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'Willful ignorance': Joe Rogan’s comments on Blackness challenged by Vanderbilt professor

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Michael Eric Dyson, professor of African American and Diaspora studies at Vanderbilt University, appeared Wednesday on Don Lemon Tonight and addressed comments made on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast on Tuesday.

Rogan’s guest, psychologist and commentator Jordan Peterson, questioned Dyson’s Blackness because he is fairly light-skinned. Peterson also questioned his own whiteness, trying to make the point that unless someone’s skin is literally black or literally white, then that person should not be called Black or white. In this context, Peterson said of Dyson, “He was brown, not Black.”

“The Black and white thing is so weird because the shades are so — there’s such a spectrum of shades of people,” Rogan added. “Unless you’re talking to someone who is, like, 100 percent African, from the darkest place where they're not wearing any clothes all day and they've developed all that melanin to protect themselves from the sun, you know, even the term Black is weird. When you use it for people that are literally my color, it becomes very strange.”

I think that's a deliberate, willful ignorance, and it's the unintentional hilarity of a certain kind of whiteness that refuses to own up to what it is.Michael Eric Dyson

Dyson explained for Rogan what Blackness means besides just the color of one’s skin.

“We’re not talking about a genetic predisposition toward darker skin, we're speaking about an existential context,” Dyson said. “We're talking about a philosophical idea. We're speaking about rooted cultures in deep histories that have vast traditions that have generated complicated identities.”

Dyson believes that Rogan, whose platform on Spotify was unsuccessfully challenged by rocker Neil Young just a day earlier due to rampant COVID misinformation on Rogan's podcast, is too smart to believe what was said.

“Brother Rogan is smarter than that,” Dyson said. “People who are in Africa who don't wear clothes, who have deeper melanin? Was he speaking about thousands of years ago? Is he talking about today? When he refers to what it means to be African. When he refers to what it means to be Black. Are you that obtuse? Indifferent to truth? Ignorant about traditions?”

What Dyson really found astonishing is that Rogan would make such comments after having opened for comedian Dave Chappelle. Dyson said he met Rogan at that show.

“Joe Rogan, you're opening up for a guy who has redefined, for many people, Blackness in the last 15 years, and yet you're claiming not to know what Blackness is,” Dyson said. “Yeah, I think that's a deliberate, willful ignorance, and it's the unintentional hilarity of a certain kind of whiteness that refuses to own up to what it is.”

Don Lemon Tonight airs weeknights at 10 p.m. on CNN.

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