Joe Rogan’s Racial Slurs Incite Controversy

Vy Nguyen, Op-Ed Editor

Photo by Zainab Rentia.

From Huckleberry Finn to rap lyrics, the discussion of the n-word has endured since its trip through the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. However, despite its long-standing imprint on America, a few questions are never fully answered: what punishment, if any, fits the crime of the word? Is the word a crime in the first place?

Answers began to bubble on February 3 when the “I Am Not My Hair” singer, India Arie, removed her music from Spotify, in response to former host Joe Rogan’s use of the racial slur on his podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, which Spotify acquired for $100 million. While the abruptness of Arie’s exit implies that the incident was recent, her Instagram story later that day revealed differently. After explaining how “[other artists are paid] 0.003 percent of a penny,” she posted a 20-second video compilation encapsulating 12 years of Rogan saying the word on his podcast. In the video’s few seconds, he said the word — with a hard “r” sound — a total of 25 times. 

Layered on top of those clips was a video where Rogan recalled going to a predominantly Black movie theater. As he discussed the film he watched, Planet of the Apes, he chuckled, claiming he was actually inside a planet of apes — an auditorium filled with Black people. To his fans, this anecdote was just innocuous comedy, not meant to be taken seriously. Nevertheless, for many, including Daily Show host Trevor Noah, this statement was the last straw;  Noah felt it reduced and dehumanized Black people in a way that nearly matched slavery, or in his words, “O.G. racism.”

“Just because something is a joke, doesn’t mean it can’t be something else as well,” said Noah during a segment. “A joke can be racist… In fact, a joke can be racist and funny, if you’re telling it to the right crowd.”

Rogan issuing his apology in a video on Instagram.
Photo by Zainab Rentia.

In response to the deluge of criticism and withdrawal of fan base support, Rogan uploaded an apology, on February 5, to Instagram about the “most regretful and shameful thing” he has ever spoken about. His apology has been met with reassuring and laudatory remarks despite dozens of his podcasts being removed the next day. According to a 2018 Spotify Policy, Spotify reviewers remove content that incites hatred or violence against people because of their race, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation. 

Despite the removal of Rogan’s podcasts, former presidential candidate, Andrew Yang, endorsed the apology and his friend’s character. In a tweet, he states that Rogan is not a racist as he “interacts and works with black people…all of the time,” believing that “we should have the capacity to forgive people” when they make mistakes.

In addition to the recent n-word controversy, Rogan, earlier this year, allegedly spread misinformation about vaccinations and COVID-19 after inviting two doctors on his podcast, prompting musicians Joni Mitchell and Neil Young to exit the platform in protest. During another apology video addressing the virus, he promised to inform his listeners more, avowing that “[he’s] interested in telling the truth” and “finding out what the truth is.”

As this situation laid the foundation for vitriol, his recent use of the n-word was a catalyst for some, like Noah and Arie, to launch criticism not only towards Rogan, but also towards America’s race relations.