The Key to Fixing Race Relations in America is to Get Back to Intent
In defense of not just Joe Rogan...
On Tuesday, I was invited to debate the latest Joe Rogan controversy on Indisputable with Dr. Rashad Richey, which is part of the Young Turks Network. The host was a bit hostile, particularly at first, the format was designed to give him an advantage while making me look bad and we spent an inordinate amount of time discussing race, which makes most white conservatives feel extremely uncomfortable.
Yet and still, I genuinely had a blast and would love to do the show again.
I don’t mind combative conversations, I don’t mind discussing racial issues since I’m not worried about being canceled and even if it wasn’t “fair,” I was at least generally given an opportunity to get my points across. Besides, how many places in the American media are there where these issues are discussed at all? Especially in front of a liberal audience? So, yes, maybe he got to slant the field in his favor, but that’s the privilege that comes from having your own show. Good on him for being willing to have the discussion in the first place.
On top of all that, there was a particularly interesting part of our debate that I thought was worth elaborating on because it cuts to the heart of why there’s so much racial division in America today. It involves Joe Rogan’s now-notorious “Planet of the Apes” remark that the woke tried to use to get him kicked off of Spotify. Let me give you a quick primer since I know from the back-end data, most of you don’t click through to the videos.
Long story short, Joe Rogan is in Philadelphia with a couple of white friends, and he goes to a movie theater to see “Planet of the Apes.” When he gets there, he’s surprised because he and his friends are the only white people in the theater. When he walks into the theater and realizes there are no other white people there, his description of that was, “We walked into Planet of the Apes. We walked into Africa.” A moment later he realizes that sounds bad and says, "Planet of the Apes didn’t take place in Africa. That was a racist thing for me to say. You see what I’m saying." He goes on to say that everyone was really cool to him and talks about how it was the first time he understood what black Americans were talking about when they complained about not being represented in the movies. Essentially, he said, he always kind of shrugged that off before, but when he was sitting in an all-black movie theater, it felt very weird to him to only see white people in the previews of the movies. He said the only black guy in any of the previews was like a black doorman who kind of endorsed Jonah Hill as being cool when he talked black.
Here’s an excerpt edited for brevity (we weaved in and out of that subject for a while) that goes into the key part of my conversation with Dr. Rashad Richey about that topic:
Dr. Rashad Richey: Implicit bias is innate. It’s connected to your core, and it’s so indoctrinated to your pattern to understanding the broader world around you that you are unable to detect it. It comes out when you make a statement like, “Yeah, I was around a bunch of black people, no white people were in sight, so I felt like I was in Planet of the Apes.” Well, that’s what we call an implicit bias slip-up. Because in his implicit bias, in his world, when he’s only around black people, and no white people are there, that he’s now in a jungle of sorts. That he’s around animals. …Now he corrected it because he’s at least smart enough to realize how that’s going to land… it came from a very genuine and authentic place inside of him that has to be checked, brother…
John Hawkins: …Maybe it’s not implicit racism. Maybe Joe Rogan is just a comedian being edgy and he’s on the air all the time and occasionally he says dumb stuff. …I disagree with you categorically on trying to take everything into this, “Ok, we’ve got to look at everything for implicit bias. How deep can we dip in here and decide something’s racist.” I think we’ve got to look at intent.
An awful lot of the fighting over race that we do in America comes from taking the “implicit bias” approach because it doesn’t consider intent. Because it’s almost entirely arbitrary. Because by its very nature, it makes racial issues almost unsolvable.
For example, getting back to the Joe Rogan example we’re talking about. Dr. Richey looks at it as a racist comment that’s bubbling up from how Joe Rogan sees the world. So, it doesn’t matter if Rogan says he just misspoke. It doesn’t matter if he said he didn’t mean it right after he said it and apologized fully later on. Despite all that, it’s representative of who Joe Rogan is as a person at his core.
On the other hand, I’d say Joe Rogan’s comment was insensitive, that he was right for trying to quickly step away from that thoughtless remark, and that I’d take him at his word when he says that his apology is sincere.
So, ask yourself some questions about these two approaches.
Which one of these ways of looking at the world allows for grace and forgiveness? Which one allows people to get past disagreements, and which one keeps people eternally stewing in grievances? Which one produces the maximum amount of agreement, and which one inevitably leads to bitter arguments?
That last one becomes particularly relevant since what constitutes “implicit bias” is almost completely arbitrary. If everything from wearing a MAGA hat, to hoop earrings, to going to a farmer’s market is concrete evidence of racism – and to some people on the Left, it is – is it any surprise that people complain about “structural racism” or think of America as a “white supremacist” country? Even if they don’t start out with that intention, seeing everything through the lens of implicit bias leads to a view of the world that inevitably leads the people who adopt it to conclude that almost everyone that disagrees with them is an irredeemable racist – and then what? Back in 2018, I wrote a column called, “What I’d Like to Say to the White Nationalist Who Wrote to Me.” In it, I said:
An America where every group is primarily loyal to its own country of origin or race is an America without a bright future.
