All the criticisms are valid. The sheer tonnage of complexities & failings of these people I couldn’t get. Or wrestled with but cut. I took 6 years and fit as much as I could in a 2.5 hour musical. Did my best. It’s all fair game.”

No “sorry if you were offended, but.” No grandiose appeals to free speech and artistry. No long winded stories about where he came from and how his neighbors back in his neighborhood used to talk to each other. He just listened to the criticism, and said, “Yeah, you all have some good points.” And just like that, the vast majority of the criticism evaporated. To the point when I did my stream last week it was pretty hard to find people still discussing it. 

I feel like most of the time people just want to be heard. If you’re a minority especially, throughout your life you’ll have experiences the majority simply can’t relate to, and when you try to tell them, half of the time they try to explain it away, tell you how you misunderstood the situation, or say they’ve never seen anything like that. I think a lot of the time, this comes from a well meaning place. Like if a friend of yours says someone told them they’re ugly. “Ah, that’s bullshit, man. Don’t listen to that. That’s not true. Don’t worry about it.” You try to minimize their trauma to make them feel better, and that makes a certain amount of sense, right? But imagine if it keeps happening, and keeps happening, and all you hear is: “Are you sure you’re right about that? That’s not how things work in my neighborhood, my place of employment, not in my business, not in my circles, not in my family, not in my school, not in my police department.” It might make you start to feel like you’re crazy.

Lin Manuel Mirand didn’t try to make this about him. He didn’t try to deny people’s experience with his work and his words. He just said, “I hear you, it’s valid. I didn’t get it quite right.” 

Here’s a tricky part, though. An unspoken part of that is that going forward, people will expect him to do a little better. If he goes on to make Franklin, and Washington, and Madison, all smash hit musicals that make him wealthier and more influential and still kind of soft-pedals or pussyfoots around slavery, people won’t be so easily swayed next time. They want to see progress, they want to see effort.

Do we have a problem with that? Is that unfair? Do we have a vested interest in making entertainment that doesn’t acknowledge the complications of our country’s history? Is there really no way to tell a feel good story about our country without letting us off the hook for our many sins? Can you not be proud of America for how far we’ve come and still acknowledge how far we have to go? 

Is this an artistic problem? Is this a free expression problem? I mean, no one is saying Miranda can’t go forward in a completely ass-backwards, tone-deaf kind of way. And he’d probably have a lot of defenders and make a lot of money. But also, can you maybe understand how more and more people would get sick of it? And not want to support it? Not want to buy into it? In other words, cancel it? That’s what happens when you get valid criticism and decide to ignore it.

On the other end of the extreme, last week Nick Cannon said a bunch of crazy shit on his podcast. There was a lot of consternation among white twitter that black twitter wasn’t enthusiastic or full-throated enough in it’s condemnation of Nick Cannon. Can you imagine? A black man said something racist on a podcast, and not all black people condemned him outright. In fact, a few black folks defended him. Can you believe that? That’s some crazy shit. This is a real problem, right? Well, let’s talk about it. I mean, let’s really talk about it.

First off, who is Nick Cannon? I really didn’t know much about him when I went to look at his whole deal. I knew he was somebody, kind of like the way I know Dylan McDermott and Dermot Mulroney aren’t the same person… kind of in a vague, theoretical way.

If you don’t know, he’s a rapper, actor, comedian, and television host. You may have seen him on Wild ‘n Out, America’s Got Talent, or The Masked Singer. He’s starred in the films Drumline, and Love Don’t Cost a Thing among others. He also was married to Mariah Carey and they have several children together. He has a net worth of $30 million dollars. 

What did he do? Nick has a podcast called Cannon’s Class. In an episode from June, he promoted several anti-semetic conspiracy theories about the wealthy, jewish, Rothschild family, calling them the “blood lines that control everything even outside of america.” He then praised the leader of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan and then started dropping some racial science that he’d picked up. 

