4: African American celebrities and Black antisemitism

Support Black Lives Matter but do not ignore the long history of Black antisemitism

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

In July 2020, several African American celebrities and athletes made antisemitic remarks, including Philadelphia Eagles NFL player DeSean Jackson, former NBA player Stephen Jackson, rapper and actor Ice Cube and radio and television personality Nick Cannon. Those that apologized did so with the threat of having their careers canceled. However, their remarks caused damage.

At the beginning of July 2020, NFL star DeSean Jackson, a Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver posted on his social media account antisemitic quotes by Adolf Hitler and Louis Farrakhan. Jackson posted a quote falsely attributed to Hitler, which accuses “white Jews” of having a “plan for world domination.”[1] Jackson also posted on Instagram a photo of Farrakhan praising his Fourth-of-July YouTube address. Jackson praised Farrakhan, “This man powerful I hope everyone got a chance to watch this!! Don’t be blinded. Know what’s going on!!”[2] The Philadelphia Eagles management distanced themselves from Jackson’s remarks, while Jewish groups condemned his posts.

The Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey, the Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation and the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition issued a joint statement:

“Although Mr. Jackson later posted that he ‘has no hate in his heart,’ his amplification of hate-filled messages sent a very different message… All of the undersigned organizations work in coalitions in our community, foster interfaith and Black-Jewish dialogues, and support all efforts to ensure Philadelphia is safe and welcoming for all. We are willing to work with the Eagles and Mr. Jackson on education and outreach.”[3]

Jackson has apologized and “talked with a Holocaust survivor.”[4] In an Instagram video, Jewish NFL player Julian Edelman offered to go with Jackson to the U.S. Holocaust Museum and the National Museum of African American History and Culture together in Washington. Edelman said, “I know he said some ugly things, but I do see an opportunity to have a conversation,” Edelman said. “I am proud of my Jewish heritage. But for me, it’s not just about religion. It’s about community and culture as well.” [5]

Former NBA player-turned-podcaster and Black Lives Matter activist Stephen Jackson came to Jackson’s defense claiming the NFL player was “speaking the truth” about Jews and repeated an antisemitic stereotype about the Rothschilds “owning all the banks.” In an Instagram post, Jackson wrote, “Your races [sic] pain doesn’t hurt more than the next races [sic] pain. Don’t act like your hardships or [sic] more devastating then [sic] ours.” During an Instagram live video discussion, Jackson proclaimed, “Do you know who the Rothschilds are? They control all the banks, they own all the banks.” [6] Stephen Jackson personally met George Floyd when he was 19 and was friends with him since his death he emerged as a leader in the Black Lives Matters movement.

Some leading African American commentators have spoken out against their community’s antisemitic diatribes. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith and Michael Wilbon condemned Stephen Jackson’s remarks. With Smith lecturing Jackson:

“What ‘truth’ are you talking about? We’ve gone from George Floyd getting choked to death essentially, to statues being torn down, to tweets … Here we are talking about some post on Instagram … Know what are we gonna be talking about? We gonna be talking about Adolf Hitler, we gonna be talking about getting educated about the Holocaust and the Jewish community and Jewish history, we gonna be talking about those things, instead of issues that directly involve us as Black people.”[7]

NBA Hall of Famer and columnist Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and sports journalist Jemele Hill also spoke up against antisemitism. Abdul-Jabbar indicated in his column in the Hollywood Reporter, “[I]f it’s OK to discriminate against one group of people by hauling out cultural stereotypes without much pushback, it must be OK to do the same to others.” Abdul-Jabbar’s eloquent argument against any form of discrimination and antisemitism has made him a hero among Jewish leaders for his bravery and wise words.

Abdul-Jabbar wrote in his July 14, 2020 column:

“Recent incidents of antisemitic tweets and posts from sports and entertainment celebrities are a very troubling omen for the future of the Black Lives Matter movement, but so too is the shocking lack of massive indignation. Given the New Woke-fulness in Hollywood and the sports world, we expected more passionate public outrage. What we got was a shrug of meh-rage….