Additionally, one of the things I’ve always wondered about is how an all-white America is even supposed to work at this point. It’s like the South Park Underwear Gnomes…
Step 1: White Americans all become one tribe that puts each other first.
Step 2: ???????????????????
Step 3: America is dominated by white Americans and life is good!
What is step 2?
I could look at the approach the Left is taking to race in America today and ask a pretty similar question,
Step 1: All white Americans who don’t agree with the liberal line of the moment are actually racist.
Step 2: ???????????????????
Step 3: America is dominated by the Left; racism is gone, and life is good!
What is step 2?
If you think Joe Rogan is a racist while Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, and everyone who supported Trump are white supremacists, despite the fact that none of them would agree with that designation, what’s the end game of that thought process?
This is why I said that “we’ve got to look at intent.” Intent matters a lot.
For example, back when I ran Right Wing News, an enormous amount of conservative talent was interviewed by me, had their columns posted there, worked for me, or had some kind of association with the website. There are dozens and dozens of people that passed through RWN that ended up everywhere from Fox to Breitbart to even working for members of Congress.
Once, I was perusing Twitter, I noticed that someone who was associated with Right Wing News at the time had put up a meme attacking a person that made a reference to gas chambers. It was something kind of like this, but with a person’s face in there that they didn’t like:
After seeing that, I wrote them, referenced that tweet, and said something like, “I think that meme is anti-Semitic. I don’t know what you personally believe and maybe you’re just trying to be edgy. However, if that’s something you really believe in, Right Wing News probably isn’t going to be a good fit for you going forward.” In response, they immediately deleted the tweet (which I had not asked them to do), wrote me back, and said that it was just a bad joke and they didn’t mean anything by it. I said something like, “Oh good. Glad to hear it” and that was the end of it. As far as I know, they never put anything up like that again or wrote anything that could be considered anti-Semitic.
With all that in mind, would it have been better and fairer if I had seen that meme, decided they had “implicit bias” against Jewish people, and then announced to the world that I wanted nothing to do with them because they were irredeemably anti-Semitic? I don’t think so at all.
To the contrary, I think all human beings sometimes make mistakes, say thoughtless things they don’t mean, and spout off without thinking about it. Sometimes, those mistakes may be so big or revealing that they really can’t be overlooked or waved off. However again, since this is something all human beings do at times, foolish comments should have to clear a very high bar before things like firing people, publicly branding them as a racist, or siccing a Twitter hate mob on them should enter the picture.
Additionally, intent matters not just on the part of the people who are allegedly saying something racist but on the part of the people claiming something racist is being said. Are you really going to try to tell me that there are people genuinely offended by the A-OK symbol? Because I don’t believe that even the world’s most easily offended, hypersensitive, ultra-woke weenies are “offended” when they see someone do an A-OK symbol (which was branded as a hate symbol after a 4Chan prank designed to portray liberals as gullible and oversensitive actually took hold among gullible and oversensitive liberals).
How much of what we hear called “racism” today is just bad faith allegations by people looking for clout or a way to hurt their political enemies? Just as one example of many, all these allegations about Rogan have been around for years. Are we supposed to believe that suddenly people decided that they were genuinely offended by what he said? Are we supposed to pretend that if he were in the good graces of the Left all of it wouldn’t just be excused out of hand? Because we all know better. Canada’s current far-left prime minister, Justin Trudeau, wore blackface to a party. The current very liberal President of the United States, Joe Biden, said the N-word on the floor of the Senate in 1985. Was Biden being malicious about it? No, but neither was Rogan.
See? Everyone on the Left seems to understand the importance of intent and forgiveness very well when it applies to people they like. When they don’t like someone all that much, suddenly, we need to take a deep dive into their psyche and declare them irredeemably racist.
Whether you are talking about Critical Race Theory, implicit bias, structural racism, or any of these other ideas about race that the Left is increasingly adopting, they are guaranteed to produce outrage, anger, fighting, and an endless series of unsolvable grievances because that’s the automatic end result of those kinds of thinking. You can’t point to a place anywhere that embraces that kind of thinking, genuinely brings people together, and solves problems because viewing the world that way isn’t designed to do that. It’s designed to turn people against each other, split people apart, and gin up issues. If that way of looking at the world wins out, racial grievances, resentment, and hatred are destined to be a problem for the foreseeable future no matter how many or few actual racists there are in the country.