On the podcast, he said: “Melanin comes with compassion. Melanin comes with soul. We call it ‘soul’. We ‘soul brothers and sisters’. It’s the melanin that connects us. The people that don’t have it, and I’m gonna say this carefully, are a little less. And where the term actually comes from, because I’m bringing it all the way back around to minister Farrakhan, to where they may not have the compassion, where they were sent to the mountains of Caucasus, when they didn’t have the power of the sun, that sun then started to deteriorate. So then they’re acting out of fear, they’re acting out of low self-esteem, they’re acting out of a deficiency. So therefore, the only way that they can act is evil. The only way they have to rob, steal, rape, kill, and fight in order to survive. So then these people who didn’t have what we have, and when I say ‘we’ I speak of the melanated people, they had to be savages, they had to be barbaric. Because they’re in these Nordic mountains, they’re in these rough, torrential environments, they’re acting as animals. So they’re the ones that are actually closer to animals.”

Now here’s the part of the article where I explain how this isn’t racist if you understand the background and the history and put these words into the context… except fuck no I’m going to do that cause that’s super blatently racist! It’s so racist! It’s the trifecta of racism. It’s got it all. 1) White people are evil, 2) this evil is not a choice we make, but something that is inborn, something wrong with our genetic makeup, a deficiency in our bodies, minds, and souls. 3) this makes us sub-human, closer to animals. 

That’s some wild, crazy-ass racist shit Nick Cannon is talking. 

And this is why I really stress the difference between institutional racism and personal prejudice and hate. Because if I say something that is technically true in an academic structural-racism sense like, “black people can’t be racist against white people”, then I’m going to tie myself into knots trying to defend how actually Nick’s comments aren’t racist. Because holy shit, they’re really racist.  

But they’re not institutionally racist. Which is why I’m not going to lose sleep over it. And it doesn’t bother me that Black people didn’t universally condemn Nick Cannon either. Now this might seem hypocritical or contradictory, but I think I can explain myself if you’ll give me a chance. Because there are several reasons. 

But first, I want to talk about Nick’s comments. Because this black supremacy stuff… it’s really funny how they are literally the opposite side of the coin as white supremacists. 

So, the prominent racial theory promulgated by black supremacists is that white people were created in a selective breeding experiment by a prehistoric scientist named Yakub. The white race was a corruption of the original, perfect, black race. Whites are vile where blacks are virtuous, whites steal where blacks create, black people are beloved by god, white people lack souls. They reserve special hatred for jewish people who, as the ultimate insult, stole the black race’s inheritance as being God’s chosen people for themselves, then altered history and used lies and trickery to turn the world against them to keep people ignorant of the truth. To this day the jews control the world with lies and currency and media manipulation. This is, to restate the obvious, an extremely fringe opinion within the black community. This is the official view point of the nation of islam, of groups callign themselves the black israelites. I take it that internally black folks call these types “hoteps” for reasons that are not entirely clear to me. 

What’s amazing again, is if you know anything about white supremacy theory, this is just literally the bizarro form of this. And it’s batshit. Black? White? All the racial supremacy theories? They’re all horseshit.

But both white and black supremacy serve to answer the same questions: Why are these things happening to me? Why do the other people act the way they do? If you’re a poor white person living in a place with shity schools and little access to health care deep in debt or barely getting by, why is this happening to you? You’re smart. You work hard. You love your family. These black people are committing all the crimes and they’re celebrated for it! Cops try to put a stop to it and people burn cities down, it’s insane.

On the other hand, if you’re a poor black person, you ask similar questions. Why is this happening to me? Why do white folks act like they do? You’re smart, you work hard, you love your family. White people lie, cheat and steal on a giga-level, international level, billion-dollar level, and they get celebrated for it! People name buildings, stadiums, and build statues for them! And then they want to clutch their pearls when someone loots a TV from a megacorp? We try to draw attention to cops killing us in public and they come in with all lives matter? It’s insane. 