These famous, outspoken people share the same scapegoat logic as all oppressive groups from Nazis to the KKK: all our troubles are because of bad-apple groups that worship wrong, have the wrong complexion, come from the wrong country, are the wrong gender or love the wrong gender. It’s so disheartening to see people from groups that have been violently marginalized do the same thing to others without realizing that perpetuating this kind of bad logic is what perpetuates racism. [8]

In a column in The Atlantic, Hill recounted African Americans’ problems with antisemitism. [9]

“Regardless of what happens with Jackson, the unfortunate truth is that some Black Americans have shown a certain cultural blindspot about Jews. Stereotypical and hurtful tropes about Jews are widely accepted in the African American community. As a kid, I heard elders in my family say in passing that Jewish people were consumed with making money and that they “owned everything.” My relatives never dwelled on the subject, and nothing about their tone indicated that they thought anything they were saying was antisemitic — not that a lack of awareness would be any excuse. This also doesn’t mean that my family — or other African Americans — are more or less antisemitic than others in America, but experiencing the pain of discrimination and stereotyping didn’t prevent them from spreading harmful stereotypes about another group.” [10]

On June 30, 2020, celebrity personality and host, Nick Cannon posted on YouTube his “Cannon’s Class” video podcast interview of Richard “Professor Griff” Griffin. Griffin was a member of the rap group Public Enemy. In 1989, Public Enemy removed Griffin from the group for antisemitic and homophobic comments. [11]The interview filmed in late 2019, was filled with antisemitic stereotypes and conspiracy theories most of the distorted facts came from the Nation of Islam (NOI) which both Cannon and Griffin are members, and they both spoke of the admiration and defended past leader Farrakhan.[12] Griffin admitted his so-called facts came from the “research department” of the Nation of Islam. Cannon accused Jews of claiming Black antisemitism as a method to divide the African American community. Cannon also called Farrakhan the “Honorable Minister Farrakhan” and claimed American Jew “silenced” and “neutralized” him. Cannon said of Farrakhan, “Every time I’ve heard him speak, it’s positive, it’s powerful, it’s uplifting,” and Farrakhan “has been demonized.”

Griffin: “I looked up who was the Semitic people, and there’s a list of Semitic people, and anyone can do this right now, you can look up who are the Semitic people, what are the Semitic languages — [they have] absolutely nothing to do with any white people.”

Cannon: “The Semitic people are black people.”

Griffin: “Now we’re talking about ‘The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews,’ Who controls the music industry? Well, what am I supposed to say?”

The interviewer’s “girlfriend walks in, and his girlfriend’s white and Jewish. … Now his white Jewish girlfriend is sitting next to him, and she’s getting offended by me calling out the Cohens and the Moskowitzs.”

Cannon: “You’re just speaking facts. There’s no reason to be scared of anything when you’re speaking the truth.” “If we’re the true Children of Israel, why is it such a problem to speak the truth?”

Griffin: “It’s more a problem for them because they’ve taken our birthright.”

Cannon: “They don’t want us to be them. You can’t be antisemitic when we are the Semitic people when we are the same people who they want to be, that’s our birthright. We’re the true Hebrews.”

Cannon also brought up stereotypes and myths about the Rothchild family and Jewish control, “When we talk about the Rothschilds, centralized banking, the 13 families, the bloodlines that control everything even outside of America.”

Among Griffin’s past remarks include antisemitic stereotypes, promoting violence against Jews, and anti-Zionism. Griffin made those comments during an interview with the Washington Post.

“If the Palestinians took up arms, went into Israel and killed all the Jews, it’d be alright,” “I think that’s why they call it ‘jewelry,’ because the Jews in South Africa, they run that thing,” Jews are responsible for “the majority of the wickedness that goes on across the globe,” “the Jews finance these experiments on AIDS with black people in South Africa,” and “the Jews have their hands right around [President George H. W.] Bush’s throat.”

In mid-July 2020, the video caused a backlash, and the American Jewish community denounced Cannon’s comments and interview. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center responded, “Anyone seeking a PhD in Jew-hatred should watch this ‘interview’ in its entirety. Farrakhan’s hate is on full display in the next generation through cultural figures and social media.”

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt:

“Truly disturbing that @NickCannon would use his platform to perpetuate false antisemitic conspiracy theories and lift up the vehemently antisemitic Louis Farrakhan. He should apologize immediately and educate himself on why his comments are so harmful.”

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) tweeted:

“@NickCannon spreading antisemitic conspiracy theories about ‘Rothschilds’ and ‘Zionists’ to millions of his followers is abhorrent and unacceptable. His message of hate has no place in our society and should be condemned by all people of good conscience.”

StandWithUs Israel Executive Director Michael Dickson:

“I’m no fan of cancel culture, but if you get canceled for doing something racist without intent, what happens next for @NickCannon who willfully spread the most egregious antisemitic conspiracy theories & hate on his show?”

On Monday, July 13, Cannon took to Twitter to explain himself but refused to apologize.

“Anyone who knows me knows that I have no hate in my heart nor malice intentions. I do not condone hate speech nor the spread of hateful rhetoric. We are living in a time when it is more important than ever to promote unity and understanding.

