Nick Cannon made his first appearance on a Jewish program Monday afternoon (Aug. 10) to unpack his personal atonement following his anti-Semitic comments. He also discussed better understanding of where the Jewish and Black communities can come together, especially regarding his personal intersection.
ViacomCBS severed ties with Cannon following a June 30-dated episode of the Cannon’s Class podcast where he made anti-Semitic comments and conspiracy theories during his interview with Richard Griffin, aka Professor Griff, who was pushed out of the prominent rap group Public Enemy in the late 1980s after making anti-Semitic comments in interviews. The podcast and TV show host later issued a public apology on Twitter on July 15 regarding “the hurtful and divisive words” he said during the segment with Griffin.
Cannon joined Rabbi Noam Marans, the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations, for an hour-long Zoom call this afternoon to discuss how he’s continuing to do the work to address anti-Semitism.
Cannon explained how he’s been expanding his initial apology into atonement by his education and actions, which include reading books like Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History; attending a Shabbat dinner; and potentially building Black and Jewish community centers in disenfranchised communities with American-Israeli pro basketball player Amar’e Stoudemire. “Apology is a step, but atonement is a process,” Cannon told Rabbi Marans.
“If my goal truly is to break down the walls and barriers amongst communities and bring us closer together, it truly is time to get rid of all of the things that divide us and utilize this moment. I’ll be that sacrificial lamb if I have to be that person that stands firm….” the 39-year-old star said. “A lot of people may have been upset that I apologized, but I feel like that’s what someone of true character is actually supposed to do when they hurt someone. And now, let’s get through this process of truth and reconciliation.”
Rabbi Marans mentioned the commonality in hate crime statistics between the Jewish community and the Black community. He said that Jewish people are “the most attacked people on the basis of faith,” while Black people are “the most attacked people on the basis of race.” Cannon built on the Rabbi’s comment on their communities’ similar oppression by saying they can’t be simplified into hashtags and how social media can reduce the weight of these issues as opposed to amplify them. But he did tap on his fellow members of Hollywood to meaningfully tap their mics regarding this issue, after someone asked how pop culture titans can be enlisted in the building bridges exercise.
“I’ll be the, for the lack of a better term, the sacrificial lamb in this process as a member of the entertainment community,” Cannon said, while revealing he tried stopping celebrities who came to his defense following his podcast episode controversy. “But what I did tell them… I was like, ‘Let’s clear the air and let’s atone first. And then, let’s, through our influence with the right words, the correct terminology, let’s talk about truly bringing light to how we can operate as one.'”
He continued: “We have to control the narrative. The narrative has been controlled with supremacy for far too long. So now we have to take it back and put it into our music, we have to put it into our movies, we have to put it into our documentaries, we have to put it into our social media…. I actually don’t even consider myself a leader, I consider myself a member of the community. And I don’t consider myself a celebrity either, because a celebrity is one who is celebrated, and right now I don’t need to be celebrated. Right now, it’s time for me to be a student….”
Cannon said he’s currently studying at his alma mater Howard University’s School of Divinity to get his Ph.D. in efforts to become a theologian. But he learned something new from his own family when coming to terms with his own anti-Semitic comments.
“My mother has been calling me every single day since this has happened with so much family history…. My great-grandfather was a Spanish Rabbi. He’s a Sephardic Jewish man,” he revealed. “So as much heat as I’ve been catching from the public and the outside, this hit home for my family in a real way because I come from a Black and Jewish family on my mother’s side.”
When someone asked about publicly calling out Louis Farrakhan, the current leader of the Nation of Islam who has also been condemned for his public anti-Semitic comments, Cannon only went as far to condemn his comments and not the Black religious leader himself because “God has never given me the power to throw away or condemn anyone.”
“Some of our great [Black] leaders have been called anti-Semitic: Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King[, Jr.], Malcolm X, James Baldwin, the list goes on,” he said. “When you see someone like Minister Farrakhan, who to our community has been a leader,… but the words and the demagoguery and the hate speech that… the Jewish community has experienced, I can never stand for anything hateful…. I can’t ever throw away a leader to the Black community.”
But Rabbi Marans expressed dissatisfaction with Cannon’s response because he roots the podcast host’s troublesome anti-Semitic comments in “the narratives that you had heard from others as your leaders,” he said. “And therefore, because you have gone down this road, you have a responsibility I think to call it out.”
Watch Cannon’s hour-long conversation with Rabbi Marans on AJC’s Facebook Live below.