The white supremacists say that black and brown people are low IQ and non-competitive because they evolved in tropical climates where they didn’t have to worry about planning for growing seasons and wearing clothes and building sturdy housing. Everything was easy for them, so they never had to work for anything which is why they don’t’ want to work for anything now.

The black supremacists say that white people are hard and cruel because they were driven to harsh northern climates where their soul was beat out of them by the lands they inhabited, and they are prone to cruel domination and taking by force because they don’t know any other way.

Not only are these viewpoints eerily in their symmetry with each other, but they are also often commingled with other lines of thought. Black and white sumpremacists are often also anti-woman, and anti-gay. 

These are insane answers to the question of “why is the world the way it is today?” As I have tried to make the point repeatedly on my podcast, there are satisfying answers. If you look at history, you look at psychology, you look at social studies, you look at economics, it’s right there. The questions have answers, the problems have solutions. But they’re not easy answers, they’re not simple solutions. 

Nick Cannon can explain the problem in 2 minutes. He just did. Why are white people like they are? Why are black people oppressed? White people have no soul, and the Jews control the world. Guys like David Duke can explain the same thing to white people, just as short. Black people are emotionally and mentally stunted, and also, yes, the Jews control the world. 

If I want to argue against them, I have to explain 400 years of North American history. I have to explain the psychology of why, to the privileged and elite, equality feels like a form of oppression. I have to cite studies, ask people to consider feeling empathy for lives they haven’t led and find difficult to imagine. I have to argue with hard data against people’s anecdotal experience that they then want to generalize about the whole world.

If you’re poor, if you’re ignorant, if you’re hopeless, answers that let you take pride in things you had no hand in achieving, like your skin color, and allow you, without thinking, to hate an enemy that has no redeeming qualities are attractive.

But here’s why I don’t lose sleep over black nationalists and black supremacists, but I am afraid of white nationalists and white supremacists. 

I’m going to paraphrase Michael Harriot from The Root, who had a take on Cannon that I loved. He said that he doesn’t care if there are white supremacists that stock the shelves at the local home depot. He cares if there are racist judges, racist cops, racist politicians. A powerless white man who stocks the shelves at Home Depot and hates black people is a racist, even if he can’t materially affect any black person’s day-to-day life. He goes on to say that a black police officer wields as much power as his fellow white officers. Whether they are black or white, cops are all subject to the same racist notion that black people are more dangerous, which leads to disproportionate murders of black people.

I can’t think of any black nationalists, or black supremacists that work at any level in the Federal Government. Can you? On the other hand, we have US Representative Steve King from Iowa, who said in 2019, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”  We have former Senator and Attorney General Jeff Sessions who, among other things, said that the NAACP shoved civil rights down citizens’ throats and that he thought the KKK was okay until they started smoking pot. Thank god he and Steve King lost their primary elections this year, so they’re out of office for now. 

But speaking off Jeff Sessions, his former staffer back in his Senate days, Stephen Miller is a real piece of work. He went to Duke University with out-and-proud white supremacist Richard Spencer. They worked together at Duke’s Conservative Union. Trump hired him to be a senior white house advisor. IN 2018, emails leaked showed that he pitched dozens of stories to far right media outlet Breitbart that he had read in white nationalist publications such as American Renaissance and VDARE, as well as InfoWars. He also promoted The Camp of the Saints, a French novel circulating among neo-Nazis that depicts the destruction of Western civilization through Third World immigration to France and the West.

Can you imagine if President Obama had made Nick Cannon a white house chief advisor a year or two after he spouts this Yakub stuff on a podcast? What if he made him attorney general. What if white people were just 15 percent of the population, and we had 1/10 the net economic power of black people. How safe would you feel in that America?

But now I ask you: Are you white? Do you have a twitter account? Have you roundly condemned these men serving at the highest levels of the federal government? If you have, how many of your white friends and family have? Has it been a universal condemnation. We all know the answer to that. 

