Is Howard Stern racist for wearing blackface and using the N-word in a comedy skit?


Fact Box

  • By the late 1990s, when Howard Stern was still on terrestrial radio, his show had racked up nearly $2 million in fines from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) due to “lewd” content often seen as racist and misogynist.
  • Filmmaker Tariq Nasheed created the clip of Howard Stern’s 1993 blackface skit, interspersing in it segments from Stern’s appearance on The View where he attested to never having used the N-word.  
  • Donald Trump Jr., retweeted the clip of Howard Stern in blackface, which many attribute to the public spat that the two have been engaged in since Stern “...criticized President Donald Trump for mishandling the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide Black Lives Matter protests.”
  • Days after the blackface scandal broke, SiriusXM CEO Jim Meyer said about his intentions with renewing Howard Stern’s contract, “I want Howard to work at Sirius XM for as long as Howard wants to work.”

Ellen (Yes)

Not all racists sport pointy white hoods. Many actually keep their mouths shut and only think racist thoughts in their heads. Wearing blackface and spewing the 'N-word' has been unacceptable behavior in the general public for many decades, yet renowned shock-jock Howard Stern did these things in 1993. While Stern is now apologizing for these actions, it was racist of him to do them, and it's hard to imagine that he is now a changed man.

Yes, he was lampooning the infamous and tasteless Ted Danson blackface incident, but that doesn't mean Stern should have done it as well--especially with his co-host, Robin Quivers, a Black woman, right there. As a well-known White public figure and a mature adult, he made a wrong move.

Howard Stern is known for mocking every group: women, the LGBTQ community, Italians, Jews, Arabs, Latinos, heavyset people, physically disabled persons, and others. Even clergy members, politicians, actors, and musicians have been among Stern's targets, as he specializes in insult humor. But actually wearing blackface and saying the 'N-word' is more than mockery; they are deeply rooted in hatred.  

No matter how pleasant Stern's off-air persona may or may not be, it does not absolve him of racist actions. He shouldn't have used blackface nor said that word, and any amount of damage control that he does in 2020 is simply too little and too late. 

Elizabeth (No) 

Cancel culture nonsense needs to stop. Dredging up instances of stupidity from people’s past and applying those lapses in judgment as statements of who they currently are as a person--as opposed to a moment of idiocy--is silly and disingenuous unless those instances create a pattern. Who among us hasn’t made dumb, ill-informed, or straight-up jackass comments at some point or another? Many are probably grateful that their entire youth wasn’t recorded for posterity (or infamy) by the internet and social media! Current case in point: the ‘Howard Stern is a racist’ dumpster fire. 

Was Stern a fool, or even a jerk, for doing a skit in blackface--even if only to mock someone else (Ted Danson) for doing the same thing? Absolutely. But should we automatically conclude from that a dark, persistent undertone of racism in all things Stern? C’mon. Stern himself has said about that and other early moments, “I cringe when I look at myself … I can’t stand it.” And as Jonah Goldberg from the Dispatch stated, “If unremarkable events of the past … can retroactively be turned into scandals by a mob of moral scolds, we’re in store for some rough times.” Neither he nor Stern is excusing past behavior, and the plain truth is that that behavior should never have been acceptable. But at the time, blackface, sadly, wasn’t scrutinized as harshly as it is now. Just ask Danson, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, or Sarah Silverman, to name but a few. 

The fact that Stern’s longtime sidekick Robin Quivers was on that video and is STILL on his show speaks volumes about Stern’s actual views on race. 

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