The Black and Jewish communities have both faced enormous hatred, oppression persecution and prejudice for thousands of years and in many ways have and will continue to work together to overcome these obstacles,”

When you look at The Media, and other sectors in our nation’s history. African Americans and The people of the Jewish community have partnered to create some of the best, most revolutionary work we know today. I am an advocate for people’s voices to be heard openly, fairly, and candidly. In today’s conversation about anti-racism and social justice, I think we all including myself must continue educating one another &embrace uncomfortable conversations it’s the only way we ALL get better.

I encourage more healthy dialogue and welcome any experts, clergy, or spokespersons to any of my platforms to hold me accountable and correct me in any statement that I’ve made that has been projected as negative. Until then, I hold myself accountable for this moment and take full responsibility because My intentions are only to show that as a beautiful human species we have way more commonalities than differences, So let’s embrace those as well as each other. We All Family!” [13]

Cannon also doubled down in a Facebook post but refused to apologize.

“Anyone who knows me knows that I have no hate in my heart nor malice intention,” “I do not condone hate speech nor the spread of hateful rhetoric. We are living in a time when it is more important than ever to promote unity and understanding.”

“In today’s conversation about anti-racism and social justice, I think we all — including myself — must continue educating one another and embrace uncomfortable conversations — it’s the only way we ALL get better. I encourage more healthy dialogue and welcome any experts, clergy, or spokespersons to any of my platforms to hold me accountable and correct me in any statement that I’ve made that has been projected as negative,”

“I hold myself accountable for this moment and take full responsibility.” [14]

Despite the backlash and criticism, Cannon refused to apologize and gave an interview to Fast Money, where he said he would not “bow down” and apologize.[15]

“To me apologies are empty. Are you forcing me to say the words ‘I’m sorry’? Are you making me bow down, ’cause then again, that would be perpetuating that same rhetoric that we’re trying to get away from. What we need is healing. What we need is discussion. Correct me. I don’t tell my children to say, ‘I’m sorry.’ I want them to understand where they need to be corrected. And then that’s how we grow.

You can say sorry in as many different languages as you want to, and it means nothing. But until someone truly understands where they may have been wrong or where they may have offended someone, then that’s where growth occurs.

I can’t be responsible for however long Minister Farrakhan has been ministering and things that he said. That is his voice and his fight. I can only be held accountable for what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard.”

“I just want to focus on the positive aspects. But I condemn any hate speech. I don’t care who said it. I don’t care if my dad said it. I don’t care if Farrakhan said it. If anyone is saying something hateful or demonic, I don’t support that at all.”

Cannon admitted to speaking to some rabbis since the controversy and he planned to have them appear on his podcast.

“My podcast is specifically an academic podcast to have tough and difficult conversations based off of text. And if we read something and something’s not accurate, let’s do away with it. I can’t wait to sit down with some people that can help educate me and help further this conversation. I want to be corrected.”[16]

Cannon’s refusal to apologize led ViacomCBS to cut business ties with the host. In a statement, Viacom CBS condemned Cannon’s podcast, “which promoted hateful speech and spread antisemitic conspiracy theories.”

“ViacomCBS condemns bigotry of any kind and we categorically denounce all forms of antisemitism. We have spoken with Nick Cannon about an episode of his podcast ‘Cannon’s Class’ on YouTube, which promoted hateful speech and spread antisemitic conspiracy theories. While we support ongoing education and dialogue in the fight against bigotry, we are deeply troubled that Nick has failed to acknowledge or apologize for perpetuating antisemitism, and we are terminating our relationship with him.”

Cannon had a longtime association with Viacom since the late 1990s when he appeared on their Nickelodeon channel as a teenager and they owned

Cannon’s popular “Wild N’Out” program. Currently, Cannon is the host of “The Masked Singer” on Fox and he hosted “America’s Got Talent” on NBC from 2009–2016. [17]

Afterward, on Wednesday morning, July 15, Cannon took to Facebook, claiming after he was fired he had an “outpouring of love and support from the Jewish community.”[18]

“It has been amazing. I have spoken with many Rabbis, clergy, Professors, and coworkers who offer their sincere help. I must apologize to my Jewish Brothers and Sisters for putting them in such a painful position, which was never my intention, but I know this whole situation has hurt many people and together we will make it right.”