And that answer is the reason why black twitter was seemingly indifferent about condemning Nick Cannon last week. To be sure, there were black folks doing it. Terry Crews and Kareem Abdul Jabar some of the notable people calling Nick out for his anti-semetism and hate speech.

Why do we expect black people to universally condemn anything a crazy black man happens to say, when we don’t hold ourselves to the same standard. That’s another form of racism. A white guy says or does something crazy racist and not only is the condemnation far from universal, but they’ll actually spend hours on cable TV arguing about whether it’s even racist! Trump can say people coming from Mexico are rapists and criminals and we debate whether that’s racist. One of his staffers known to hold far right views can show up with a hungarian nazi medal pinned to his suit and we spend weeks debating exactly what that pin might have meant in 1921 Hungary and does it really necessarily mean he has to be a nazi? And nobody sticks a microphone in our face and demands from all of us an explanation, because they’re just guys with crazy beliefs.

But a black man? Well, that’s an indictment of blackness in America. That’s what’s wrong with black people in America. It’s the result of rap music, of higher education, of victim culture, of black resentment, blah blah blah. It’s ridiculous. 

In fact, the reason why white people nowadays are bristling at the term “white people” being thrown around is because we are used to being treated as individuals. The idea that they belong to a collective group that people might ascribe bad motives to is insulting! And it is! It sucks to be lumped into a group and dismissed because your skin is a certain color or you live in a certain region. 

So bringing this back to Nick… Sure Nick Cannon is fairly wealthy, and has several public platforms, although he’s lost many of those in the last week or so. He’s not quite the powerless racist white guy mixing paint at Home Depot, but even so… can he craft racist anti-white policy? Can he write speeches that the president will then deliver to enthusiastic crowds whipping them into anti-immigrant and anti-black sentiment? No, and that’s why I won’t lose sleep.

But why shouldn’t we cancel Nick Cannon if we have the chance? Must he have a platform? Should black children be taught Yakubian science right along with their social studies so they can see both sides represented? Should we teach flat earth theory alongside earth science? 

I don’t want that shit taught. I don’t want those ideas out there in the mainstream. Does that mean I’m afraid of open debate? I can tear the shit out of white supremacy and black supremacy, holocaust denialism, bogus IQ research, all kinds of stuff, but I don’t see the point in teaching people the wrong things just so you can then teach them the right things. Sure, teach people how to reason, how to critically evaluate information, but that doens’t mean we have to hear from every neo-nazi and black israelite to satisfy some idea of a robust free market of ideas. There are too many real problems, with really nuanced, difficult answers, we can focus on.

By the way, let me wrap this supremacy talk in a neat little bow. You want to know the super duper secret way to defeat black supremacy? Take care of black people. You want to know the super duper secret way to defeat white supremacy? Take care of white people. Give them healthcare, give them economic opportunity, fix their shitty schools, invest in their towns, cities, and neighborhoods, let them see a bright future for their children and I promise they’ll forget all about this neo-nazi and hotep shit. 

So what do I think about that Harper’s Magazine letter calling for free speech to be respected and the civil discourse of ideas to not be hampered by angry crowds? I think some of the people signing it, like say, Noam Chomksy, have a right to fear free speech restrictions, because they’ve lived through it, and they’ve seen how the country can get torn by war, divided by race, and looted til the cupboards are bare if we stop giving a shit about what is true and just and right.  And I think some of them are hacks that are hoping we don’t notice the shell game they are playing where they equate criticism with harassment. They can’t accept valid criticism, and they want to be accepted by their fellow elites, but their gosh darn sexism, or homophobia, or racism, or transphobia just isn’t tolerated the way it used to be and why can’t we just talk about this stuff in a civilized manner? Why can’t I still get paid and still get lavished with praise and get my due as a public intellectual?

