Why Howard Stern’s reaction to being shown he did use the N-word is a teachable moment
OPINION: The shock jock has evolved with the times we're living in, but that doesn't mean he can't be held accountable for his proven use of the slur
This week, veteran shock jock Howard Stern paid a visit to the ladies on The View to promote his latest book, Howard Comes Again, which is basically a collection of his greatest interviews and insights about what he’s learned from talking to some of the most successful and celebrated people in the world.
When he took the stage co-host Meghan McCain could barely contain her glee and made it known to everyone in the studio what a huge fan she was of his. Despite the endorsement from McCain (who I don’t agree with on much), I found myself warming up to this older, seemingly softer version of Stern. Everything about his demeanor hinted at a man who’d had some good therapy (and/or a great publicist), convince him to update his persona for these new ‘woke’ times we find ourselves in.
Which is why when Sunny Hostin very casually called the radio host out for the use of the N-word on his show, neither he or the audience saw it coming.
I was in college in the ‘80s, and I found your show so offensive,” Hostin admitted. To which Stern replied, “Thank you,” as the audience laughed.
“You were a shock jock,” she continued. “You used the N-word a lot.”
At this point Stern is no longer amused and interjects, “Wait a second. I used the N-word? Hold on a second before you say that.”
“Yeah you did,” the former federal prosecutor pushed back calmly. “I remember it.”
At this point Stern is clearly flustered but quickly regains his composure by explaining to Hostin that she must have gotten him mixed up with a member of the KKK who he interviewed in the past.
Stern said, “Hold on, no. We had a guy on from the Ku Klux Klan who very freely used the N-word, and my belief was hey, say it out in the open, I didn’t use the N-word. Let’s be very clear.”
Yes Howard, let’s be very clear.
The internet found the receipts
After the hiccup with Hostin, Stern saved face on the show by saying that it was his hope that people like her who didn’t understand his humor and his show would give it another chance and realize that what he does is deeper than his reputation would have you believe.
To Hostin’s credit she was gracious, let him speak about himself as if he was doing God’s work on his radio show, and even conceded that despite the fact that she found the old him offensive, it was clear that he had evolved over the years and she appreciated that.
Right before they went to commercial break, McCain couldn’t help weighing in and blurted, “I grew up listening to you, Cindy McCain is my mother, I love the show forever. I was never offended.”
All that Kumbaya stuff was fine, and to be fair, you really can tell that Stern has grown up since 2010 when he called Gabourey Sidibe, “the most enormous, fat black chick I’ve ever seen,” and predicted she’d never be able to have a career beyond her movie Precious. That version of him couldn’t survive in this social climate and clearly he knows that.
But check it, the way these internet streets are set up, it’s a bad idea to lie about using the n-word on air, and then get self-righteous about how you’d never do such a thing. Cause at that point, all you’re doing is begging for the “Receipt Police” to show up.
And show up they did.
— Tommy X-TrumpIsARacist-opher (@tommyxtopher) May 16, 2019
As you can see in this hot mess of a tweet above, not only was Hostin right about Stern using the N-word repeatedly on his show, in one clip alone he used it six times in two minutes, while dressed in blackface and making fun of her The View co-host Whoopi Goldberg.
After watching this video, that mildly scolding tone Stern had yesterday, while telling a woman with a law degree that she needed to get her facts straight…feels bold (and wrong) AF. So I completely understand why some people are now dragging him online. Yes, folks can evolve. But “doing the work” with a therapist doesn’t absolve you of accountability or give you the license to rewrite history.
Outside of the apology fruit basket that Stern clearly now needs to send to Sunny’s dressing room, what also struck me about yesterday’s incident is the silence of Goldberg. Here is a younger woman calling out this white man for his former sins, while you, a person who was literally the target of his racist jokes says nothing.
And I don’t point this out as an assault on Goldberg’s character, quite the opposite to be honest. I’m a big fan of hers and think what she’s accomplished in her career is extraordinary. Yet, as a woman young enough to be her daughter, many times I’ve been saddened by the fact that some of her stances on social issues aren’t as far along as I would’ve hoped. At times, even with the best of intentions, Goldberg can come off like an apologist.
But yesterday, the juxtaposition of an unflappable Sunny calling Stern out, while Whoopi simply watched in mild confusion, gave me a really clear snapshot on what separates younger Black women from our older counterparts.
In this day and we Black and Brown women speak up for ourselves. We demand to be heard, seen and counted. We don’t hold back and we confront those who seek to oppress us head on. But Whoopi’s generation didn’t have those luxuries. They were called n***a to their faces at jobs they couldn’t afford to lose. They kept their heads down and plotted their moves in silence so as not to tip off their oppressors and/or get killed. And even when they got offered a seat at the proverbial table, there was still an unspoken rule about who got to sit at the head of it.
Goldberg and the women of her age group often bit their tongues while organizing a revolution, so that women like Hostin — and even myself — could show up in this current climate where we feel so free to speak our minds. And to be honest, Whoopi has probably seen so much and picked her battles on so many occasions, she may not even remember that specific offensive skit about her. You don’t thrive in show business as long as she has by holding onto old gripes.
As for Stern, does this warrant him being “cancelled?” Eh. Not really. If he’s really as evolved as he claims to be yesterday’s interview probably served as a teachable moment for him to think twice before dismissing allegations he hasn’t fact checked first. But in quite an unexpected way, yesterday also ended up serving as a reminder for me not to be so hard on the older generation when it comes to social justice. We might be carrying the torch, but they literally paved the way.
Follow writer Blue Telusma on Instagram at @bluecentric