Cannon also revealed he had been invited to visit Israel and said it “is a lifelong dream” and he is pursuing a Ph.D. in Theology and Divinity. Cannon’s supporters took to Twitter and social media calling for a boycott of ViacomCBS, however, Cannon refused to apologize. [19]

Later that evening, Cannon finally apologized on Twitter. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center who quickly condemned Cannon’s podcast, spoke with Cannon for 30 minutes leading to his public apology. [20] Cannon called Rabbi Cooper and expressed, “I’m calling to apologize for the hurt that you felt. I now realize that what I thought was in fact turned out to be propaganda and hate rhetoric.” Rabbi Cooper convinced Cannon of the need to apologize to “the entire Jewish community.”

Cannon wrote:

“First and foremost I extend my deepest and most sincere apologies to my Jewish sisters and brothers for the hurtful and divisive words that came out of my mouth during my interview with Richard Griffin.

They reinforced the worst stereotypes of a proud and magnificent people and I feel ashamed of the uninformed and naïve place that these words came from.” [21]

Afterward, Cannon tweeted the conversation with Rabbi Cooper was a “blessed opportunity.”[22] The apology saved Cannon’s association with Fox. The network issued a statement allowing Cannon to “remain the host and executive producer of ‘The Masked Singer.’” Fox wrote:

“When we were made aware of Nick Cannon’s interview with Richard Griffin on YouTube, we immediately began a dialogue with Nick. He is clear and remorseful that his words were wrong and lacked both understanding and context, and inadvertently promoted hate.” [23]

Cannon has since met with Rabbi Cooper were they had a three-hour dialogue which he recorded for his video podcast. Cannon asked Rabbi Cooper to teach him about antisemitism, “I am asking to be corrected from your community, give me books, teach me, I am an empty vessel, an empty broken vessel. Teach me, fix me, lead me.” [24] Before their meeting, Cannon prepared and read Bari Weiss’s award-winning book “How to Fight Antisemitism.” During their meeting they “discussed the legacies of Simon Wiesenthal and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” and spoke about Farrakhan, which was more controversial, Cannon did not “disavow” Farrakhan. Cooper noted:

“Farrakhan is one of the greatest orators in America. Unfortunately, for us, he also hates Jews. His Million Man March as a concept is still great empowerment and there’s this perception among young blacks that they don’t have real leaders representing them. And [Farrakhan] is a person who gets up and ‘tells it like it is,’ and who is unafraid of the white establishment. He’s an attractive figure and he is selling a very powerful drug… victimhood.”

Rabbi Cooper recounted to the Forward that he “contrasted Farrakhan’s race-based rhetoric with the inspired messaging of Dr. King, whose ultimate aspiration was a nation in which people “will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Yet, instead of promoting Dr. King’s vision of a post-racial world, Cooper lamented that some high-profile Black figures have instead chosen to promulgate pernicious myths that delegitimize Jewish history.” On Monday, July 20, Cannon “visited with Rabbi Cooper at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance.” Cannon also left a donation to the museum. [25]

In the past, Rabbi Cooper also tried to help other African American celebrities learn about antisemitism. In 1989, Rabbi Cooper called out Professor Griff but it was the rapper and actor Ice Cube from Public Enemy that reached out to the rabbi. In 2017, Ice Cube emceed the Wiesenthal Center’s annual fundraising gala but on June 10, 2020, Ice Cube took to Twitter attacking Jews and then Kareem Adbul-Jabbar, who was speaking out against antisemitism among African Americans. [26] Ice Cube justified his ten tweet rant against Jewry, writing “What if I was just pro-Black? This is the truth brother. I didn’t lie on anyone. I didn’t say I was anti anybody. DONT BELIEVE THE HYPE. I’ve been telling my truth.” Ice Cube has since apologized.

Rabbi Cooper thinks the problem with the increase in Black antisemitism comes from, them “living [their] life based on his narrative.” Still, Rabbi Cooper feels he has to reach out and try because “We have an obligation to our neighbors. And we need friends and allies who are not Jewish. We cannot defeat antisemitism on our own.” [27] While these may have been the latest offenses and condemnations of Black antisemitism, unfortunately, they will not be the last episode. These outbursts are part of a long history of antisemitism coming from the African American population that started in colonial times in America.