Criticism can lead to cancellation. No question. If someone over here is talking about Yakub creating the evil white race, or saying black people are the descendants of the cursed sons of Ham, and I say, “that’s fucking stupid, read a book”, and people agree with me and turn their backs on the nonsense… that’s free speech working as intended. 

I also get the feeling that some of these hacks don’t like the fact that the internet, and social media in particular, has reduced the barrier it takes to become a critic. They very much liked the old system where they got to decide who got exposed, and for what. They want to be able to decide if we cancel the Nick Cannons, the Lin Manuel Mirandas, the Sinead O’connors and the Muhummad Alis of the world. They want to decide what issues have merit and which ones we should look the other way on. They don’t want a person with a thousand twitter followers looking into who they follow and like and retweet. They don’t want to have to explain why they attend cocktail parties with fascists and rubes that pedal conspiracy theories about race, class, sex and gender. They want to decide when it’s acceptable to debate a person’s humanity and worth to society, and when that’s beyond the pale. And they certainly don’t want anyone pointing out that a lot of the time they use their own personal experience as the judge for what is okay and what’s not. And they really, really don’t want anyone asking, “Hey, aren’t you people all kinda from the same background, have remarkably consistent skin color, and the same net worth?”

I also want to note with the most delicious irony that several of the signatories to this open letter on cancel culture expressed shock and dismay that they were associated with some of the other people signing it, some have also engaged in the public attempted-cancelling of their peers and fellow signatories since signing. I mean, you hate to see it, folks. The pain, the trauma, the shame of cranial-rectal co-location. They just can’t help themselves. It’s moist and dark up there, let me tell you, I’ve been there.

I support criticism, whether it’s directed at me or causes I support. I don’t welcome nor condone harassment. But I’ve received my fair share of both, and if I keep doing Three Right Turns long enough, I’ll get plenty more. But at the end of the day, cancel culture isn’t something you can criticise except in the broadest, most general terms. It’s only worth talking about in specifics. Who is being canceled? How much power and influence do they have? What’s it about? What did they say? Is it true? Is it misleading? Who is trying to get them canceled? What are they wanting to achieve? Those are the questions you have to ask, and they’ll lead to the only conversations worth having. Each case is different. 

Because nobody is a free speech absolutist. Who out there is thinking, “now hold on, we need to hear this Nick Cannon guy out?” But, while I’m cool with Nick being cancelled, I’m cool with us pulling financial support, withdrawing our attention, and criticizing his views harshly, I hope he comes back from this. I hope he gets educated, learns the truth about the world, and uses his perspective as a former black supremacist to help others avoid that path and help those walking down it come back to reality. Because who better than an ex-hotep to talk a hotep out of being a hotep? God, I really hope hotep isn’t one of those words a 43 year old white guy can’t say. But you know what, if it is, I can apologize. I can learn. And I can acknowledge the legitimacy of a criticism. And if I ever stop being able to do that… maybe it’s time to cancel me. Get me off the air. Stop paying attention to me. 

But hopefully, today is not that day, because we do work hard on these things and if you think they help, or if you’ve learned anything today you don’t get from your average, everyday sort of political commentary, we could use your support.

The best way to do that is by heading over to patreon.com/swizzbold.  Your Patronage entitles you to special bonuses like subreddit flair for /r/swizzbold, and access to our special monthly patron only live streams that we archive on our patron site.

If you have a righteous complaint, criticism, or comment, (or dare I hope, an “attaboy”?) please send that into 3RT@swizzbold.com, or participate in the show threads on our subreddit at r/swizzbold. Follow us at all the social media @swizzbold. Thanks so much for reading, check out One Weird Trick next week as Cecily and I will be doing our best to dish out ideas and tips for living your best lives. And I’ll be back the following week on Wednesday to champion what needs championing, and cancel what needs canceling. Until then, stay safe, help a friend register to vote, hell help ten. Have a great week!