Nick Cannon talks atonement and reconciliation after anti-Semitic comments

Cannon said he's "going through the process of atonement for growth."

Nick Cannon is opening up about some bigoted comments he made last summer.

In June, the multi-hyphenate entertainer's star power dimmed when he was accused of discussing conspiracy theories and making anti-Semitic comments about Jewish people on his podcast, "Cannon's Class," which featured Public Enemy rapper Richard "Professor Griff" Griffin, who was kicked out of Public Enemy for his own anti-Semitic comments in 1989.

In the podcast, which was also posted on YouTube and has since been removed, Cannon said that Black people are the "true Hebrews" and shared his belief that Black people are "Semitic people."

Cannon and Griffin also questioned the birthright of Jewish people.

Cannon, who created and was hosting the MTV show "Wild 'N Out" at the time, was fired by ViacomCBS.

He soon received widespread criticism from many, including Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the renown Simon Wiesenthal Center, who said on Twitter and Facebook at the time: "Anyone seeking a PhD in Jew-hatred should watch this 'interview' in its entirety."

Cannon posted an apology message shortly after in a series of tweets and on Facebook and said, "Anyone who knows me knows that I have no hate in my heart nor malice intentions."

"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," he added. "There is so much I have yet to learn."

Cannon said he's not looking for forgiveness but is looking to make up for his comments.

"I've always said that apologies are empty. Apologies are weightless," Cannon said. "In Hebrew they call it, you know, 'Teshuva,' the process of not only you know, repenting, but through that -- if you're ever met with a similar situation that you make a different decision. That goes beyond apologizing. And I'm on this journey of atonement, not to get a job, not to gain any more money because that's not what's needed here. I'm doing this because it's the right thing to do."

Cannon said his journey began with the rabbis.

After criticizing Cannon for his comments, Cooper was the first to agree to join the performer on his podcast.

"I didn't know you but the world knows you," Cooper told Cannon during the podcast. "When I watched the piece and there was someone there who said I'm not even a real Jew. That goes right to the heart."

In response, Cannon acknowledged that he hurt people and asked Cooper to educate him.

Education has been a big focus for Cannon in the last few years. In May 2020, he completed an undergraduate degree in criminology at Howard University and he's now pursuing a master's degree in divinity.

The TV personality is the latest in a line of recent Black celebrities accused of making anti-Semitic comments. But Cannon said that in his case, the root cause wasn't hatred, but ignorance.

"I don't believe it's hatred," he said.

Sports columnist and host of an upcoming "Soul of a Nation" episode, Jemele Hill, faced backlash in 2008 for comments she made comparing rooting for the Celtics to rooting for Hitler.

"I deeply regret the comment I made in a column Saturday," Hill said in an apology statement at the time. "In expressing my passion for the NBA and my hometown of Detroit I showed very poor judgment in the words that I used. I pride myself on an understanding of, and appreciation for, diversity -- and there is no excuse for the appalling lack of sensitivity in my comments. It in no way reflects the person I am. I apologize to all of my readers and I thank them for holding me accountable... I still have a lot of growing and learning to do."

"The Black and Jewish communities -- it's a complicated history," Hill said in an interview with ABC News. "You have really great and powerful examples of allyship between the two communities who have often faced similar forms of oppression. Unfortunately, it's the differences and the tension that have often been more of the highlight."

"We have to realize that stereotypes play into a larger issue of global racism and so that's where it's dangerous," Hill added. "The broader lesson is to understand that we can't be arrogant or presumptuous if you're in a marginalized group. That's when you start disrespecting other people that you have so much more in common with. We are much more powerful together against racism and oppression and white supremacy if we find common ground and find here the threads are."

Cannon taped a follow-up podcast episode with a group of Jewish community leaders at the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, in a room where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights luminaries once gathered.

"I've actually heard a Jewish person of color say, 'When I walk in the room, they don't know I'm Jewish. When I walk in the room they know I'm Black,'" said Cannon during the taping.

Yolanda Savage-Narva, from the Union for Reform Judaism and who is Black and Jewish, also took part in the taping and noted the similarities between the Black community and Jewish community during a roundtable discussion that took place afterward.

"The opportunity to sit down and talk to one another and share and learn together is something that both communities need to do to actually get to," she said. "To know one another, to get to know one another's story, to get to know the things that hurt one another, the things that are triumphant for one another."

"And that's where we need to start doing things like this, having conversations and really being vulnerable, and talking about the things that really are important to one another," Savage-Narva added.

"As a white Jew, I can say anti-Semitism is real," added Rabbi Jonah Pesner. "Jews -- white Jews -- have suffered from oppression. That doesn't negate any of the history of how housing policy, education policy and a myriad of other ways enabled white Jews to benefit from privilege. You can have anti-Semitism and have had suffered."

"My grandma Fannie survived the pogoms of Europe," Pesner said. "Believe me, I know the violence. We have the Tree of Life shooting. All of that is real. And we have to confront the deep-rooted, systemic racism that is particularly pointed toward Black and brown Americans."

Cannon has also recently helped kick off the Black-Jewish Entertainment Alliance, which is aimed at fostering communication between the Black and Jewish communities.

Now ViacomCBS and Cannon are back in business together with a radio show and daytime talk show with Fox.

But Cannon's road to reconciliation is far from over.

"My journey's not gonna stop, whether the person watching this forgives me or not," said Cannon. "I'm still gonna hopefully through this process, be on the right side of history and bring people closer together."

Watch “Soul of a Nation” TONIGHT at 10 p.m. ET on ABC. Episodes will be available on Hulu starting Wednesday.

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