Modern Ruhles: Compelling Conversations During Culturally Complicated Times

By Diana Brown

September 13, 2019

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In today’s climate, it can feel like regular conversations and especially social media are full of landmines people can step on, all too unwittingly, and find themselves vilified as a racist or a homophobe for what they may consider to be a harmless opinion. Stephanie Ruhle, MSNBC news anchor and NBC News Correspondent, started her podcast Modern Ruhles because she worries that this will cause people to stop talking to each other. While the anger, fear, and exasperation expressed by marginalized people is completely valid, does it just put the brakes on an essential discussion, a crucial chance to help someone else grow and change? On this episode, Stephanie talks with fellow journalist and Head of the Pulitzer organization Dana Canedy, multi-talented musician Questlove, and comedian and actor Michael Ian Black about microaggressions, “cancel culture,” and the #MeToo movement, hosting “compelling conversations during these culturally complicated times” and taking an unflinching look at some of the most hot-button issues we face today. 

Stephanie and Dana talk mostly about racial microaggressions, small actions and behaviors that white people do that serve to further marginalize people of color. As an example, Dana tells a story about being in line at check-in for a flight, handing over her boarding pass, when a white man stepped in front of her to get in first. “We can be invisible. We can be misunderstood. And that can happen for everybody, but when you’re a person of color, it often happens more,” she says. She points to other examples, like being called “articulate” by a white person. They may be just attempting to compliment her, as Stephanie suggests, but Dana points out that no one calls a well-educated white man “articulate.” It seems to only be a remarkable quality when it’s displayed by a black person, further “othering” people of color. Stephanie argues, “There's a long distance between that person who cut in line at the airport, and the person who's calling you articulate,” but even so, both behaviors can get someone labeled a racist today. “It does make you want to get out of the conversation.” Dana says that’s true, but “that’s where you have to resist...to say, ‘I’m going to stay in the conversation...because I have decided I’m part of the solution.’”

So how can we “find a way to explore things that we do not understand, get somebody else’s perspective, without actually stepping on a cultural landmine?” Stephanie wonders. Questlove tells us, “I do believe that this is...a genuine surprise to people that weren’t aware that black people felt a certain way about things. People are going to have to do real research, and that’s the problem.” So when Stephanie and people like her want to ask questions to get that different perspective they’re looking for, Questlove urges them to do the research first. “There are enough op-eds and blogs out there where you can discreetly, quietly Google what opinions are to sort of get the gist,” he says, comparing it to the basic research anyone would do before taking a vacation somewhere. “I think all those answers can be found...I want you to do the work,” to make the effort to educate yourself, instead of asking for a black person or a person of color’s time and energy. Or as Stephanie puts it, “Do our homework before we run our mouth.”

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Of all the landmines out there, Stephanie thinks comedians probably step on the most, since their job is to push boundaries and buttons; Michael Ian Black agrees, saying, “I don’t know any...men in media who hasn’t looked at their own past behavior and gone, ‘Geez, did I step over a line somewhere?’” Stephanie interjects, “Yeah, but the line was in a different place before.” Michael agrees with that, but says that’s really a good thing, because it’s forcing men to think about the impact of their words and actions, something they “wouldn’t have thought twice about” before. And it’s not clear yet whether there’s "a way back" from #MeToo accusations, since most men haven’t handled them “in a humble, cogent, intelligent way,” which makes it hard to forgive and forget. But patriarchy harms men and women: “It's really hard, for men in particular, to be that vulnerable...to essentially just stand there naked and say, ‘Take your shot. I deserve it.’ That's hard. And you would hope that more men would learn to develop those skills.” 

Join Stephanie, Dana, Questlove, and Michael as they tackle these hard topics with companionable and intelligent discussion on this episode of Modern Ruhles.

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