[1] https://www.instagram.com/stories/0ne0fone/2347419504534209010/

[2] https://www.instagram.com/p/CCOeaBQldD7/

[3] https://philadelphia.adl.org/news/jewish-affiliated-organizations-jointly-condemn-eagles-wide-receiver-desean-jacksons-antisemitic-social-media-posts/

[4] https://www.jta.org/quick-reads/now-on-desean-jacksons-post-pandemic-schedule-visiting-auschwitz-with-a-holocaust-survivor

[5] https://www.jta.org/2020/07/09/sports/julian-edelman-invites-desean-jackson-to-have-uncomfortable-conversations-about-antiSemitism-and-black-lives-matter https://www.instagram.com/tv/CCa321fgixi/?igshid=1tltznbibjatj

[6] https://www.jta.org/2020/07/09/sports/stephen-jackson-said-desean-jackson-is-speaking-the-truth-about-jews-black-commentators-say-his-activism-is-now-tainted https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01WM7kCiwCc

[7] https://www.jta.org/2020/07/09/sports/stephen-jackson-said-desean-jackson-is-speaking-the-truth-about-jews-black-commentators-say-his-activism-is-now-tainted

[8] https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/kareem-abdul-jabbar-is-outrage-antiSemitism-sports-hollywood-1303210

[9] https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/07/desean-jacksons-blind-spot-and-mine/614095/

[10] https://www.jta.org/2020/07/15/united-states/kareem-abdul-jabbar-and-jemele-hill-call-out-antiSemitism-in-the-black-community

[11] http://www.robertchristgau.com/xg/music/pe-law.php

[12] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0HkK-AmOL8

[13] https://www.algemeiner.com/2020/07/13/media-personality-nick-cannon-voices-antisemitic-conspiracy-theories-in-online-video/

[14] https://www.jta.org/quick-reads/nick-cannon-walks-back-video-containing-antisemitic-statements-but-does-not-apologize

https://www.facebook.com/NickCannon/posts/4319830701367947?__tn__=-R

[15] https://www.fastcompany.com/90527356/nick-cannon-speaks-out-on-his-controversial-interview-i-want-to-be-corrected

[16] https://www.fastcompany.com/90527356/nick-cannon-speaks-out-on-his-controversial-interview-i-want-to-be-corrected

https://www.algemeiner.com/2020/07/14/nick-cannon-refuses-to-bow-down-with-apology-for-antisemitism-says-he-cant-be-responsible-for-everything-louis-farrakhan-says/

[17] https://www.jta.org/2020/07/15/united-states/viacomcbs-fired-nick-cannon-over-antisemitic-comments-he-claims-hes-gotten-an-outpouring-of-love-and-support-from-the-jewish-community

[18] https://www.facebook.com/NickCannon/posts/4326941627323521

[19] https://twitter.com/ObeyThaRapper/status/1283412685527359492

[20] https://apnews.com/ecfb4235f1bda967e617cf687853a5ba

[21] https://twitter.com/NickCannon/status/1283584162457251841

[22] https://twitter.com/NickCannon/status/1283595400419540992

[23] https://twitter.com/FOXTV/status/1283597918474129416

[24] https://www.jta.org/2020/07/23/culture/teach-me-fix-me-nick-cannon-opens-up-to-rabbi-after-making-antisemitic-comments https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdJ2yO7HFMM https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNTJhlMMRpo

[25] https://forward.com/news/national/451040/thank-this-rabbi-for-nick-cannons-fast-education-in-antiSemitism/

[26] https://forward.com/news/national/451040/thank-this-rabbi-for-nick-cannons-fast-education-in-antiSemitism/

[27] https://forward.com/news/national/451040/thank-this-rabbi-for-nick-cannons-fast-education-in-antiSemitism/

About the Author

Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS is a journalist, librarian, & historian. She is the author of Silver Boom! The Rise and Decline of Leadville, Colorado as the United States Silver Capital, 1860–1896, The Mysterious Prince of the Confederacy: Judah P. Benjamin and the Jewish goal of whiteness in the South, and the viral article, “OTD in History… October 19, 1796, Alexander Hamilton accuses Thomas Jefferson of having an affair with his slave creating a 200-year-old controversy over Sally Hemings.”

Ms. Goodman has a BA in History and Art History, and a Masters in Library and Information Studies both from McGill University has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies, where she focused Medieval & Modern Judaism. Her research area is North American Jewish history, particularly American Jewish history, and her thesis was entitled, “Unconditional Loyalty to the Cause: Southern Whiteness, Jewish Women, and Antisemitism, 1860–1913.”

Ms. Goodman contributed the overviews and chronologies to the “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008,” edited by Gil Troy, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Fred L. Israel (2012). She is the former Features Editor at the History News Network and reporter at Examiner.com, where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She currently blogs at Medium, where she was a top writer in history and regularly writes on “On This Day in History (#OTD in #History)” Feature and on the Times of Israel. Her scholarly articles can be found on Academia.edu. She has over a dozen years of experience in education and political journalism.

Written by

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University) is a Professional Librarian (CBPQ) & historian. Former editor @ History News Network & reporter @ Examiner.com.

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