In December 2018, I learned someone had stolen my private emails and given them to an online news outlet. The news outlet began publishing a series of articles and, since then, more than 2,000 articles have been written by dozens of publications about my emails. The comments continue to appear, as though repetition becomes fact.
Virtually every article focused on two insensitive jokes I received and commented on about 10 years ago, as well as remarks I made about Islamic extremists. (I’ll address the accusations of Islamophobia in a separate post.) Nearly every article labeled the jokes as racist. By extension, the articles branded me as racist. Those who know me know I’m no such thing, but most people who read the articles don’t know me. So I published a blog post offering some of my ideas about the coverage, but there’s more I want to say.
As I’ve mentioned before, the jokes were usually sent to me from old friends and were among dozens of emails I receive daily. I rarely paid much attention to them and usually responded with something like “funny” or “good joke” before deleting them. For this, I was branded a racist. The thing is, I’m not. A racist is someone who believes one race is superior to another. I don’t. Receiving the derogatory jokes via email does not prove or demonstrate racism.
In fact, the opposite is true: I believe no race is superior to any other. I also believe everyone should have the same opportunities – regardless of race – to realize their potential. I have, for that reason, spent the last decade and tens of millions of my own dollars operating a philanthropic foundation – Opportunity Education – dedicated to ending the cycle of poverty by providing underprivileged young people access to a high-quality education. Through Opportunity Education, I’ve pursued that mission across the globe – Africa, Asia, North America, and South America – with the intention of helping poor kids everywhere regardless of their race or religious belief system.
Now there’s something else I believe and, while it’s less of a “feel good” story than discussing my philanthropic work, it’s something I want to say: the concept of political correctness in our society is out of control. I’m a lifelong Catholic and I’ve heard my fair share of Catholic jokes. I laugh at the ones I think are funny and I have a thick skin about the ones I don’t. And while there are lines that, if crossed, are truly offensive, I don’t agree with how and where those lines are drawn today – I think people are just too quick to take offense. People take themselves too seriously.
Now maybe my views reflect my age – I grew up in a world where people cracked ethnic jokes about one another and, most of the time, the jokes were acceptable and often funny – but I believe there’s a real cost to the way people take offense so quickly today; it shuts down conversation. “You can’t say that” is all too common a refrain today. So while I don’t condone all speech, I disagree with where the rules of political correctness today would have us draw the line. You could disagree with me about that, but it doesn’t make me a racist.
I have never claimed to be a perfect man. In fact, I’m the first to acknowledge I’m not. But I’ve tried my best to live a good life, to care for my family, to approach business with integrity, and to give back to those who are less fortunate than I have been. Maybe I’m naïve, but I hope people will judge me based on my life’s work and not emailed jokes from a decade ago.